Hundreds of high school seniors march on York


Students from Emery, Westview, Jefferys and Downsview participate in Walk With Excellence

Graduating students from Downsview S.S., pose before the Walk With Excellence.By David RosThe distance between C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute and Osgoode Hall Law School is only 1.5 km, but for many local students, the distance between high school and post-secondary can sometimes seem much further away.On May 31, graduating students from C.W. Jefferys, Downsview Secondary School, Emery Collegiate Institute, and Westview Centennial Secondary School gathered in the auditorium of C.W. Jefferys before making the short march to Osgoode, on the campus of York University as part of the annual Walk With Excellence.“The whole purpose of it was to show a public demonstration of student achievement, changing some narratives and some stereotypes along the way,” said Itah Sadu, an organizer and founder of Walk With Excellence. “I think oftentimes when people think of students, we can always think of negative things, or there's some communities when people think 'what are students doing?' and they don't see their greatness because it gets clouded with media so the walk was to affect that narrative.” Led by a marching band, the students made their way up Sentinel Rd., where they were greeted and waved at by passersby, some even recorded the procession on their cell phone cameras as the students walked by, each wearing T-shirts to commemorate the event.For many of the students, not only did it symbolize all they had accomplished up to this point, it was also a welcome break from the immense pressure they've felt all year and a chance to enjoy themselves in the blazing sun.“I feel like this is an awesome experience,” said Alinda James, a grade 12 student at Downsview S.S., “It's basically a chance to let loose and have fun and celebrate.”It was also a chance for students to provide the community with a physical representation of their achievements.“Given the fact that a number of the schools involved, are in the area of Jane and Finch, many people try to put that neighbourhood down,” said Icilda Elliston, Principal of Emery C.I. “What we want to show is a very positive image to allow our students, parents and community members to understand that we have some of the most brilliant students also in this area and walking to York University is actually showcasing the success of our students and to them, it means a great deal.”Police blocked off intersections during the procession so that the students could make the journey unimpeded. Upon arrival at York University, the students were greeted by a number of staff members and dignitaries who cheered them on.The Westview Centennial S.S., steel band perform as the students enter Osgoode Hall Law School.“University is scary for many and I know for myself, because I graduated from Westview and then went to York University, and for me, it was scary,” said Tiffany Ford, Toronto District School Board Trustee for Ward 4. “It seems more reachable and tangible to have something like this for people to be proud of what they've done and then be able to walk with other students.”Jacqueline Spence, a Toronto District School Board (TDSB) Superintendent said the walk builds possibility in the minds of students.“Students don't always feel like it's a possibility sometimes to go to University,” said Jacqueline Spence, a Toronto District School Board Superintendent. “There's lots of barriers but that this gives them hope and possibility that it's right in their backyard.”This year's theme was Walk With Power, and Sadu said it holds a deep symbolic meaning for the students.“We have to have rights of passage, people have birthdays and all kinds of celebrations, we can have another celebration, so we say the Walk With Excellence is an urban right of passage, it is where graduating students in a high school can walk to a college or university to symbolically say, 'I am moving from one level to another level,'” she said. “I think when they look through their bedroom window and they see the university or when they look through their door and they see the university and it registers on them that 'this is a place I can attend,' because I'm sure a number of students see the university and never even think of it.”Mary Jane McNamara, a TDSB Superintendent said she saw the walk as a physical symbol of transition between high school and post-secondary.[embed][/embed]“It's also a wonderful opportunity for the neighbourhood to see the students who they've seen grow up now to walk by their homes on their way,” She said. “It's a real physical transition and there were parents, adults, relatives, you could see them in the apartments looking down at the children and cheering for them.”Sadu said the walk is also an opportunity for the University to reach out to students in the local community. Mamdouh Shoukri, President of York University, was on hand to welcome and congratulate students, before delivering a short address.“The university also looks at the community with different eyes,” Sadu said. “[They will say] 'We will not only research them, we will say to the students walk with power into our institution and here we can provide opportunities that will make you even more powerful in this world.'”Elliston said that York University has been amazing in showcasing their support in not only providing their space to host this event, but also in reaching out to the local community through bursaries and financial support for students as well as through their Advanced Credit Experience (ACE) program, which allows students to gain a credit in a first-year University course while they are still in high school.“[Students] say 'If I can get a university credit at Grade 11 and Grade 12, then surely, I can go on to do better things,'” Elliston said. “High School is very stressful and it's just a little time for us to enjoy ourselves and just remember,”Donna Quan, Director of Education from the Toronto District School Board addresses the graduates in the auditorium at C.W. Jefferys.Principals