For this month’s installment of the TransfORming Our Globe blog series, we’re sharing the story of alumna, Leona Songhee Lee ’04, who is dedicating her career to keeping the arts alive and culture thriving.
Leona was born in Seoul, Korea. When she turned 14, she made the bold decision to move around the world, to study abroad in Canada. Her first year was spent on Victoria Island, before moving eastward, to study at Ridley.
It can be difficult to adjust to such a drastic change, but quickly, Leona settled in and began exploring what Ridley had to offer. She appreciated the opportunity to stay active – playing squash, badminton, softball and participating in swimming – and she found her time in chapel peaceful and restorative. However, most impactful was her involvement in the arts. From art history classes to lesson on technique, Leona was able to explore a vast number of art forms and practices, and decide which medium she enjoyed most. In Grade 11, her curriculum included a unit on jewelry design, which would lay the foundation for her career.
With guidance from her Ridley teachers, Leona went on to study at the Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design. While at the world-renowned art school, she refined her craft and broadened her horizons. She even began to explore the business marketing side of art and design.
Flash forward to 2010 and the launch of ELYONA. Born from a desire to create high-quality and fashion-forward designs, Leona brought her own jewelry line to life. First launching in London, UK, with plans to bring it to Korea – a place where this style of jewelry had yet to appear.
Now, just shy of a decade old, ELYONA has rapidly made a mark on the fashion industry. Not only is Leona’s line carried in 55 stores, in 16 countries, but ELYONA has also participated in global fashion events, including Paris, London and Seoul Fashion Weeks.
With plans to continue growing her brand, Leona hopes to return to school to learn more about the business side of her career. With this newfound knowledge, she would be able to explore the field of design management and bring these skills to ELYONA.
Leona discovered her passion and found a way to weave it into her career. To Ridleians who are seeking their own pathway, she encourages them to follow their heart and persevere until everything falls into place.
As the 2017–18 school year and the athletic campaign began this fall, a record number of Ridley alumni were also gearing up to represent their new post-secondary institutions in competition. Forty recent Tiger graduates have made university rosters throughout the North American system. While 23 alumni are making contributions on Canadian university sports rosters. Meanwhile, 17 alumni have crossed the border to represent in NCAA programmes; including schools like Brown, Princeton, Tennessee and Boston College. Eleven hockey alumni are also actively pursuing Junior hockey careers, with three ORs currently facing off in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). Add to that our three professional athletes, one current member of the Canadian Men’s National Rowing Team (with three others currently in the National Rowing pipeline,) and it becomes clear just how special Ridley’s athletes are, and how many opportunities stem from the school’s athletic programme.
The success of these grads is rooted in our 128-year-old philosophy of dedication to quality daily physical activity. Their accomplishments are also a testament to the incredible coaches, mentors and facilities from which Ridley athletes benefit from every day. The school is a national leader in the adoption of the Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) pathway, whereby different stages of athletic development have a specific focus for students, helping to build all-around athletes first and preparing them for more varied athletic experiences. This approach is clearly working, as 12 different university sports are represented in the graduate pursuits listed above. As well, the school’s focus on developing high-performance programmes in hockey, rowing and basketball have helped to elevate the competitive environments in those sports to the highest levels available in North America for high school students.
Our dynamic approach to schoolwide, sport-specific and elite-level programming puts Ridley’s overall development system in a league of its own.
It is clear that prospective students and North American university programmes are taking notice. The number of inquiries and applications to the school has increased, with interest noted in hockey, basketball and rowing. There has also been a jump in the number of university and college coaches making regular trips to the Tiger Arena, Griffith Gym and Ridley Boat House. Why? An internationally renowned, rigorous academic institution that is fostering high-performance athletes creates a very compelling story.
With some of our current student-athletes having already secured offers to schools like the University of Southern California (USC), Oregon, Stanford, Syracuse, and McGill, we can take pride in the knowledge that 21st century Ridley continues to build on a legacy of sporting excellence which has been foundational for over a hundred years. Go Blacks Go!
2017–2018 Alumni Athlete Update
Graduates Playing University/College Sports 2017-2018 at Canadian Schools
Graduates Playing University/College Sports 2017-2018 at United States Schools
Graduates Playing Junior Hockey
Active Post Collegiate Careers
If you are a Tiger pursuing your athletic career and are not listed, we’d like to hear from you. Tell us your story:
“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” – Pablo Picasso
The arts are different. Unlike most activities, the product of art activity is not useful. Art does not feed us or make our lives more comfortable. It seems the very nature of art is to be without practical use. So why is it that evidence of art making through music and painting pre-dates the invention of writing by over 30,000 years? Why is it that art making traditions have existed in all human cultures throughout history? Just what is it about this activity that compels us to invest time and energy making it, consuming it and storing it in museums?
Picasso touches upon the answer. Art allows us to feel, to sense the wonder and complexity of existence that is ever elusive, that defies encapsulation within language or numbers. Making art is a hard-wired compulsion that can be seen in children who spontaneously make up songs, dance, draw and act out imaginary scenarios. Watch any four-year-old and you will see evidence of this compulsion and the sheer joy that it brings. Children express themselves freely until they move into adolescence and become more self-conscious and invest more time learning the argotic codes required for social standing. Too often the capacities of the artist are left to atrophy as children move through educational institutions that leave behind rigorous arts curricula and thereby denigrate this activity as less important. Children get the message: art is not valued by the adults here so I’ll attend to those things that are valued. The loss of potential is enormous, the capacity for full experience diminished.
At Ridley College, the arts are not left behind.
At Ridley, we aspire to nourish flourishing lives that tap into all facets of our humanity. We aspire to facilitate the full development of the child so that they can reach their maximum potential as productive, creative, happy people. At Ridley, children are exposed to music and art education by specialist teachers beginning in Kindergarten and are able to access increasingly specialized and demanding arts curriculum as they move through the programme into Upper School.
Many of our senior students find that, for them, a flourishing life is one infused with the joy experienced when engaged with art in the studio and on the stage. This joy comes from a state of flow. In a state of flow, a person is fully immersed in an activity because the challenge of the task is matched with their level of competence required to complete the task. As a teacher of visual art, observing students immersed in a state of flow in the studio is one of the most rewarding features of my job. A child who is fully immersed in the process of hands-on creation is a flourishing child.
As Ridley continues to build upon its reputation as a world-class school, its arts programme will grow to facilitate higher levels of performance and deeper engagement. The tools that we use to make art are also expanding to include a wide array of electronic media. More than ever, cultural industries are emerging to encompass large swaths of economic activity in an increasingly automated world. Thus, in the arts, we are also preparing children for rewarding careers as well as ensuring that they keep in their lives the joy and fulfillment that comes from engaging with the arts.
For all of us throughout our lives, we are faced with the task of building identity and generating meaning. Throughout history, the arts have played a vital role facilitating meaning making and affirming cultural identity. Beyond developing artists’ capacities, Ridley’s role as a school is to ensure that its students move on to adulthood with a deep-seated appreciation for the value of art in their lives. If Ridley can do this, it has done its part in ensuring our culture and civilization will continue to nourish our humanity and thereby make the world a better place.