Excellence rewarded in Durham
June 11, 2019
Believing the world is her oyster is Zaida-Joy Aurelius’ creed.
The Eastdale Collegiate & Vocational Institute graduate was accepted to the five Canadian universities and two colleges she applied to.
She chose Ryerson University because its Film Studies program is rated among the top five in Canada.
The balance of studio, lecture and lab courses that include real work in fine arts and commercial production absolutely appealed to Aurelius.
With the decision made on where she’s pursuing undergraduate studies, her focus for a few weeks was on her high school’s Theatre company production of ‘The Little Mermaid’ on May 24 and 25.
The teenager was cast as Ariel in the fairy tale first published in 1837 as part of a collection of children’s fairy tales.
“I was so excited to play the lead because it’s not often that a Black person is cast in that role,” Aurelius said.
Her creative juices started flowing at a young age.
“It was in creating small movie projects with my siblings that I discovered I had a love for film,” Aurelius noted. “I started taking courses in high school and found out that was what I want to do.”
A television series, not a movie, is her favourite show.
‘Once Upon a Time’ tells the story of a new world, one in which fairy-tale legends and modern life collide.
“Usually when parodies of fairy tales are made, they are generic and the same story lines are stuck to while maybe the time period is changed a bit,” she said. “In this TV series, the producers did a great job of including the pieces of the old story while adding new elements that make the story really interesting. I love telling stories and I want to create awesome things like that.”
Aurelius, who also enjoys singing dancing and coding, was born to parents who facilitate learning.
Camille Davis, who graduated with a Bachelor of Education from Brock University in 2017, was the Oxford Learning Centres Education Director for 14 years before joining Manulife three years ago as a Training & Development Specialist.
Her father – Californian-born Marcus Aurelius who grew up in the Bahamas – taught English in South Korea, Thailand and Saudi Arabia.
Aurelius was one of two Durham District School Board high school students honoured with ‘Activating Student Success’ Awards at the Durham Black Educators’ Network (DBEN) seventh annual recognition ceremony on May 9 at Henry Street High School in Whitby.
Sinclair Secondary School graduate Chante Hamilton was the other awardee.
Ajax High School Grade 12 students Racquel Anderson and Daveisha Francis were the recipients of the inaugural Up North Naturals Entrepreneurship Awards.
Four years ago, Lisa Keizer started the company that provides natural textured hair products.
“This is a wonderful way to give back and also motivate other youths to be entrepreneurially-inclined,” she said. “There are young people out there who may not want to start a business, but they are doing positive things and innovating new processes that are benefitting the community.”
There were 15 candidates for the awards.
“Racquel and Daveisha stood out because they are doing things to uplift their community,” said Keizer.
Anderson played rugby and soccer in high school and was a Prom Committee member and the Yearbook Editor-in-Chief for the last two years. She plans to enroll in Ryerson University’s Creative Industries program.
Her career goal is to be a creative director.
“My mom was an interior decorator and my dad is a barber, so I figure that is where the creativity came from,” said Anderson.
Her dad, Omar Anderson, is the owner of ‘O Cuts’ in Ajax and her cousins – Stefan James and his older brother Shamier Anderson – are actors.
Francis is very active in her school as co-president of the slam poetry team and a member of the Black Excellence Student team and the student council.
“I also love to promote happiness,” added the high school graduate who completed 158 community hours which is 118 more than the requirement.
In pursuit of undergraduate studies outside of Canada, Francis selected the University of Sussex over the University of East Anglia and Queen Mary University of London.
“In my communications with the folks at the University of Sussex, they were extremely welcoming and approachable,” she said. “The university is located on nice open green space and the student reviews also captured my attention.”
Francis, who leaves for England on August 10 to study Neuroscience, aspires to be a Speech Language Pathologist.
“I have an interest in Sign Language and I want to study how brain injuries lead to speech impediments,” she added.
Kayla Thompson and Matthew Murray were presented with the Mark Joel Trailblazer Awards. The DDSB Superintendent retired five years ago after 35 years in public education.
A Grade 11 student at Ajax High School, Thompson – an only child – loves writing, networking and socializing. She plans to pursue either Health Sciences or Journalism in university.
With a passion for dancing, she is a member of the 30-year-old Geetika Dance Company that teaches Classical and Bollywood dance.
“I am a classically trained dancer who took a year off to focus on my school work,” Thompson said. “I saw Geetika performing at Scarborough Town Centre and I fell in love with their music, dance styles and costumes.”
Pickering High School Principal Randy Tennant and Vice-principal Melissa Hunte were on hand to see Murray receive his award.
“Matthew is one of our school’s outstanding leaders,” said Tennant. “He’s a fine role model for his peers.”
Hunte said Murray is a phenomenal student who excelled academically and athletically.
“He is also involved in several school clubs and the students look up to him,” she added.
The Grade 12 student will pursue Mechanical Engineering studies in university.
Maxwell Heights High School graduate Alethea Clarke, who is enrolled in McMaster University Life Sciences program, was awarded the Power in Me scholarship. She’s a member of her school’s Black Students Network.
Awards were also presented to Terry Fox Public School Grades Seven and Eight students Jelyssa Gustavus and Marcus Young respectively, Robert Munsch Grade Eight pupil Naomi Colley and Zephan Ackie who is in Grade Seven at Maple Ridge Public School.
Ackie, a Grade Five mentor for Black boys in the leadership program and a student council member, already has his sights set on a career goal.
“I want to get into politics,” he said. “When I see politicians on television, I find them to be very cool.”
Selected by their teachers or administrators, the students’ nominations were reviewed by a selection committee comprising educators and community members. There were 38 nominees.
Toronto District School Board Principal Ainsworth Morgan was the keynote speaker at the seventh annual awards ceremony.
Raised in Regent Park by a single mother, he acknowledged two teachers – one when he was in Grade One and the other when he was in Grade Four – who inspired him to get into the profession.
“Lorna Stewart was a White woman from northern Ontario who had no concept of the inner-city Regent Park,” he said. “She was simply a great teacher who loved to teach and cared about the lives of her students outside of the classroom. Pam McIntosh, on the other hand, was an extension of my home and my mother in that she was an old-school, no-nonsense educator that was raised in the Caribbean. She had very high expectations and would not allow me to fail. They were very caring educators with two different approaches. One would kill you with kindness in order for you to succeed while the other would just kill you if you didn’t. I tell you this to say I believe every child has the capacity to learn and it just takes a willing teacher in a nurturing and supportive environment.”
The Head Teacher at Pelmo Park Public School encouraged the award winners and other students to seek support and recognize the opportunities they are presented as they progress on their educational journey.