Three undergraduate students at York University have been awarded the Governor General’s Silver Medal. The medal recognizes the outstanding scholastic achievements of undergraduate students in Canada. Receiving this year’s medals are dedicated community changemakers Christine Cooling, Ali Samani and Ariana Zunino.
The Governor General awards are considered the highest honour earned by exemplary Canadian scholars throughout every level of academia. This year’s recipients offered words of gratitude to their peers and mentors, and expressed what the medals mean to them, ahead of their Spring Convocation ceremonies.
Cooling is graduating from York’s Communication & Media Studies program, where she became captivated by the study of communication policy and its influence on national culture and identity. Among her accomplishments, Cooling is most proud of her undergraduate thesis, for which she “conducted a mixed-methods research study on the relations between governing Canadian culture, nation-building and contemporary broadcasting policy.”
Cooling has also been the winner of the Penny Jolliffe Scholarship, the Jerry Durlak Prize, the Reva Orlicky Memorial & Founding Friends Award, the YUFA Undergraduate Scholarship, and a position as an assistant to Associate Professor Anne F. MacLennan on multiple projected funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).
Cooling has recently received her own SSHRC funding as well. “I’m now a recipient of a generous SSHRC Canada Graduate Scholarship through York to fund my master’s studies, which I will be beginning in the fall in the joint Communication & Culture program with York University and Toronto Metropolitan University,” Cooling says. “I look forward to the prospect of contributing to an esteemed community of learners. My experience at York University has already been nothing short of wonderful.
“To be awarded the Governor General Silver Medal is the utmost honour to recognize my accomplishments and dedication to communication research over the past four years, while serving as a bright source of inspiration and motivation for a successful future in academia,” she adds.
Samani joined York’s Department of Psychology in 2018, following closely in the footsteps of his sister Maryam Samani, who graduated that year having also received the Governor General Silver Medal for her exceptional performance throughout her undergraduate psychology studies. Inspired by Maryam, Samani promised himself to achieve the same honour.
“This medal is the culmination of that promise. It is a testament to the power of an ambitious goal, the relentless pursuit it demands and the resilience it builds. It serves as an enduring reminder that no dream is too far when pursued with determination,” Samani says.
It was that determination which led Samani to the labs of Associate Professor Jennifer Steele and former York professor Joni Sasaki, where he researched everything from cognition and perception to culture and religion. More recently, Samani worked with Assistant Professor Julie Conder, who inspired in him a love for statistics.
“Currently, I am working as a data scientist for GivingTuesday, a global nonprofit organization where I have the privilege of using my skills to drive meaningful change,” he adds. “Regarding my future plans, I am also open to exploring the multifaceted possibilities that my unique set of skills and interests offer. I am intrigued by potential pathways ranging from medicine to clinical psychology to research. My experience at York has provided me with the foundation that makes these possible, and I look forward to carrying the lessons learned into future opportunities.”
Zunino will graduate with an honours BA in criminology with a humanities minor. She says the combined insights gleaned from these areas of study allowed her “to develop a critical view of the popular conceptions of criminality in our modern world and illuminate the significant impacts such erroneous beliefs can have on individual lives.”
She points to a number of extracurricular opportunities at York which contributed to her growth as a well-rounded academic, including: working with the sociology undergraduate student association to examine the impact of COVID-19 on undergraduate sociology students, enrolling in the Dean’s Ambassador Program for inspiring student leadership, and the Advancing Women’s Scholarship Program for fledgling women scholars pursuing careers in academia.
“My experience at York University can be characterized by one term: enabling. The support I was granted by the teaching faculty and the opportunities offered by the institution all culminated to enable the progression of my dreams into a reality,” Zunino says.
“Being awarded the Governor General’s Silver Medal is an immense honour, one for which I will be forever grateful. This medal serves as a representation of the dedication and resilience I have practiced in pursuit of my education, but even more than that, it is a reminder that sacrifices do not go unrecognized,” she adds. “I begin my pursuit of a Juris Doctorate at the University of Toronto in the fall. My interest in the unique experience youth and families have with the criminal justice system has narrowed my focus to the practice of child advocacy law. I see myself one day returning to the world of academia as a professor, and hopefully supporting future changemakers, as my professors were able to support me.”
About the awards
For 150 years, the Governor General’s Academic Medals have recognized the outstanding scholastic achievements of students in Canada. They are awarded to the student graduating with the highest average from a high school, as well as from approved college or university programs. Pierre Trudeau, Tommy Douglas, Kim Campbell, Robert Bourassa, Robert Stanfield and Gabrielle Roy are just some of the more than 50,000 people who have received the Governor General’s Academic Medal as the start of a life of accomplishment.
Today, the Governor General’s Academic Medals are awarded at four distinct levels: Bronze at the secondary school level; Collegiate Bronze at the post-secondary, diploma level; Silver at the undergraduate level; and Gold at the graduate level. Medals are presented on behalf of the Governor General by participating educational institutions, along with personalized certificates signed by the Governor General. There is no monetary award associated with the medal.