High school grads from Jane and Finch celebrated live and online at Walk with Excellence

The eighth annual Walk with Excellence took place on June 18 as both a virtual and in-person community graduation celebration. The event, considered an annual rite of passage for students from the Jane and Finch neighbourhood as they move into postsecondary education, represents a public demonstration of their achievement.

Traditionally, high school graduates celebrate by walking from five area schools to York University’s Keele campus. This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event took place in person, as well as virtually, and expanded to include all graduates of the Jane and Finch community.

Walk with Excellence Participants - Photo Credit: Errol Young
Walk with Excellence Participants – Photo Credit: Errol Young

Students from Brookview Middle School, C. W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute, Westview Centennial Secondary School, Downsview Secondary School, Emery Collegiate Institute, James Cardinal McGuigan Catholic High School and Emery Adult Learning Centre participated in the event.

Walk with Excellence was organized by a coalition of community partners made up of the Jane-Finch Education Action Committee, A Different Booklist bookstore, Jane Finch Action Against Poverty, Success Beyond Limits, the York University TD Community Engagement Centre (CEC), as well local school principals and high school leaders and received funding from multiple sources, including York University Faculty Association (YUFA) Community Projects.

The live portions of the celebration included live steel pianists playing at intersections throughout the community and a physically distant celebration at the corner of Jane and Finch.

The virtual event included three-hour live stream on YouTube hosted by DJ Troy Budz, the York TD CEC’s Bryon Gray and Itah Sadu of A Different Booklist.

Participants celebrated on various social media streams, with #madeit videos on TikTok and images on the #JFGradWalks2020 hashtag on Instagram, as well as a new Snapchat Geofilter celebrating the Jane and Finch community.

Associate professor Natalie Coulter, YUFA Community Projects, and Downsview Public School teacher Francilia Odame - Photo Credit: Errol Young
Associate professor Natalie Coulter, YUFA Community Projects, and Downsview Public School teacher Francilia Odame – Photo Credit: Errol Young

Several community and University leaders gave remarks, both virtually and in person, for the graduates.

York President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda L. Lenton congratulated the graduates for completing a particularly challenging academic year.

“York is proud to be part of the Jane and Finch community, and we are delighted to be joining the Walk with Excellence,” she said. “Whether your plans are to return to York to continue your academic journey or you have another destination in mind, I want to wish all of you the best for continued success.”

Alice Pitt, then-vice-provost academic, who appeared virtually in front of the York University subway station, talked about how York is a destination. “It’s your university, and we’re committed to being a resource for knowledge, wisdom and care,” she said. “We will be listening and watching for you to show the world who you are and what you can do.”

Westview Centennial graduate Priya Ramoutar appreciated the event amid the uncertainty of not knowing whether an in-person graduation would take place. “This was a good experience because it celebrated the graduation of multiple schools in the Jane and Finch community by having guest speakers as well as performances in the community to highlight the graduating class of 2000’s success and hard work,” she explained.

Talisha Ramsaroop, community projects coordinator with the York University TD CEC and a member of the Walk with Excellence planning committee, said the event was a wonderful way to celebrate graduates from the area.

“It was a prime example of the community’s excellence,” she said, “and allowed students to feel recognized and acknowledged for their ongoing dedication.”