Tired of being labelled a failure, Chantee Grant took matters into her own hands.
Last year, the West Hill Collegiate Institute drop-out enrolled in Seneca’s College Opportunities program that provides mature students with a platform to complete their high school education along with strategies and skills to overcome barriers to education and employment.
In her second semester, Grant is excelling academically, she has a career goal in sight and she refuses to glance in the rear-view mirror.
“I was very rebellious as a teenager and I was just not interested in school,” said the 20-year-old, who was the recipient of a Passion 4 Dreams Community Award administered by Seneca College. “It just got to the point where I was fed up with being constantly asked what I wanted to do with my life and me knowing that my mother was disappointed in me. This award reminds me of the hurdles I have overcome to get to where I am at right now and the fact that I can achieve anything in life once I am prepared to put in the time and effort.”
Grant plans to become a criminal defence lawyer.
The Passion 4 Dreams Awards were established by Seneca graduate, Natalee Johnson. After completing the Court & Tribunal Agent program, Johnson worked in the legal sector for three years before recognizing that her true calling was working with children. The single mother returned to Seneca and completed the Early Childhood Education diploma program despite working part-time and caring for her son, JeSean.
An early childhood educator at a Mississauga Elementary School, Johnson – the recipient of a 2012 Senecan of Distinction Award – created the Passion 4 Dreams Awards named after an organization she founded five years ago. Passion 4 Dreams provides tutoring to elementary students and motivational speeches to parents.
Johnson also offers a financial award to a single parent who is enrolled in a full-time program in the School of Early Childhood education. This year’s winner was Ana Samayoa.
The spirit of giving back is also in Michael McKenzie’s DNA. For the past five years, he has been providing scholarships to students suffering from sickle cell disease.
As a sickle cell sufferer, the Jamaican-born is aware of the sometimes unbearable pain that causes young people to miss substantial classroom time because of frequent hospitalizations.
“I have been there so I know what it’s like,” said McKenzie, who was diagnosed with the disease after failing a blood test to secure his pilot’s licence. “You have your ups and downs, but you have to be prepared to be very tough and resilient and know you have to get up from the carpet.”
McKenzie was diagnosed with sickle cell while attending Central Technical High School.
“I wanted to be a jet pilot fighter so I was an Air Cadet,” he said. “I passed every test with the exception of my blood test which is the most important for entering the aviation field.”
Despite the illness, McKenzie graduated from high school on time and has a Bachelor’s degree from Wilfrid Laurier University and a Master’s from Carleton University. He has been a Statistics Canada economist for the past two decades.
This year’s Michael McKenzie scholarship winners are Melissa Mattis, Ato Forson and Tanya Williams.
The Festival Management Committee (FMC) awarded $3,000 in scholarships to five high school students residing in the York West and York Central neighbourhoods. The winners are Dinero Davis, Temitope Owolabi, Joy Uhunmhansebhor, Irinia Masner and Adam Murra.
The Seneca College Yorkgate Campus bursary was presented to Rochdell Francis, while Emmanuel Mmari and Jevan Jones were the recipients of the Seneca Association of Black Educators scholarships.
“This award proves that I am on the right path,” said Jones, who is enrolled in the Accounting & Finance program. The Father Michael McGivney Catholic Academy High School graduate aspires to become a chartered accountant.
Harry Jerome Award winner, Winston Stewart, who started a private security company with a $10,000 investment, presented a bursary to Kent Giang and Ibrahim Ibrahim was the winner of the Ermine Drummond Second Chance endowed bursary. Drummond is the mother of CBC News Toronto co-host, Dwight Drummond.
Seneca’s president, David Agnew, acknowledged the donors for stepping up to the plate with financial support and the award winners for pursuing higher education.
“Well over half of our students require financial aid to think about coming to Seneca,” he said. “This is an evening of inspiration. It’s rare to meet a student who goes on a straight path through their educational journey. This is especially true of the group of students who are represented here tonight. Some are coming from places of real hardship while others had a real tough start in life, so I am inspired by the fact that they have found their way back to school. That is an experience that’s going to make a difference in their lives.”
Faculty of Workforce Skills Development chair, Leolyn Hendricks, said the awards event allows the college to recognize students who are excelling in their studies and making a positive difference at Seneca and in their communities.
“It also allows us to say a very warm ‘thank you’ to the many donors who support these future leaders through their generous contributions to the various scholarships, bursaries and awards offered to students across a variety of programs,” said Hendricks. “We know that one of the chief barriers to participation in further education and to successful completion is financial need. These awards help them to make ends meet on so many levels and recognize their hard work and perseverance.”