Bryden Alumni Award recipients found their voices at York

In a night of storytelling, reminiscing and celebrating, members of the York University Alumni Association honoured four of their own during the Bryden Alumni Awards dinner and awards ceremony on Nov. 13. More than 200 guests, including alumni, faculty, staff, families and friends, gathered on the Trading Floor at the Design Exchange in downtown Toronto to celebrate the leadership and accomplishments of the four York alumni award recipients at the gala event.

Above: More than 200 guests attended the 2008 Bryden Alumni Awards gala on Nov. 13. The event was held on the Trading Floor at the Design Exchange in downtown Toronto.

The 2008 Bryden Alumni Award recipients are Bill Hatanaka (BA Spec. Hons. ’77), Paul Axelrod (BA ’72, PhD ’80), Wendy Craig (MA ’89, PhD ’93) and Frank Cianciulli (BA ’97).

The gala opened with a screening of the animated short film I Met The Walrus, by York alumnus Jerry Levitan (BA ’76, LLB ’79). The film, based on an audio recording of an interview Levitan did with Beatle John Lennon in 1969 at Toronto’s King Edward Hotel, when Levitan was just a 14-year-old fan, has received international acclaim and was nominated for a 2008 Academy Award. To learn more about the film and Levitan, visit the I Met The Walrus Web site or see YorkU magazine’s The Walrus and the Teenager.

CBC broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi (BA ‘95) served as host for the event. In his opening remarks, he mused about what makes York University unique. "I believe that York University is the best university in Canada," said Ghomeshi. "The experience and the environment offered by York University, a microcosm of Toronto – a blueprint for modern cities – where people from around the world meet each other to shape and build the city together was what I found at York. I learned to redefine the possible at York. That diversity, which was so important to me, is exemplified by each of tonight’s award recipients."

Left: Bryden Alumni Awards host Jian Ghomeshi

Ghomeshi then introduced Marshall Cohen (LLB ’60, LLM ’63, LLD [Hon.] ’86), chair of the York University Board of Governors. Cohen spoke about the late Bruce Bryden, for whom the awards are named. "Bruce was a member of York’s first undergraduate class, graduating in 1964. He was the first president of the York University Alumni Association and joined the York Board of Governors, serving until his untimely death in 1992," said Cohen. "He was a wonderful and passionate advocate for York University."

Following Cohen’s remarks, Ghomeshi introduced the four Bryden Alumni Award recipients. Before receiving their awards, each individual was profiled in moving and dynamic video segments. After each video, the award recipients addressed the room delivering speeches that were humorous, insightful and entertaining. The full collection of 2008 Bryden Alumni Award tribute videos can be viewed on the York University Alumni Web site.

Bill Hatanaka (BA Spec. Hons. ’77) received the Outstanding Contribution Award. The award is given for dedication to the advancement of the University through exceptional service, commitment and contributions. A passionate ambassador of York University, Hatanaka is a former Ontario University Athletics football all-star and Canadian Football League Grey Cup champion. He is also a talented business leader at TD Bank Financial Group and one of York’s most dedicated volunteers, contributing his time and expertise to the York University Foundation Board of Directors. 

Left: Bill Hatanaka

Hatanaka spoke about the privilege of being able to serve and the nostalgia of returning to the campus a few years ago after a 30-year absence. "York gave me the courage to follow what I believed in and what I enjoyed," said Hatanaka, who talked about being able to pursue a career as a professional athlete while at the same time pursuing his passion for economics. In addition to his role as co-chair of the University’s York to the Power of 50 fundraising campaign, Hatanaka also played an influential role in TD Bank’s generous support of the University, including the company’s recent $1-million gift to establish the York University-TD Community Engagement Centre in the Jane-Finch community. (To view the tribute video for Hatanaka, click here.)

The Local Hero Award is given to a York alumnus and employee of the University who has gone beyond the call of duty. This year’s recipient, Paul Axelrod (BA ’72, PhD ’80), epitomizes what it means to be a "local hero", with a history at York that stretches back 40 years and has seen him take on a multitude of roles: student, political leader, faculty member, department chair, senator and as dean of York’s Faculty of Education. After completing his doctorate and teaching at Queen’s University, he returned to York in 1982 as a faculty member and in 2001 he was appointed dean. Under his leadership, the Faculty of Education opened several off-campus teacher education sites; significantly expanded its work in the York University-Westview Schools community project; forged educational partnerships in Kenya; and created a new Centre for Research on Education and the Community. 

Above: Paul Axelrod (far right) at the Bryden Awards with family and friends

Axelrod summed up his experience at York University: "Y is for youthfulness. The University has retained an aura of youthfulness through a continuing process of reinvention. O is for openness – the University’s commitment to accessibility," he said. "R is for risk – every one of my activities at York involved risk and all were very rewarding. K is for knowledge – I came to York because I was interested in ideas and the pursuit of knowledge. I ended up being privileged enough to make that my career.” (The tribute video for Axelrod can be viewed here.)

As a researcher and Queen’s University professor, psychologist Wendy Craig (MA ’89, PhD ’93) is a renowned expert on bullying. As the recipient of the Redefine the Possible Award, Craig was recognized for her innovative, unconventional and daring leadership. Her early research into bullying led her to identify cyber-bullying as a growing problem for today’s youth. 

Right: Bryden Alumni Award recipient Wendy Craig

In a moving speech, Craig spoke about the influence of her mentors, York psychology Professors Doug McCann and Debra Pepler and their role in helping her find her voice as a researcher and scholar. "As a professor and researcher, I often reflect on how my professors at York recognized in me the scholar that I could be," said Craig. "I am grateful for their patience and guidance." Craig continues to work with Pepler, with whom she co-founded the Promoting Relationships & Eliminating Violence Network (PREVNet), an organization which coordinates the work of researchers at more than 21 universities and provides expertise on bullying to 44 organizations across Canada. (Craig’s tribute video can be viewed here.)

The youngest of the four recipients, Frank Cianciulli (BA ’97) received the One-to-Watch Award, for his remarkable professional and community accomplishments early in his career. Described as a serial entrepreneur, Cianciulli, since graduating from York, has founded or co-founded numerous companies, including two conference providers, a staffing company and a voice over Internet, or VoIP organization. His entrepreneurial activities earned Cianciulli a place on Canada’s 2007 Top 40 Under 40 list at just 35 years of age. 

Left: From left, James Allan, director, alumni, with Bryden Alumni Award recipient Frank Cianciulli and Guy Burry, chair of the York University Alumni Association

Keeping his remarks simple and to the point, Cianciulli spoke about his mother who recently died and of his parents’ influence on his life and his choice to study at York. "They offered me a car," he joked, "so I came to York and it was at York that I found my voice." He paid tribute to Faculty of Arts Dean Robert Drummond, who he said gave him the courage to pursue his entrepreneurial vision. A recipient of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2006, Cianciulli has proven himself to be a tireless innovator with a string of remarkable successes early in his career. He now gives back to York University by serving on the Faculty of Arts Dean’s Advisory Board. (To view the tribute video for Cianciulli, click here.)

The evening closed with speeches by York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri and Guy Burry (BA ’82), chair of the York University Alumni Association. Shoukri paid tribute to the event’s sponsors including lead sponsor Manulife Financial, reception sponsor MBNA and video sponsor Wellington West. He thanked Ghomeshi for his work as the event’s host.

Shoukri spoke of his pride in the recipients and of the power and potential of York alumni to change the world. “I cannot be more proud of you. The winners of the Bryden Awards are a truly remarkable group of people,” he said.

“We celebrate your achievements and we thank you for all that you have done for York University,” said Shoukri. “You will all play an important role in the cultural, social and economic development of our city, our country and indeed our world and that is our ultimate goal as educators, to educate our students to become great citizens. Increasingly universities are urban institutions; we are all connected to the world more than ever before and each of tonight’s winners and all of York’s alumni are ambassadors to the world. As York celebrates its 50th anniversary next year, I invite all of you, alumni and friends of York alike, to help spread the word about York University, about our success and the York to the Power of 50 fundraising campaign, to help us redefine the possible."  

Burry thanked the nominating committee for their work to choose each of the recipients. He asked those present to remember the University’s 50th anniversary in 2009 and to nominate a deserving York alumnus for a Bryden Alumni Award. 

About the Bryden Alumni Awards

The awards are named after the late Bruce Bryden (BA ’64), founder of the York University Alumni Association (YUAA) and the first alumni chair of the York University Board of Governors, who also helped launch the York University Development Corporation.

Right: Bruce Bryden

Bryden was a passionate member of the community for nearly 30 years. His inspiring commitment, vision and contributions helped shape York into the vibrant and innovative University that it is today.

To learn more about the Bryden Alumni Awards or to submit a nomination for the 2009 Bryden Alumni Awards, visit the Bryden Alumni Awards Web site.