After 25 years of recognizing outstanding student leaders with an award in his name, Gordon Cressy still insists on taking photos with each of the winners.
Since the Gordon Cressy Student Leadership Award was established by the University of Toronto Alumni Association and the Division of University Advancement in 1994, about 4,000 U of T students have been recognized for their outstanding extracurricular contributions – to their college, faculty, school or to the university as a whole.
A quarter century later, Cressy, a former vice-president of development and university relations at U of T, is still passionate about education and U of T’s exceptional alumni. He told the almost 200 winners who attended a ceremony on April 22 to speak to loved ones about what this award means.
“Tell them it’s not just a plaque hanging on a wall,” said Cressy, a former Toronto city councillor. “Tell them it’s a commitment to actually stop sitting on the sidelines. It’s about getting involved and making a difference.”
The Cressy winners have provided support to fellow students, raised funds for causes, organized arts and cultural events and encouraged diversity and inclusion at every opportunity.
For U of T President Meric Gertler, the accomplishments of the winners speak to the “dedication and excellence” of the graduating class at U of T.
“To those being honoured tonight, let me say that we are immensely proud of your achievements and we are especially impressed by your amazing ability to combine co-curricular distinction with such strong academic performance,” said President Gertler.
“As you’ll soon hear, tonight’s recipients have seized the opportunity to lead and to serve. They’ve contributed in countless ways.”
U of T News spoke to students about the honour.
Diane Hill, U of T Scarborough
A proud Oneida First Nation member, Hill was an Indigenous program developer at U of T Scarborough, which involved taking part in committees for the implementation of the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
Hill said she considers her 2016 TedX Talk, in which she discussed funding inequities in education for Indigenous communities, a highlight of her work. “It was a good opportunity to share my grandfather’s story and the story of my community and be an advocate for Indigenous Peoples.”
Going forward, she wants to continue to show leadership in spaces where groups like Indigenous Peoples are under-represented. ”Being able to advocate for your community and Indigenous Peoples is especially important because you’re able to give back but also be a leader for the next generation.”
Nivetha Chandran, U of T Scarborough
Among her many achievements, Chandran served as co-president of the UTSC Biology Students’ Association. The human biology and health studies student feels honoured to be recognized with a Cressy, but she also sees the award as a show of support from the university – which made her feel welcome as a first-year student.
“It’s not just an accomplishment, per se. It’s more an accomplishment of the community, the inclusivity and the good qualities they’re fostering,” she explained. “It’s all about finding that right balance (between studies and extracurricular activity), and that balance couldn’t have been found without that support.”