Dance grad honoured with the prestigious Murray G. Ross Award

Newly minted alumnus Sky Fairchild-Waller, who graduated last month with his bachelor of fine arts (Honours) in dance magna cum laude, is the recipient of the 2009 Murray G. Ross Award. Named after York’s founding president and adjudicated by the Senate Committee on Admissions, Recruitment & Student Assistance (SCARSA), the medal recognizes academic distinction and notable contributions to campus life. It is the highest honour given to a graduating undergraduate student at York.

Above: Sky Fairchild-Waller. Photo by Andrea de Keijzer

In a letter to Fairchild-Waller notifying and congratulating him on the award, SCARSA Chair Tony Fang wrote: “The selection committee was impressed both by your academic excellence and by your outstanding record of leadership, mentorship and outreach, both within the University and in the community…. You are an exemplary role model for students at York University.”

“I was elated when I received notice of the award,” said Fairchild-Waller. “To be selected out of thousands of graduating students is such an honour. I’m especially proud to be recognized as a student from the Faculty of Fine Arts.”

Enumerating Fairchild-Waller’s many merits, Faculty of Fine Arts Dean Barbara Sellers-Young, Dance Department Chair Mary Jane Warner and Lynda Tam, director of academic affairs in the Faculty of Fine Arts, applauded the selection committee’s choice.

“A glance at Sky’s resumé shows his extensive engagement as an artist, scholar and leader,” said Sellers-Young. “A Fellow of Winters College, Canadian delegate at The New Humanism Symposium at Harvard University, choreographer for a project at Toronto’s Alternative Arts & Fashion Week, performer in Constance Cooke’s film Stalls, assistant curator for the Tubman Institute’s Performing Diaspora series — these are just a few of the credits that illustrate his many talents and his leadership ability.”

“Sky is a wonderful student who truly enjoys learning and pushes himself to excel in everything he undertakes, both in academic settings and extracurricular activities,” said Warner. “He clearly enjoys intellectual challenges and is an active participant in every course he takes.”

“Sky is a natural communicator; he conveys enthusiasm and the empowering sense that, with commitment and energy, anything is possible,” said Tam. “He’s been an integral part of planning and participation in the Fine Arts Senior Mentoring Program, which pairs exceptional upper-level students with first-year students looking for guidance in their transition to university life. He was also a Fine Arts student ambassador and, in this capacity, was on the front line of Faculty recruitment initiatives.”

Fairchild-Waller’s other contributions include serving as a student senator on the York University Senate; Fine Arts councillor for the York Federation of Students; council speaker and vice-president of academic & university affairs for the Creative Arts Student Association; and member of the Undergraduate Committee and the Chair’s Advisory Committee in the Department of Dance. Outside of York, he’s been active as an alumni representative for the National Ballet School of Canada and as a student member of the Society of Dance History Scholars and the Canadian Alliance of Dance Artists.

Recent artistic achievements include choreographic commissions for Oak Bay Dance in his hometown of Victoria, BC, for the New England School of Dance, and for a dance film for Brazilian artist Carla Zaccagnini’s North American premiere solo exhibition and residency at the Art Gallery of York University. He was also commissioned to choreograph for the Canadian premiere of Disney’s High School Musical 2 On Stage! in which he performed the lead role of Ryan Evans. The show, held at the Toronto Centre for the Arts last March, sold out months before opening and was extended twice due to popular demand.

When asked what were his most significant experiences and influences at York, Fairchild-Waller hesitated, saying it was too difficult to choose.

“I can’t single out one experience as being the most influential,” he said. “They’ve all complemented my studies so much. I know I did gain substantial insight from being involved with multiple levels of University governance, from the Department of Dance to the Faculty of Fine Arts to the University as a whole. I’m so grateful for the variety of experiences that were available to me during my time at York.

“I’ve learned something from virtually everyone I’ve met here; in that sense, everyone is a mentor. It’s commonly understood that the people you go to school with will be the people you work with after graduation, and I’m looking forward to continuing these relationships in the future,” he said.

This summer brings Fairchild-Waller the opportunity to build new relationships. He has been chosen as one of three young artists representing Ontario in the National Artist Program, a two-week mentorship residency at the 2009 Canada Summer Games taking place August 15 to 29 in Charlottetown, P.E.I. Together with 36 other youth from across the country, he will be working with and learning from 30 professional artists, and will perform in the opening and closing ceremonies, pep rallies and community festivals throughout the games.

York dance alumna Marlene Stirrett-Matson (BFA Spec. Hons. ’83, MA ’02), the manager of the National Artist Program for Team Ontario, will be a valuable mentor and sounding board for Fairchild-Waller during the experience.

“I’ve had the pleasure of starting to work with Sky and the other artists, so I am definitely getting to know this remarkable young man,” said Stirrett-Matson. “I hope he has an exciting, challenging and richly creative experience, learning, collaborating and sharing with professional mentors and artists from across the country.”

To track Fairchild-Waller at the games, look for artist updates on the Team Ontario daily newsletter.

After the games, Fairchild-Waller plans to continue studies in the Faculty of Fine Arts at York. He’ll be returning this fall to complete the final year of his second undergraduate degree, in cultural studies.