Walk of excellence a celebration of students' success
June 4, 2017
Once enrolled in the Salvation Army School for the Blind & Visually Impaired (SASBVI) in Jamaica, Gavin O’Sullivan made it clear to his mother that he wanted to be in a regular classroom when he came to Canada in May 2014.
She listened and complied with his request.
O’Sullivan will graduate with honours next month from West Humber Collegiate Institute.
“I wanted to be in environments with people with sight for the experience because I planned to be around individuals who could see,” he said. “It was pretty straightforward and I am glad my mom understood where I was coming from.”
The teenager said the transition was challenging.
“In my first semester, it was not easy fitting in a completely new setting,” said O’Sullivan who has been accepted into Seneca @York independent music production program. “But I caught up with my school work and other things and was quite comfortable in my second semester. I have been on the honour roll since then.”
Last week, he was awarded a scholarship at the fifth annual Walk of Excellence for graduating high school students in the city’s west end.
Petal Farquharson, a co-op teacher at the Etobicoke school, said O’Sullivan is an extremely dedicated student whose has embraced and maintained excellence.
“Gavin has not allowed his disability to be an obstacle in any way,” she said. “In fact, he has used it as a strength and that has enabled him to be widely accepted and supported by his peers in the school community. He is averaging in the high 80s and is a natural leader who is very involved in school activities. For this walk, he was one of the organizers.”
O’Sullivan is equipped with a voice-activated laptop computer which reads scanned assignments
The teenager lost the sight in his left eye in an accident in Grade One.
He was struck in the eye when a schoolmate released a popsicle stick from an elastic band.
“While we were going to lunch, he was behind me with the sling shot and when I turned around, he caught me in the eye,” recounted the high school standout who can barely see shadows and light through the right eye.
O’Sullivan, who is musically inclined, was introduced to the piano six years ago while at the SASBVI.
“One of the students taught me how to play three chords and I just took off from there,” he said. “Now I can play five instruments which are the piano, base and acoustic guitars, drums and recorder, and I am learning to play the steelpan.”
Two years ago, O’Sullivan broke his own city record, establishing a time of 16.76 secs. in the 100-metre dash at the provincial high school track & field championships.
Since the Walk of Excellence was launched in 2013, scholarships are presented to a student from each participating school that has demonstrated leadership in arts, athletics or in school life and has made a significant contribution to their schools and communities while enrolled in high school.
Tuba Khan of Emery Collegiate Institute, Tinuola Akinwande of Downsview Secondary School, Nana Boateng of Westview Centennial Secondary School and Kellisha Roberts of C.W Jefferys Collegiate Institute were the other recipients.
Roberts will pursue post-secondary studies next September at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management.
Kellisha is an amazing leader,” said her principal, Monday Gala, who was the only Black head teacher from across the country that made the 2017 Canada Outstanding Principals (COP) Top 40 list. “She works ten times harder than most to get whatever marks she has achieved.”
As a newcomer to Canada four years ago, Ghanaian-born Nana Boateng knew that assimilation in a new location isn’t easy.
“I figured there would be bumps along the road, but they were not going to deter me from my goal which was to graduate from high school on time and get a university education,” he said.
Boateng has succeeded in one phase and is about to begin a new journey.
Enrolled in Queen’s University which is the alma mater of his principal Cherilyn Scobie, he reflected on the walk and how it brought students together.
“To see young people my age group from different schools walk in unity was such a beautiful thing,” Boateng, who will pursue computer science & creative arts studies, added. “It was even more fulfilling to end that walk on a university campus where most of us are going to be heading in another few months. This memory will stick with me for a very long time.”
Akinwande, who will attend Carleton University to pursue political science studies, concurred.
“All of us have travelled the same path to high school and we have showed the world we can succeed despite challenges and circumstances,” the aspiring lawyer said. “This is a day I will not easily forget.”
The Toronto Carnival Festival Management Committee, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) local 4400 and A Different Booklist, co-owned by Walk of Excellence founder Itah Sadu, donated the scholarships.
Sadu conceived the idea for the one kilometre walk that starts at C.W. Jefferys and concludes at York University with a celebration of student success.
“Students in the Jane & Finch community and the west schools in the city can be extremely proud to see that an idea that was founded in the community has now inspired schools in the east of the city,” she said.
Nearly 500 pupils from R.H King Academy, David & Mary Thomson, Birchmount Park, Cedarbrae, Winston Churchill, West Hill, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Albert Campbell, Maplewood High School and the Scarborough Academy of Technology, Environmental & Computer Education@W.A Porter Collegiate Institute were transported by buses from West Hill Collegiate Institute to the University of Toronto Scarborough campus last Thursday because of torrential rain.
Inspired by the events in Toronto, a committee in Ottawa has organized a Walk of Excellence for students in the nation’s capital on May 31. They will walk to the University of Ottawa.
Former Toronto District School Board principal Zanana Akande took part in the walk to York University for the first time.
“This is a great opportunity for our young people because they get to meet people who travelled this route that they are about to go on and who now recognize they are doing things they otherwise might not have done,” she said, ‘For those who have already decided they are going to college or university, their decisions are validated. By coming to this university campus, they are becoming familiar with the space which could be sometimes daunting for some. It is fine to want to go to university, but when you get there and you realise you are not grouped into little classes with your buddies, it can be very frightening.”
Akande said the experience brought back memories of walks she had with her mother to the downtown U of T campus.
“One day, she took us into a building and a professor asked where we were going,” said Akande, the first Black woman elected to the province’s legislative assembly. “When my mother said she was taking her kids to see what the classes are like, he asked her why she was doing that now. My mom said it was important and he proceeded to have us look in the classes. The professor told us it’s just like school.”