Students and donors encourage others to give back

York University’s Office of the Vice-President Students recently hosted a Red & White Thank You celebration at the Bennett Centre for Student Services. The event offered award-winning students and members of the York community an opportunity to meet and thank York donors who help fund various scholarships, bursaries and student services across the University.

Sean Hillier (right), a first-year student majoring in political science in the Faculty of Arts, spoke on behalf of York students. Hillier was one of three worthy recipients of an Avie Bennett Visionary Leadership Scholarship this past year. The setting of the Bennett Centre was, as a result, quite fitting. These scholarships are awarded over four years to exceptional students who demonstrate community service leadership and excellent academic achievement. In addition to the generous award, recipients are provided with up to $2,000 to be used in the planning and implementation of a community service project during their undergraduate studies under the supervision of a mentor. "This scholarship has been life-changing," said Hillier. "I come from a very poor background. Without this award, university is something I wouldn’t have had the privilege of experiencing."

Hillier’s project grew out of a high-school experience during which time he and his classmates travelled to Nicaragua. There he became acquainted with a local non-governmental organization. Now, with that organization’s assistance, he’s planning and implementing an international social justice project that will see a group of 25 students travel to Nicaragua next year to live in a local community for two weeks where they will build a medical clinic for its inhabitants.

"I hope that future students who are rewarded for their community and high-school contributions, as I was, will be honoured by the spirit of higher education and that they will continue our tradition of giving back to York by making a difference for all at this great University," said Hillier.

Rob Tiffin, York vice-president students, expressed his appreciation for the kind support of donors. "Student leadership training and development is a life-long process. By providing York student leaders with the tools they need to accomplish their goals, we aim to build a stronger community, a greater University and a better world." He added, "Your generosity makes an enormous difference in the lives of our students."

Among the donors present was Katherine Kiang (left) (BA ’89), who established an award in memory of her father, Paul Kiang. Her father had been an excellent student when he was growing up in China, but he couldn’t afford a university education on his own. His teachers graciously stepped in to offer financial support, granting him sufficient funds to attend. He considered them loans and paid back every cent.

Her father’s experience inspired Kiang to start donating to York in small amounts right after she graduated. However, she decided several years ago that she wanted to create something long term. So, over the course of more than four years, she contributed regularly to a fund which eventually reached a sum of $12,500. When this was combined with matching funds from the government under the Ontario Trust for Student Support (OTSS), the fund reached a total of $25,000. Proceeds will begin to be disbursed next year in the form of the Paul Kiang Award.

Kiang emphasized that another key source of her inspiration to donate was York patron Seymour Schulich who himself benefited from a scholarship when he was a student. "I’m hoping that my scholarship will inspire someone else" to do the same when they graduate," said Kiang.

Inspiration did not end there. The family of Jaswant Singh Randhawa, representing the Jaswant Singh Randhawa Memorial Foundation, surprised everyone in attendance by presenting a gift of $25,000 at the event.

Right: Kanch Randhawa (left) with Lorna R. Marsden

When combined with the Government of Ontario’s matching funds under OTSS, the total of $50,000 will create two endowments. Kanch Randhawa (BA ’06), Jaswant’s son, said that education was very important to him and his family and they were "looking forward to strengthening their relationship with York."

Tiffin noted the importance of creating a supportive and nurturing environment at the University and said, "We are constantly working to make York a connected, engaged experience for our students. Our donors are such an important part of that process."

Submitted by David Wallace, communications & events intern, York University Foundation.