Glittering evening celebrates Bryden Alumni Award honourees

A  brisk November wind and a bit of rain couldn’t dampen the warmth of York’s annual Bryden Alumni Awards celebration on the elegant Trading Floor of the Design Exchange in downtown Toronto.

Some 200 guests, including grads, faculty, staff, families and friends, gathered Nov. 4 to celebrate this year’s award recipients. Honoured for their accomplishments were: Governor General Literary Award-winning author Nino Ricci (BA Spec. Hons. ’81); York University Secretary & General Counsel Harriet Lewis (BA ’69, MA ’71); cosmetics mogul Hana Zalzal (MBA ’92); TV reporter Galit Solomon (BA Hons. ’00); and lawyer and philanthropist James Love (LLB ’73, LLM ’86).

Above: The Trading Floor of the Design Exchange in downtown Toronto was the site of this year’s Bryden Alumni Awards ceremony

The evening’s emcee, York grad and 2006 Bryden Alumni Award recipient Andrew Craig (BFA ’93), host of CBC Radio’s “Canada Live”, spoke about his own experience with York University. “York very much was my only choice going into university education,” said Craig. “It was the only option because York allowed me to customize my education to suit my many interests and aspirations. Alongside that, York opened up a whole world of opportunities that I never knew existed and I am still benefiting from that now more than 20 years out of the institution.”

Right: Andrew Craig

Craig then introduced York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri, who thanked the alumni present for their accomplishments.

“York University has more than 250,000 alumni who are working all over the world and succeeding in every conceivable profession,” said Shoukri. “I cannot say enough about the quality of our alumni.”

The president talked about the University’s commitment to provide a rich and varied learning environment and spoke with pride of the more than 11,000 new graduates who will receive their diplomas this year. “This University was built on a very important foundation of academic excellence and social justice,” he said. “I am very proud of York’s accomplishments and of you, the University’s alumni.”

After congratulating the recipients, Shoukri turned the podium back to Craig. “Tonight we are celebrating five remarkable York alumni who together celebrate the amazing range of a York University education,” said Craig, who then introduced the five Bryden Alumni Award recipients.

Before receiving their awards, each individual was profiled in a video tribute. After each video, the award recipients addressed the room delivering speeches that were humorous, poignant and entertaining. The full collection of 2010 Bryden Alumni Award tribute videos can be viewed on the Bryden Alumni Awards website.

The Redefine the Possible Award went to cosmetics mogul Hana Zalzal for demonstrating the leadership and success that embody York’s motto, “Redefine the Possible”. Her Toronto-based company, CARGO, is a celebrity-endorsed, multi-million-dollar operation. Zalzal spoke about receiving an award for entrepreneurism during her time as an MBA student at the Schulich School of Business. “The letter that accompanied the award said the recipients of the award invariably go on to become successful entrepreneurs. The letter did not go on to say ‘Good luck with your big idea’. No precautions, no platitudes, it just said ‘invariably’,” said Zalzal. “Here was one of the greatest educational institutions so steadfast and absolute in its belief in me despite the fact that I still had to prove myself.”

Right: Hana Zalzal

“How could I not believe in myself with such a powerful endorsement,” said Zalzal. “Now two decades later, I am very proud to receive the Redefine the Possible Award, which could just as easily be named the We Told You So Award!”

The Outstanding Contribution Award was presented to lawyer and philanthropist James Love for his commitment to advancing York University. The vibrancy and richness of York’s biodiversity and conservation research can be attributed to Love’s multi-faceted contributions. He is the top supporter of many York fundraising events including a wine auction that supports Las Nubes, York’s very own rainforest in Costa Rica. He is also a member of the York University Foundation Board and chair of its Fundraising Committee.

Left: James Love

Love paid tribute to Dr. Woody Fisher, a prominent Toronto physician who purchased and then donated land to York University that is located in a sensitive rainforest habitat in Costa Rica. Known as Las Nubes or “The Clouds”, the area is now the heart of the University’s prowess in neotropical research. “The calling to make a contribution to York University can be clearly attributed to Dr. Woody Fisher. He has made an incredible contribution to the Faculty of Environmental Studies of the Las Nubes rainforest in Costa Rica, and encouraged me to become a part of that project, and I very much enjoy being a part of this project,” said Love. He ended his comment with a quote from Quaker missionary Stephen Grellet. “I shall pass this way but once; any good therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show – let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”

Next, Craig introduced York University Secretary & General Counsel Harriet Lewis. Lewis received the Local Hero Award for going above and beyond in her contribution and leadership at the University. Lewis has played a major role in the growth of York over the past 20 years. Her legal counsel has guided nearly every arm of the University.

“Members of my York family, I am so very honoured to have been chosen as one of this year’s Bryden award winners,” said Lewis.

Right: Harriet Lewis

“The Local Hero is not an award that any individual can claim to have received on her own. I have always been part of a team, and we’ve worked together on the University’s behalf, and without many of you, I would not have had the many opportunities and rich experiences that I have had. Working here has always been so much more than a job,” said Lewis.

“I have repeatedly been challenged to try different things and try things differently, to redefine the possible. York is like a hive of humming bees; it gives off a lot of heat and noise. There is always the possibility of getting stung, but in the middle of all of that, there’s honey,” said Lewis. “Many see York as so much more than a place to work, and I accept this award on their behalf. We all know that we are working for something positive and we are working for something wonderful at the end of the year – Convocation – the honey!”

Only one decade into her career, TV reporter Galit Solomon has already earned awards for her work, the deep respect of her colleagues and local acclaim. In addition to her journalistic success, Solomon has affected the lives of thousands of people in York Region through her volunteer work, raising awareness of sexual abuse. It is for her proven talent and early commitment to social responsibility that York selected Solomon for the One-to-Watch Award.

“I come from a family of Yorkies and they are all here tonight,” said Solomon, as she paid tribute to her family and the positive role model provided to her by her sister and brother, both of whom are accomplished in their respective fields. “My parents sent three children to university, but not just any university, it was York University. I studied mass communications and I think it is pretty obvious how that choice has helped me in my career path,” said Solomon.

Left: Galit Solomon

She spoke about her decision to go public about being sexually assaulted as an adolescent by the father of a friend and how her experience at York gave her the courage to speak openly about the experience. “I asked myself how I would prepare for this and I looked up and saw my diploma from York University hanging on the wall. It was a strong reminder of how much this community has helped me, and that I was ready. It goes beyond just the career choice that I made,” she said.

The Pinnacle Achievement Award, which is given to alumni whose integrity and outstanding achievements inspire their peers, went to author Nino Ricci. Beyond his numerous literary honours, including the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction, Ricci received the award for his leadership at PEN Canada, the writers’ organization supporting freedom of expression, as well as his continued involvement with the University.

Right: Nino Ricci

Ricci recalled how his local public library had called him after his first book had been released. Thinking they were going to honour him, he called the library back only to discover that they wanted a signed copy of his book. “My point is how important awards like tonight’s are. Many of us fall into the habit of praising what is far from us and neglecting what is under our noses,” said Ricci. “The feeling of being accepted by our own is like no other, it is also a chance to thank, finally, those who have made us who we are and sent us on our paths.

“Much of what I am now I owe to my experiences as an undergraduate at York. It was there that I was first exposed to ideas and ways of thinking that continue to animate my life to this day. It is true to say that virtually every novel that I’ve written has had its genesis in insights and inspirations that occurred to me during my time at York. I suppose that’s another way of saying that I haven’t had a single good idea since I left York,” he joked. “It was at York that I received the foundation that allowed me to go out into the world and make sense of it.”

Guy Burry (BA ’82), chair of the York University Alumni Association, talked about Bruce Bryden. “Bruce was an exceptional and committed person to York University. He founded the Alumni Association, was a member of Senate. He was a member of the Board of Governors and over the course of 30 years, he helped shape York University. I know that he would be honoured to be associated with this year’s recipients and those from years past.”

Vice-President University Relations Jennifer Sloan had the final words for the evening and thanked Craig and those behind the awards. “The Bryden Alumni Awards were created to remind us of the remarkable people who make York what it is today,” said Sloan. “After listening to tonight’s recipients, I am very proud to be a member of the York family.”

She also thanked the event’s sponsors Manulife Financial, MBNA and Clearsight Wellington West for the essential support each organization provided for the event.

To learn more about the Bryden Alumni Awards or to submit a nomination for the 2011 awards, visit the Bryden Alumni Awards website.