Governor General’s silver medallist leaves behind legacy of kindness at York

As recent York University graduate Yaakov Green embarks on a new journey as a medical student at Yale University, his parting words for his fellow students are about lifelong learning and growing: “Keep an open mind to advice and to new opportunities; you never know where they will take you.”

Green was a student in the Faculty of Science, majoring in biology, who just graduated at spring convocation with a Governor General’s Silver Medal for having one of the three highest averages among graduating undergraduate students at York. He was also awarded the Faculty of Science Gold Medal. However, he had been on York University’s radar since several years ago, when he arrived as a first-year student with a prestigious Schulich Leader Scholarship.

“I have known Yaakov since he commenced his university studies and had the pleasure to witness his exceptional academic performance, excellent research aptitude and compassionate engagement with the York community,” said Faculty of Science Professor Robert Tsushima, who supervised Green as a research student over two summers in his lab and taught Yaakov in a fourth-year biology course. “It was obvious to me that he is a highly intelligent and mature individual, who demonstrated exceptional dedication and commitment to his academic studies and involvement with many extracurricular activities. I can think of no other student who is truly deserving of the Governor’s General Silver Medal and the Faculty of Science Gold Medal.”

During his studies, Green developed a passion for learning about genetics, evolution and statistics. Some of his favorite science courses included Processes of Evolution with biology Professor Jan Sapp, Cellular and Molecular Basis of Muscle Physiology with Professor Tsushima, and Population Genetics with biology Professor Amro Zayed.

But, for Green, York University was always more than just academics and preparing for medical school. He also fell in love with the diversity, community and culture of the University.

“I can’t imagine a more diverse place, and I have learned so much by interacting with the different people here,” said Green. “The opportunities are endless at York; if you want to make a difference, you have the ability to do so. You can really make the experience what you want it to be.”

As a testament to those sentiments, he co-founded the Random Acts of Kindness (RAK) Project with his peer Ben Shachar in his second year. The basis of RAK was to surprise people at York with random acts of kindness. For instance, the club would hand out hot chocolate at bus stops on a cold winter day, surprise lecture halls with candy on Halloween or give out roses on Valentine’s Day.

“Our goal was to create an overall positive university experience for York students and to generate an atmosphere of happiness and wellness on campus,” said Green.

RAK at York University has now grown to more than 1,000 members, and new chapters of RAK have also popped up at other universities. The club’s work has also included community outreach and digital campaigns.

“Yaakov’s initiation of this very active student organization demonstrates his compassion and respect for all his fellow students at York University,” said Tsushima. “RAK embraced an attitude of inclusiveness and respect, as well as Yaakov’s own personal attitude and supportive character amongst the people around him.”