York University alumna Larissa Crawford inspires Founders students with keynote address

“What kind of impact do I want to make and why am I passionate about it?”

This is one of the many important questions that new students were urged to reflect on at the Founders College Academic Orientation on Sept. 3. The query was posed by keynote speaker and York University alumna Larissa Crawford, who graduated in 2018 with a double honours major in international development and communications studies.

Crawford, who is of proud Métis and Jamaican heritage, made waves across the University community last year she when crossed the stage – summa cum laude – holding her one-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Zyra.

Larissa Crawford
Larissa Crawford

Faculty, community members, and students alike were moved by Crawford’s success and resilience.

Having grown up with few financial resources, Crawford funded her entire education through scholarships, graduated with the most acclaimed leadership award at the University, and successfully transitioned into a career in government work and public speaking.

It is thus no surprise that she had a few useful tips to share with incoming students.

“I know you guys are getting really excited about all of the parties and the new people,” Crawford said with a laugh. “But my job right now is to get you excited about the nerdy stuff, because it’s actually really fun too.”

But before doing so, she introduced herself in Michif and held space for her identity. Crawford encouraged students to do the same as they embark on their university careers.

“I really encourage you, moving forward on your journey at York University, to consider – as you sit in classrooms, as you listen to speakers – the ancestry that you bring into that space, and the ancestors of the traditional caregivers of this land.”

Crawford went on to share 10 takeaway points of what she did to make her time at York University “absolutely amazing.” They included gaining international experience, applying for scholarships throughout her university career and developing authentic relationships with mentors.

“The people that I know that are the happiest and most successful now … didn’t just do their classes and get out,” Crawford told the audience. “That’s my message to you guys. No matter how nerdy it seems, go and figure out what you want to do and build your network, because that’s going to be the most valuable thing that you’re going to take out of your university experience.”