When Julie Spence fell ill at home a few years ago, the youngest of her three children ran for his toy medical kit and used the stethoscope to try to determine the cause of her sickness.
Looking back, 18-year-old Walter Byrne and his mom are convinced that singular moment set the stage for his career goal of becoming a medical doctor.
“Whenever I asked him what he wanted do when he grew up, he would always say a worker,” recalled Spence who founded Spelling Bee of Canada. “One day he finally told me his goal was to be a medical doctor.”
Byrne was one of three high school graduates and Ontario Scholars presented with Church of the Nativity bursaries last Sunday.
He dedicated the award to his father who passed away last March.
“Walter’s dad missed his burning desire to see his only son graduate from high school,” said Spence. “They were very close and to have graduated with honours and be the recipient of this award is something I know his father would have been extremely proud of.”
A graduate of Harbord Collegiate Institute, Byrne is studying Biology at the University of Western Ontario.
He contributed to his high school’s newsletter and has volunteered with Spelling Bee of Canada and at Mount Sinai Hospital. He also worked as a Jamaican Canadian Association summer camp counsellor and was a participant in last year’s University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine summer mentorship program.
The other bursary winners were Jabari Butler and Adisa Liburd who was unable to attend the awards ceremony held during the church’s annual “Back to School” service.
Butler, the son of the church’s priest and the province’s Child & Family Services Review Board member, Rev. Donald Butler, graduated from J. Clarke Richardson Collegiate and is enrolled in Ryerson University’s Business program.
“This award means a lot because I put a lot of work into my studies,” said the Unity Day Camp counsellor.
Butler, who aspires to be an accountant, is a member of the church’s youth council and the Nativity Steelpan Angels.
Enrolled in McMaster University’s Engineering program, Liburd has been a Toronto Children’s Concert Choir member for the past seven years and a Parks & Recreation camp counsellor. He also volunteered with the Malvern After-School Intergenerational program and the Malvern Resource Centre.
Liburd graduated from Father Michael McGivney Catholic Academy.
In the keynote address, former St. Vincent & the Grenadines senior magistrate and deputy acting governor general, Errol Mounsey, congratulated the recipients and reminded them that the transition to university is just the start of another journey.
“Some of you may rejoice in what you may perceive to be new found freedom but I want to remind you that freedom is relative and with greater freedom comes greater responsibility,” said Mounsey who has been a church member for the past decade. “Proceed with caution for one false move may lead you down a slippery slope from which you may be unable to recover. What we have given you by way of these bursaries are wings to fly. Attitude will determine your altitude.
“Education is the only honest escape route from poverty. Education may not help you to become a millionaire but it’s a ticket to get on board the bus.”
Rev. Butler said the bursary program is a reflection of the church’s mission statement to reach out to the community and provide spiritual and moral support.
“Education gives you an effective choice of where you want to go,” Butler told the recipients. “It also gives you the ability to process information and make informed decisions.”
Veteran educator and church member Dr. Jide Koleoso commended the church for its foresight in providing the annual academic awards.
“It assists deserving students in pursuit of their academic desires,” the scientist and Malvern After-School Intergenerational Program Steering Committee member added. “It’s hoped that this will encourage other young people to aspire to greater academic heights.”
The Church of the Nativity has presented 73 scholarships worth close to $68,000 over the last 16 years.