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Best of YU: York U Alumni's top moments of 2021

Best of YU: York U Alumni's top moments of 2021

From announcing York’s first-ever Top 30 Changemakers Under 30 list, to expanding our virtual alumni events and program to support a wider variety of graduates, and celebrating gifts that will help the university continue to create positive change in our communities and around the world – 2021 was once again a year of growth and change that had our team working to adapt our programs and services to ensure that they remained accessible and relevant to the York U alumni community.

Here are our top stories, highlights and moments from 2021 listed in chronological order...

10. York releases inaugural list of Top 30 Changemakers Under 30

In March, York University announced its first-ever list of Top 30 Changemakers Under 30. Representing every faculty at the University, this diverse group of young alumni are leaders working and volunteering in a variety of fields, from health and sustainability to the arts and business where they are advancing innovation and demonstrating leadership. The Top 30 Changemakers Under 30 list spotlights these remarkable young leaders for the work they do to create positive change in their communities and around the world.

Meet York’s 2021 Top 30 Changemakers Under 30.

09. Monthly virtual event series for young alumni attracts 600+ alumni annually

York Alumni’s GRADitude program has continued to evolve in its virtual format in 2021. This year the program expanded to offer monthly events and include dedicated virtual speed networking opportunities. Alumni speakers presented on important life skills for new grads including money management and homeownership and early-career focused skills including preparing for virtual interviews and using LinkedIn effectively. These sessions help young alumni to move forward in their personal and professional lives with confidence after graduation.
Learn more about York’s young alumni programs.

08. York U of the Future alumni event

A panel of guests joined President Lenton and York U Alumni Board Chair Francesca Accinelli (BFA ’92) on April 30 for York U of the Future, a virtual town hall-style event that included a conversation about the opportunities, challenges and priorities for the University in 2021 and beyond. President Lenton and leaders from across the York community discussed how York is working to expand its leadership in higher education, strengthen our impact on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and drive positive change in our local and global communities. The event included a spoken word performance by alumnus and York U Top 30 Under 30 Changemaker, Luke Reece (BA ’15).

Watch the event recording.

07. Scotiabank invests $980,000 in Lassonde School of Engineering

Scotiabank’s gift will support a variety of initiatives at the Lassonde School of Engineering including York’s Global Financial Crimes Research Fund over four years and Computer Security Program Fund for two years.

Part of the gift, named the Scotiabank Lassonde Financial Crimes Research Initiative, will go towards research led by York’s graduate students on global financial crimes and money laundering, with a special focus on detecting and disrupting the illicit financial flows connected to human trafficking and online child exploitation.

The funding will also contribute to Lassonde’s Kindergarten to Industry Academy —advancing equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in STEM fields. It will help expand the K2I Academy to three GTA school boards and further enhance Grade 9-to-12 science and mathematics programs.

Learn more about Scotiabank’s partnership with Lassonde.

06. $1.2 million gift from RBC Future Launch will support Black Excellence at York

The RBC Foundation’s donation, part of RBC Future Launch, will directly support the work of the Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community and Diaspora, held by well-known educator Professor Carl James.

Up to 900 high school and university students, and postdoctoral scholars could be served through the various projects as part of the Securing Black Futures: A National Partnership to Advance Youth Academic & Career Success program. RBC Foundation’s donation will provide direct support to the Chair’s programs in four key areas, including:

  • Hosting the first ever National Conference for Black youth in Canada;
  • Bringing high school students onto university campuses, enabling them to imagine themselves participating in post-secondary education;
  • Establishing a new Canadian data hub that will strengthen research and information capacity and inform better public policy; and
  • Creating new opportunities, supports and training for young Black scholars who as graduate students and post-doctoral fellows will engage in research, teaching and mentorship activities that will serve as resources to local Black communities.

Learn more about Black Excellence at York.

05. Rivis Road in Markham renamed University Boulevard

Construction is underway for York University’s much-anticipated Markham Campus. On Oct. 15, Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti, together with York University President and Vice-Chancellor of York University, Rhonda Lenton, and members of Markham City Council celebrated another milestone for York’s Markham Campus by officially unveiling University Boulevard (formerly Rivis Road). 

The City of Markham donated a parcel of land located at Enterprise Boulevard and University Boulevard worth more than $50 million towards the $275.5-million campus. York Region also committed $25 million toward the project, which is expected to generate 2,000 jobs and $350 million in immediate economic benefits. Located in Markham Centre, Markham’s growing downtown, and close to transit and transportation, University Boulevard will welcome students to the heart of York University’s Markham Campus opening in 2023.

Learn more about the latest Markham Campus updates.

04. Grad Days and Graduation Ceremonies

Online graduation celebrations were held on June 29 and November 2, 2021.

The graduation celebrations had many elements of a traditional convocation ceremony including an Honour Song and the national anthem, remarks from the Chancellor, President, and Deans, the ceremonial conferral of degrees, and individual recognition of graduates. Graduation packages were gifted to each student and fun convocation-themed resources for graduates were created including a virtual photo booth and Spotify playlist.

New this fall, graduands were invited to register to attend Grad Days on York’s Keele Campus – an opportunity for students to pick up their diplomas in person, don graduation regalia and take photos with graduation-themed backdrops on campus.

Watch the Grad Days video.

03. 87-year-old Varathaledchumy Shanmuganathan becomes oldest graduate student to join alumni community

On Nov. 2, as part of her lifelong mission to continue advancing her education , Varathaledchumy Shanmuganathan earned the distinction of becoming the oldest person to receive a master’s degree from York University — and one of the oldest women to obtain a graduate degree from a Canadian university.

Now a Vaughan resident, Varatha who holds multiple degrees, was born in a small village in northern Sri Lanka and has lived and taught on four continents. Decades of civil war in her home country fueled her interest in political science and the pursuit of peace. Varatha’s master’s research focused on the causes of the civil war, peace processes and the prospect of peace in Sri Lanka.

Read Varatha’s story.

02. Mid-Career Conversations event series launches

A new virtual event series, hosted by alumna Zeynep Güler (BA ‘02), was created for alumni who have several years experience and are now considering (or have already made) an important career or life transition.

Each event session focuses on a specific mid-career transition and features an alumni speaker who shares their personal story and experiences with career transitions.

Learn more.

01. York U Alumni Awards

The York community came together virtually on Nov. 18, for an evening of entertainment, networking and celebration honouring the outstanding accomplishments of our alumni award recipients. Honoured at this year’s awards ceremony were Dr. Earle Nestmann (MSc ’71, PhD ’74) with the Outstanding Contribution award; Christopher House, C.M. (BFA ’79), with the Outstanding Achievement award; Dr. Pamela Ohashi (BSc Hons ’82) with the Tentanda Via award; and Weyni Mengesha (BFA ’05) with the One to Watch award.

Catch up on the celebration.

Learn about the Top 10 moments of 2021 from across the York U community, catch up on more alumni news from 2021 and read about fellow alumni who are creating positive change.