The past year has certainly brought its share of challenges—but it’s also started important conversations about managing stress, cultivating resilience and finding hope. For TigerPost contributor, Vanessa Ferrante ’21, practicing gratitude has been a key part of her stress-busting strategy during the pandemic. Read on to learn how simply being thankful can help you.
There have been a lot of things to stress about during this pandemic. The risk of becoming sick, having to quarantine, learning virtually, not going out with friends, and more. This has amplified our anxiety and sense of helplessness making us lose sleep, hope and serenity. Being in a constant state of stress is not good for our minds, bodies, and those around us. One ‘stress-buster’ that I find especially helpful is expressing gratitude.
Being in a constant state of stress is not good for our minds, bodies, and those around us.
Gratitude is a state of mind where you focus on the present and your blessings in life. When we both express and receive gratitude, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, the two most crucial neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions. You try to forget the negatives and focus instead on the silver linings that make you happy. Gratitude is easy in good times, however, when times are tough, it is not always that simple. It is important to know that there are always things to be grateful for in your life. By allowing yourself to turn to gratitude, you can find hope amidst despair.
Gratitude can always be learned and, if practiced properly, you will reap the benefits that come with it. Perhaps during COVID you are feeling sadness, grief, anxiety, stress, fear, and even anger. Having emotional balance helps us to attain stabilization between our mind and body. When this happens, remember that you are feeling these emotions for a reason. Acknowledge them and allow yourself to experience them while also knowing when it’s time to feel happy.
During these unprecedented times, it is obvious that we should be grateful to essential workers, such as food suppliers, healthcare workers, delivery people, and first responders. They have all taken on risks for the benefit of everyone else. How can we repay them? We do this by showing gratitude and paying kindness forward. Although it is extremely important to be grateful for essential workers, we should express appreciation for all those who make our life easier and happier.
One might ask, “how do I do that?” There are many ways in which one can practice gratitude. Perhaps you can put your gratitude on paper: write down the names of three people or things in your life for which you are grateful and why. Or maybe you can tell someone you appreciate them. I know I appreciate the teachers and staff at Ridley who are working overtime to find creative ways to teach us virtually and keep us safe. How about challenging yourself to stop complaining for 21 days? Break the habit of concentrating on the bad in your life. Showing gratitude feels good and encourages kindness in those who receive gratitude, and in anyone who witnesses a kind act.
It is important to know that there are always things to be grateful for in your life.
When you live your life this way, it is contagious—just like the COVID virus. Except, you want this virus in your life! When you do something kind, those around you will pick up on it and want to pay it forward. One action has the potential to spark a chain reaction. There are lots of ways you can practice gratitude as the world deals with times of uncertainly. What has become crystal clear is that only through our efforts, together, can we create a better future for us all.
How can students make a difference? TigerPost contributor Meriel Wehner ’21 shares how youth around the world are bringing about change—and how you can get started in your own backyard.
As teenagers and students, it can sometimes feel as though there is nothing we can do to make a difference in an often-unfair world. At Ridley, we are lucky to have access to an incredible education; to have food, water, and shelter; and to be respected and treated as equals. However, in many parts of the world this is not the case; millions of people desperately need help to access and enjoy their most basic human rights. And, even if we want to help, we don’t always know how. We feel that because we are just teenagers, we don’t have the power to do anything impactful. We feel that because we are, geographically, so far from those who are suffering most, there is no way that our actions could lead to a favourable result. However, this is not true—there are several ways that students our age can help those less fortunate.
1. Volunteer locally
Oftentimes, when we think of those who are denied their rights, we imagine they live far away, however, this is simply not true. Though Canadians enjoy basic human rights more than many in less-developed countries, there are still plenty of Canadians, both at the local and national level, who need our help. A 2018 study found that there are roughly 625 homeless people living in St Catharines.
By volunteering at local homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and food banks, or hosting fundraisers and collection drives, teenagers can help protect these people, and to promote their right to access food and shelter. Often, volunteering locally is free; there is no need for an expensive plane ticket, and it allows us to help fix the problems closer to our own lives. Of course, volunteering overseas is a great thing to do, but it is often more effective in the long run to focus on the people who are geographically close to you, as the aid you deliver will be more sustained and concentrated.
2. Sign petitions
Petitions are a great way to get involved with any number of cases, and these take almost no time or energy. Websites like change.org are home to thousands of petitions tackling basically any topic of interest. Signing a petition takes less than a minute and can be a really easy way to make a difference because every signature counts! To make your petition signature as effective as possible, send them to family and friends to make sure those signatures add up.
3. Participate in Amnesty Letter Writing Campaigns
For those who haven’t heard of it, Amnesty International is the world’s leading organization which promotes human rights. Amnesty helps in myriad ways, but one of their most well-known endeavours is the Amnesty letter-writing campaign. Amnesty posts case files on various global human rights abuses, along with a letter template and information on who to address your letter. In these letters, you can put into words all the passion you feel for a certain topic and send them off to someone who can actually make a difference. Anyone can write an Amnesty letter and they can be massively impactful. In the past, Amnesty letter-writing campaigns have directly led to freeing unfairly jailed political prisoners, saving innocent people from the death penalty, and bringing about the arrests of human rights abusers. These letters may be slightly more involved than simply signing a petition, but they are an easy and free way to facilitate real change.
Although donations aren’t always feasible or sustainable for the long-term, if one has the means, making a donation is one of the best ways to help those in need. Even small donations of $1 or $2 can make a huge impact once they add up. Donations can be made to support essentially any cause and can even save a life. However, it is important to do research on the charities you choose to donate to, to be certain that your money is going directly to the cause and not being siphoned by the organization.
5. Raise awareness on social media
One great way to really make a difference is to spread awareness. People often aren’t aware of what’s going on in the world around them, but if they knew, they would do what they could to help. By spreading information in a productive manner, we can educate and encourage others to act. As teenagers, one of the most effective ways we can spread information is through social media. Everyone has it; everyone uses it—and Instagram stories, in particular, are an excellent way to share current world issues.
Instagram stories are an excellent way to share current world issues, however, it is essential to fact-check all information found on apps before reposting.
By posting to these teen-saturated apps, we are easily able to educate a generation. However, there is a definitive downside to social media activism, as basically anything can be put into a story template and reposted. It is essential to fact-check all information found on apps (like Instagram) before reposting, as spreading false information can be extremely dangerous—particularly when critical issues are involved.
6. Read the news
One of the easiest ways to make a difference is to be aware of going on, and the best way to do this is to read or watch the news. Of course, this alone does not make any difference, but the more people are aware of world issues, the more we can work to make a difference. By staying up to date on current affairs and talking about them with your friends and family, we can increase global recognition of human rights crises which may be isolated to a certain geographical area and begin to build enough attention to force change.
The more people are aware of world issues, the more we can work to make a difference.
It has been proven that raising awareness is only effective in making change when everyone knows—so make sure to always talk about and share what you read. Participating in meaningful, educational conversations about current affairs is an excellent way to expand understanding beyond what is written in the news, and can allow one to reflect on how to bring about change.
7. Attend a rally
One of the most involved ways to promote human rights is to attend rallies. Rallies can be held to protest any human rights abuse, from the Black Lives Matter movement to the gender wage gap. Rallies are particularly impactful as they bring together people who are passionate about change.
When faced with such large groups of people, it’s difficult for a government to completely ignore the issue. Rallies put focused attention on a specific issue, which in turn encourages the government to discuss it. Then, the issue will hopefully be addressed and rectified in a positive, fair and respectful manner. In cities like Toronto, rallies are often held for any number of issues—this is a great place to get started with peaceful protesting.
Sam has always loved a good challenge—the secret is to keep one step ahead. The retired triathlete shares her experiences at Ridley, what’s keeping her running these days, and the conversation she wishes more young athletes would have.
These days, Sam McGlone is taking life in stride, albeit at a quick pace. The Olympic triathlete may have retired from competition, but as an emergency physician with two little ones at home, Sam has more than enough to keep her running—and, in case you were wondering, she’s still as active as ever.
The San Diego-based doctor just started working at Sharp Memorial hospital, following residency at the University of California. Her husband, Brent, is an emergency physician as well, and the two have a five-year-old son, Cole, and a daughter, Alex, who’s three. “It’s a little hectic,” she says cheerfully, but she’s clearly enjoying every minute. “The kids are high-energy, funny, active—they’re everything you’d imagine.” They come by it honestly. Their parents met through triathlon; Brent was an elite athlete and swim coach, who, like Sam, transitioned to medicine later on.
“It wears on you,” she admits. “Everyone’s got this fatigue because it’s been going on so long—but as a health care worker I’ve seen the numbers rise. People are coming in sicker and you know a lot of it is preventable.”
As we speak, it doesn’t take long for the elephant in the room to be addressed: Sam is working as a doctor in the midst of a global pandemic, and she is at turns empathetic and frustrated. “It wears on you,” she admits. “Everyone’s got this fatigue because it’s been going on so long—but as a health care worker I’ve seen the numbers rise. People are coming in sicker and you know a lot of it is preventable.” She pauses. “But I’m also sensitive to the fact that people are over this and just want to see their families. They’re not ready to make those sacrifices indefinitely.”
The upshot of California living, however, is that their family can be outdoors year-round, whether that means being active, taking a break, or socializing safely outside. The seasonal perks of San Diego are, admittedly, quite different from St. Catharines, where Sam and her sister, Karen ’95 grew up, right near Ridley, where they attended Upper School. “My parents always felt education was a priority, so when it came to high school, we started looking at different options,” she remembers. “Ridley immediately stood out because of the breadth of opportunity there. To have that in your own backyard and be able to go as a day student was amazing. We loved our time there.”
From dabbling in music and theatre, to exploring new sports and writing for the school newspaper, Sam enjoyed the diversity she found on campus. She rode horses, was a harrier, joined the swim team, was on the First Girls hockey team for a time, and was the 1993 Midget Girls Cross Country Run winner, earning a Tiger Tie for her athletic achievements. “When your kids are young, you think about putting them into one sport or another, but I’d encourage them to try a variety,” she offers, thinking of her own sport-loving little ones. “In your late teens and twenties, you’ll need to focus in order to get to a high level. But there’s a lot of time before that needs to happen, and you’re asking for burnout if you specialize too early.”
“My parents always felt education was a high priority and when we started looking at options for high school, Ridley stood out because of the sheer breadth of opportunity there. To have that right in our own back yard was amazing.”
It was Ridley’s cross-country coach, Maggie Swan who first encouraged the 14-year-old to look into triathlon. “She said it was a great way to stay in shape during summers for the track and cross-country seasons,” Sam recalls. “So, I borrowed a wet suit and a bike and did the Grimsby Triathlon. I don’t think I did terribly well that first one, but it was challenging and a lot of fun. I decided, ‘I want to get better at this.’”
In the summers that followed, Sam participated in races across Ontario, but it was her training with a team in Australia that really helped up her game. “Australia has strong teams and training programmes,” she explains, having gone for a gap year after high school,“and I took a big jump up in my level. When I came back to Canada, I made the Junior National Team, and that launched me to international competitions.”
From there, she was, quite literally, off and running. Having always intended to go to medical school, Sam moved to Quebec to study kinesiology at McGill University and trained with a club while she completed her degree. When she was presented with the opportunity to make Team Canada, Sam decided to postpone med school to see where her talents could take her. She knew there was only so long she’d be able to compete in a tough endurance sport like hers, and the opportunity was too good to pass up.
“In your late teens and twenties, you’ll need to focus in order to get to a high level. But there’s a lot of time before that needs to happen, and you’re asking for burnout if you specialize too early.”
After graduating from McGill in 2002, she moved to the Canadian Training Centre in Victoria, B.C. It was a smart gamble which led to a successful 10-year career as a professional triathlete. Sam raced in the International Triathlon Union (ITU) World Cup Series, won the Canadian National Triathlon championship in 2004 and 2005, and represented Canada at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.
“It was the highlight of my life,” she remembers of her time in Athens, that first call to her mom back home drowned out by the cheers in the stadium. “In terms of the race itself, it was like any other: the format’s the same, the officials, the competitors—and in some ways, that was reassuring. But everything surrounding the Games was so much bigger than anything I’d ever seen. Triathlon is one of the smaller sports, so we don’t get a lot of mainstream publicity. We’re not used to the crowds. Walking into the stadium for the opening ceremonies where there were 80,000 people and media and cameras flashing was just on a different scale.”
Shortly thereafter, Sam transitioned to competing in Ironman races and won gold at the 2006 World Championships—she’s the only Canadian to ever win. “Canadians have a long line of pretty incredible triathletes,” she says proudly. “Because of the size and climate of our country, we produce some impressive results. There have been some amazing women who have come before and after me.” Sam would go on to finish second at the 2007 Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii and took home the Ironman title in Arizona in 2009.
“Canadians have a long line of pretty incredible triathletes. Because of the size and climate of our country, we produce some impressive results. There have been some amazing women who have come before and after me.”
And, along the way, she wrote, contributing a monthly column to Triathlete magazine where she tackled questions on training, racing and lifestyle. For Sam, it was a great way to communicate with the pre-Twitter triathlon population, in a time before social media was what it is today. Days were tough but satisfying for the young athlete, on a perpetual loop of eat-train-sleep-recover. A solid race performance was her reward.
“At the time, you’re not striving for balance,” she recalls, though that’s admittedly changed over the years. “You need to have that singular focus. You might train 30 to 40 hours a week, but then there’s another 20 that’s dedicated to recovery so you can do your next session—stretching and sleeping and nutrition and massage and physical therapy and lifting weights. It’s the difference between those who do triathlon recreationally and those in the professional ranks; all those peripheral things that give you that extra edge.”
Despite the challenging work, spending her twenties racing and in training camps was an opportunity to travel and make friends with athletes from around the world. “I was 22 when I started full time, 24 when I competed at the Olympics,” she explains. “And you may miss out on some social aspects of day-to-day life, but I never regretted it. I went to Australia and Thailand and Japan and all over Europe—and you can’t do this forever. You have to retire at some point.”
“It’s hard to think there will be an end to a sports career, but of course, there will be an end. Most of us retire in our thirties, which is still young. So, we have these athletes who have dedicated their lives to this one thing, becoming respected experts in their field. Suddenly they’re starting from scratch somewhere else.”
The topic of retirement warrants more serious attention, Sam posits, and is part of ongoing conversations around mental health. For many athletes, the focus is on performance, their identity bound up in their sport, their confidence contingent upon their success. When the time comes to transition out, many feel aimless.
“It’s hard to think there will be an end to a sports career,” she says simply. “But of course, there will be an end. Most of us retire in our thirties, which is still young. So, we have these athletes who have dedicated their lives to this one thing, becoming respected experts in their field. Suddenly they’re starting from scratch somewhere else. It’s very emotional.”
“Some people need more closure and time to transition, but I chose a quick turnaround so there wasn’t a lot of time to soul search and lament the loss. There was this immediate new identity that was just as exciting and full of potential.”
Sam completed her final race, the 2012 Antwerp 70.3, just ten days before becoming a first-year med student at the University of Arizona. “I deliberately chose something all-encompassing to throw myself into,” she shares. She’d always known she’d go to med school and the time it would take to complete that, in large measure, dictated when she left competition. “Some people need more closure and time to transition, but I chose a quick turnaround so there wasn’t a lot of time to soul search and lament the loss. There was this immediate new identity that was just as exciting and full of potential.”
“I think emergency medicine tracks a lot of athletes, triathletes, especially. We’re the jack of all trades: we’re never going to be the best in swimming, or biking, or running—but we’re good at doing all three. In emergency medicine, we’re not the best in any one specialty, but we know enough about everyone’s specialty to identify and treat emergencies. In some ways, it’s very comparable to the triathlon mindset.”
In many ways, med school was as time consuming and competitive as triathlon ever was, and with a well-laid out path ahead of her, she was able to improve and track her gains in a similar fashion. The same grit, mental focus, and determination Sam used for competition, was now channeled into a new vocation.
“I think emergency medicine tracks a lot of athletes,” she muses. “Triathletes, especially. We’re the jack of all trades: we’re never going to be the best in swimming, or biking, or running—but we’re good at doing all three. In emergency medicine, we’re not the best in any one specialty, but we know enough about everyone’s specialty to identify and treat emergencies. In some ways, it’s very comparable to the triathlon mindset.”
As for the physical adjustment, the decreased physical activity was a bit of a shock. She eased herself out of the heavy, training-focused weeks and into a more sustainable lifestyle, enjoying the opportunity to explore new sports and return to others. These days, Sam goes on ski trips in the winter, paddle boards and mountain bikes and runs along the beach. Regardless of the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life, Sam and Brent make certain the other has that time to unwind and decompress.
What’s clear from this Ridleian and Athlete of Distinction is her dedication to life-long personal development. Sam has always set the course, tracked a pace set by her own watch, and persevered on the uphill. These days, the path is more about balance, as she raises a young family and tends to those within her care—but that drive, that gold-standard mindset, hasn’t changed one bit.
This article was printed in the latest issue of Tiger magazine. Learn about our alumni, get community updates and find out where Ridley is heading next! Read more from the Spring 2021 issue.
As Ridley moves towards a new uniform design, Archives Intern and Queen’s University Concurrent Education student, Ella Foss ’16 takes a look back on the traditions, functionality, and design trends that have inspired more than a century of our school’s dress.
Since the establishment of Ridley, it has been clear that uniformity was an intentional way to create a sense of community, to place all students on an even playing field, and to foster a strong sense of belonging. The first headmaster, J.O. Miller was determined that, “Ridley College from opening day would be meticulous about the students’ school dress.” In staying true to Miller’s vision, a dress code has remained a constant, while changing with the times as Ridley itself has matured. To understand how the school has arrived at the uniform’s next update, we must first revisit the trends from decades past.
1889 to 1910s
During the early years, when the packing list for boarders included “knickerbockers” and “pocket handkerchiefs,” a Ridley College cap with an embellished orange Ridley crest was issued to students for weekday wearing. At this time, the remaining garments of the dress code did not include the emblem but promoted a professional style—the boys sported suits on school days, consisting of trousers, button-up shirt, tie, and blazer). Given the church services, Sundays in the late 1800s were even more formal; the boys wore black suit jackets and black waistcoats (suit vest).
Images of the First Cricket Elevens decorate our ACTAs, with Ridleians sporting white blazers which would eventually inspire the Prefect blazers of more recent times. This nod to Ridley’s British roots dates back as early as 1900 and remained through to the last year of cricket in 2001. As early as 1919, the Second Cricket Team can be seen wearing the black blazers with orange piping, which would soon become part of the Lower School uniform.
Ridley’s British independent school roots were also evident in the boys’ post-war attire. “Eton collars were the bane of the Junior’s existence…[they] found so many excuses to avoid wearing the collar that it amounted to passive rebellion.” Due to the perceived discomfort of the garment, older students were permitted to instead don Marlborough sack coats.
1950s to 1970s
Twenty years later, “blues and greys” became the number one dress, to be worn on Sundays and for Chapel.
As indicated in the ACTA of the era, “This term has seen the School emerging in new blue flannel blazers with an embroidered Ridley crest on the pocket.” At the same time, the Arts Tie was introduced, with thin, widely spaced orange and white stripes on a black background, still worn today by our thespians, musicians and artists alike.
It must be said that Ridley’s long-standing Cadet Programme has had significant influence over aspects of school dress. Our traditional military uniforms have progressed from army green to navy, khakis and maple leaf red.
At this time, the regular uniform of the Lower School students included the black blazer adorned with orange piping, a white, grey, or light blue dress shirt, the Lower School tie (orange, black, and sliver) and either grey or black pants. Blues and greys were worn only on Sundays, with strictly grey, black, or navy blue socks. Unbelievably, at the time, every clothing item had to be labelled with the students’ name, down to the individual sock!
Perhaps the most casual shift during this time was the introduction of “summer dress,” which became an alternative option for the Lower School students during the warmer months. A golf shirt and grey or navy Bermuda Shorts worn with navy blue or grey knee socks made the heat and outdoor play more enjoyable.
In 1971, a new disciplinary code was put into place, based upon several firm beliefs: “that the individual student must be given increasing responsibility for his decisions and his actions; that the order and efficiency of the School should be maintained with a minimum of oppressive interference upon a boy’s freedom; and that good discipline does not depend necessarily upon absolute conformity, nor does it mean that a student’s cherished individualism need be sacrificed.”
The students of Merritt House North can still be found marking Frau Day each year to nod to Josselyn’s self-described “eye-sore” look.
While older students continued to wear a plain jacket or one with small checks, some of the students found their individually in loud, colourful ties. It’s no surprise then that ‘Frau Day’ has its roots in this decade, when Merritt House North student, Mark Josselyn ’76 “set about to make his own ‘fashion statement.’” Back then, he would be found wearing contrasting patterns, stripes and plaid, from his tie to shirt, to his jacket, pants and even socks. The term ‘Frau’ (Josselyn’s nickname) was used to “describe anyone messy, disheveled or dirty…” The students of Merritt House North can still be found marking Frau Day each year to nod to Josselyn’s self-described “eye-sore” look.
In the fall of 1973, Ridley welcomed female students for the first time. The dress code, previously written for all male students, was amended to state “or equivalent” for females. There really were no clear standards outlined for the young women: what was seen as within the rules varied between faculty members. For the first Ridley women and staff alike, it was difficult to determine what fell within the rules. It was a time unprecedented in Canadian independent schools, and Headmaster Richard Bradley’s progressive decision to go co-ed meant Ridley had to chart new territory—including with its uniform.
Students have always worked to show their individuality through the uniform and in this liberal era some students elected to wear three-piece suits, while others pushed the limits of “trousers” by wearing corduroy pants. Summer dress was only an option for the boys.
It was a time unprecedented in Canadian independent schools, and Headmaster Richard Bradley’s progressive decision to go co-ed meant Ridley had to chart new territory—including with its uniform.
By the 1980s, the majority of Ridleians abandoned the busy and bright ties and began sporting popularized thin monochrome versions. The College’s first cohort of girls could wear pants or a skirt/dress which went below the knee with socks or nylons, and often displayed their individuality by way of their jewelry and hairstyle. It did, however, take some time for a formal female uniform to be formalized.
At the end of the decade, the Lower School updated its uniform. The black and white kilt, white button-up Oxford shirt or turtleneck, and black sweater or vest are cited as staples for the younger Ridleians.
“Change is needed everywhere one goes, and luckily at Ridley, most things simply got better [with change].”
– clipped article found in the 1988 ACTA
1990s to 2000s
During the 1990s the Upper School female students continued to push the limits of the dress code; wearing babydoll dresses, Mary Janes, and small hoop earrings (studs alone being permitted previously). Headmaster Doug Campbell, among others, sought to improve the standards of the students’ daily dress and resurfaced the discussions surrounding the dress code. The fruits of those ongoing debates came to fruition in 2000 when the Upper School gained its first official classroom uniform.
By the 21st century, the daily classroom dress included grey or blue trousers, the blue plaid kilt, a white button up shirt, tie, and a blue or grey pull-over sweater or vest. Blues and greys remained the number one dress. With dwindling competitors in Ontario, 2001 marked the final year of cricket at Ridley, and the white sport coats with orange piping were reassigned as Prefect blazers—this distinctive addition complementing the existing Prefect Tie and an homage to Ridley’s history.
The last year of the white Prefect blazers was 2016: a new system of recognition was adopted the following year: white piping along the lapel of the of the Prefect.
The last year of the white Prefect blazers was 2016: a new system of recognition was adopted the following year: piping along the lapel of the of the Prefect (white) and House Captain’s blazers (respective house colour).
Along with the changing times, Ridley has experienced many positive transformations, cementing its position as one of the top independent schools in Canada—the introduction of co-education, technology, younger grades, the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme, and positive education have been among the most notable. It’s no wonder then that our student attire has remained a strong marker of our connectedness.
As we can garner from the evolution of Ridley’s dress code and uniform, every once in a while a refresh is necessary. In the coming years, our alma mater is planning for another redesign that nods to our storied past but serves the current era. A Uniform Committee, made up of students, faculty and staff, has been working to restyle the look and functionality of the uniform. In speaking with key members of this group, the update is said to be inspired by Ridley’s traditions and history—and we can’t wait to see future generations of students continue to proudly sport our insignia and that telltale vibrant pop of orange.
By Ella Foss ’16
Special thanks is owed to interviewees:
Ken Hutton, Trish Loat, Geoffrey Park ’80, Zack Jones, Gary Atack, Michele-Elise Burnett ’86, Wendy Darby ’99, Janet Lewis, Lance Postma, and Hanna Kidd.
This article was printed in the latest issue of Tiger magazine. Learn about our alumni, get community updates and find out where Ridley is heading next! Read more from the Spring 2021 issue.
It was on a buying trip in the early ’90s when Linda Alexanian ’85 first became aware of the children working in India’s rug-making industry. “There were kids in the factories, on the looms, doing all processes of the manufacturing,” she says, remembering some as young as eight, “and the suppliers didn’t seem to care. It was just considered a way of life.”
That trip stoked in Linda a lifelong determination to get those kids off the factory floor—and she knew it would need to start with their mothers. Linda is part of the third generation of Alexanians, a family well-known for their imported rugs and floor coverings, along with a deep tradition of helping others. Her grandfather, Aris, who lost his family in the Armenian genocide, was instrumental in helping the government bring dozens of Armenian orphans to Canada.
“Anyone who brings a product into their home should be asking the questions: who made this? What is it made from?”
When she and her parents returned home from India, Linda got to work as Head Buyer for the family business and, over the next three years, weaned the company off all suppliers who used child labour. She was appalled to find there were some who didn’t take the issue seriously—but she did find one, a supplier who’d worked with her grandfather years before.
In 1996, now an outspoken campaigner for the cause, Linda was invited to be part of a government panel in Ottawa to discuss the import of products made by third world countries—countries known to turn a blind eye on illegal child labour. The timely event coincided with the new monitoring agencies starting to pop up—agencies like GoodWeave, with whom Linda works closely—who were ensuring workers were of age in global supply chains across India and Bangladesh. It was estimated there were over one million working children at the time in India’s carpet industry.
“Do you know where your clothes are made?” she asked each startled member at the meeting, walking around the room. “Do we know this was not made by a child?”
Chatting recently with the Ridleian, who’s now working from her home in Montreal, Linda’s empathetic nature comes easily across as she shares the story, as does her light and quick-witted humour, her passion for design, and her steely resolve for the cause at the heart of her career. When asked about her time at Ridley, she lights up.
“To this day, my closest friends are Ridleians. Whenever something good happens, I text my best friend, Stew,” she smiles, referring to fellow alumnus, Stewart McKeough ’85. “and he replies with this image.”
She shows a picture of a simple red circle, penciled on a white background.
“It means ‘circle the day,’” Linda explains, adding that the expression comes from Stew’s mother, Joyce (wife of former Board Chair, Darcy McKeough ’51). “We celebrate the good things that happen by taking out a pen and circling the day in the calendar. The day I started Organic Weave was a ‘circle the day.’”
The eye-catching rugs are inspired by nature, comprised of a colourful array of plant-based dyes, their details and motifs used in traditional Indian architecture.
Organic Weave came from the promise she’d made herself years before on that first trip. “No woman would send her child to work if she had an alternative,” Linda is adamant. “To fix this issue is not just to rescue kids from the looms and educate them; it’s to provide meaningful, sustainable income to women. Women need financial independence.” In 2011, she partnered with the grandchildren of Damodar Das Barnawal—the supplier in India with whom her grandfather worked—and established her custom rug company, which works with women weavers from Unnayan, a cooperative agency in rural India. Linda’s stunning carpets are not only produced in a socially responsible way, they’re helping to preserve a craft that’s increasingly threatened by automation. And, as the name suggests, they’re organic.
“The co-op is made up of a group of remarkable women who work on various handicrafts,” she says fondly. “Some knew how to weave, some didn’t, so we built looms and taught them. Since they were also making their own organic textiles, we thought, why don’t we make organic carpets?“
“We say farm to table with food, and this is farm to floor. There were beautiful rugs long before there were chemicals. We took the craft back to its traditional roots and tried to replicate the process as if we were making rugs decades ago.”
Perhaps the leap to organic wasn’t all that surprising, given that Linda started an organic shampoo business back in the ’90s with classmate, Nadine Karachi-Estrada ’86—but she hadn’t anticipated the amount of work it would take to become certified. Over the next few years, Organic Weave jumped through hoops to get the coveted Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certification.
Now, she’s proud to say that Organic Weave is the only certified organic rug company in the world. “And I don’t see any competition for a while,” she notes wryly. “It was not a simple process.”
“We say farm to table with food, and this is farm to floor,” Linda further explains. “There were beautiful rugs long before there were chemicals, so we had to research age-old rug-making processes. How did they moth-proof a rug? What did they do to set the dyes? To scour the wool to clean it? We took the craft back to its traditional roots and tried to replicate the process as if we were making rugs decades ago.”
And, increasingly, it seems consumers are demanding organic. “People care about indoor air quality,” Linda agrees. “They’re making the connection between a chemical-free home and better health. Do you really want your new carpet off-gassing chemicals into your home? Do you want your baby crawling on it?”
She pauses. “Anyone bringing a product into their home should be asking two important questions: Who made this? and What’s it made from?”
“People care about indoor air quality. They’re making the connection between a chemical-free home and better health. Do you really want your new carpet off-gassing chemicals into your home? Do you want your baby crawling on it?”
The eye-catching rugs are inspired by nature, comprised of a colourful array of plant-based dyes, their details and motifs used in traditional Indian architecture. And Organic Weave is also a no-waste manufacturer; each part of the process is made to order. Designed by Linda back in Montreal, her team in India dyes the raw materials at the mill before sending them on to the weavers, who return them to be cleaned, bound and shipped. “We have around 300 workers in the mill,” Linda says, “half of them women, and we work with up to 50 women weavers at a time.”
Early on, it was important to Linda that part of the company’s proceeds go back to the communities in which these women work, and she sought to find the right agency to support.
It was during an impromptu conversation with a fellow woman entrepreneur in India that Linda learned of the Sudara Freedom Fund, which helps provide safe housing and employment to women who are escaping trafficking and sexual exploitation. Evaluating its aims as similar to her own, for Linda, Sudara was the perfect fit. A percentage of the sales from Organic Weave now goes to the fund.
“We have around 300 workers in the mill, half of them women, and we work with up to 50 women weavers at a time.”
Linda returns to India as often as possible, and her business partner, Bholanath Baranwal and his family can always count on her to bring gifts that are hip, cool and, of course, Canadian. The Ridley connection, ever global, finds its way even here: nearly 30 years ago, the Baranwal family sent their sons to Ridley on an exchange programme. “The family has very fond memories of the school,” she shares. “I’m always on the lookout for gifts they’ll like.”
This winter, Linda opened January’s RCA newsletter and was introduced to Madalyn, a new luxury skincare line launched by alumnae Savannah ’11 and Tess ’12 Cowherd. She immediately went on the website and bought their beautiful face oils to take as gifts on her next trip.
For Linda, it’s another opportunity to support her community, and speaks to her general outlook as a whole. Connection. Empowering women. Investing in entrepreneurs. Giving back.
“When we take a genuine interest in those around us, we create community. And it’s those connections that give meaning to our lives.”
“Ridley taught me that it’s never just about us,” she says thoughtfully. “When we take a genuine interest in those around us—whether that means giving back in the spirit of Terar Dum Prosim, or simply taking the time to learn about and engage with others—we connect and create community. And it’s those connections that give meaning to our lives.”
Though, to us, they may seem far away—in some ways across the world, in others right at our feet—these connections are what drive her forward, as Linda works to weave together the traditions of the past, to help care for those who belong to its future. “As long as there’s one child still in this industry, there’s more to be done,” she says, suspecting thousands are still at the looms. And she’s right. When it comes to a just and sustainable future, Linda knows, more than most, that it’s all about good design—and she’s helping to build it from the ground up.
This article was printed in the latest issue of Tiger magazine. Learn about our alumni, get community updates and find out where Ridley is heading next! Read more from our summer issue.
Winston Godwin talks resiliency, going global—and how he’s making waves in his home of Bermuda
If you’re new to Ridley and find yourself poking around the stories of its various members, you’ll hear time and again how grateful Ridleians are to be part of a truly global community. Each year, international students from over 60 countries flock to the school to study, soon discovering a second family, forming lifelong connections and learning, not only from classrooms, but each other. The result? A broad worldview which helps inform each journey, lighting paths that take them far beyond the Marriott gates. For Winston Godwin ’08, his years spent on campus were some of the best of his life. “It’s certainly beautiful,” he smiles. “but it’s the people who make it special. When I go back to visit, it all comes rushing back.”
Winston grew up in Sandys, Bermuda, where he’s known widely not only for his work in the marine field, but as an important voice from Bermuda’s LGBTQ community. For years, the aquarist and his Canadian husband, Greg led the fight on same-sex marriage—a battle which still continues to this day. Winston’s clear articulation of the argument for equal rights, along with his perseverance and resilience, led to his being named Bermudian of the Year in 2017, and a Ridleian of Distinction the year that followed.
Born of hardworking parents, Winston’s father worked for years at the Bermuda Telephone Company, his mother a housekeeper at the Elbow Beach Hotel. “My dad always felt education was the biggest investment he could make for his children,” remembers the alumnus, who attended Saltus Grammar School before coming to Ridley. “He had always wanted us to go to Canada and believed sending us away to school would help broaden our horizons, our minds—ultimately the world.”
“My dad always felt education was the biggest investment he could make for his children. He had always wanted us to go to Canada and believed sending us away to school would help broaden our horizons, our minds—ultimately the world.”
After high school, Winston studied at the University of Guelph, graduating with degrees in Geography and Environmental Analysis and Geographic Information Systems. As someone who now works in the marine field, having joined researchers from around the world on The Turtle Project and clean-up crews on plastics research vessel, the Sea Dragon, he’s long been passionate about marine life, and has seen firsthand the human impact on our oceans. He now works as an aquarist, caring for animals at the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo.
A British territory settled by the English in the early seventeenth-century, Bermuda is self-governing, a parliamentary dependency which sits under a constitutional monarchy. Its small population—around 70,000 people—lean toward conservative views. Shortly after the amendment of its Human Rights Act in 2009, which ruled it illegal to discriminate against someone based on their sexual orientation, Bermuda held a referendum to see where the public stood on same-sex marriage. Only 45 per cent voted, leaving the question officially unanswered, but of the voters, more than 60 per cent were opposed. “Bermuda’s LGBTQ community is only a small part of the population,” Winston explains. “And when you have the majority voting on the rights of the minority? It’s…problematic.”
Winston and Greg found themselves at the centre of an historic case when the newly engaged couple answered the call to challenge Bermudian law. At the time, living in Canada, they were largely out of the fray, far away from what was playing out in Bermuda’s courts. But when his post-graduate permit expired, Winston left his job at Toronto’s Ripley’s Aquarium and took a position back home. Suddenly, he was in the thick of politics, finding himself alternately challenged and supported, and moving awkwardly through the world on defence.
By May 2017, the court found with the couple, concluding that marriage is a right which all citizens are owed by law. The legal success was short-lived, however; Parliament put forth a bill (a challenge rooted in religion), which soon evolved into The Domestic Partnership Act. Though other LGBTQ couples had married by then—including Winston and Greg—the bill passed into law and, once more, same-sex marriage was illegal.
Since then, as other couples have come forward to appeal the decision and same-sex marriage has, again, been deemed legal by the Bermudian courts; the government has, again, stepped forward, taking its appeal all the way to Bermuda’s Supreme Court. After three separate cases, same-sex marriage is still legal, though Parliament continues to fight it. The final challenge, which will be heard December 2020 by the U.K.’s Privy Council, will be their final appeal, the fate of same-sex marriage in Bermuda decided once and for all.
Winston and Greg have now lived together in Bermuda for three years, Winston loving his work at the aquarium, Greg an occupational therapist at the mental health hospital nearby. Both miss the freedom they had in Canada, where it wasn’t such a challenge to simply be themselves, to simply be together. As Winston put it in an interview with The Royal Gazette, “My being gay: I have as much choice in that as I do being black. In being left- or right-handed. In being a woman or a man.”
“It’s all about being visible. Just showing who you are, speaking about what’s important to you, allowing others to see you. It shows people they can be themselves too—that’s a fight in itself.”
Change may be slow to come to the conservative islands of Bermuda, but it is coming. Like anywhere, the members of its LGBTQ community work hard to be recognized and accepted. Bermuda celebrated its first Pride this past August, hosting the largest parade the islands have ever seen. “We expected a couple of hundred people,” Winston reports, thrilled with the event’s success, “but 5,000 showed up. It was a celebration of everything that’s come before it.”
Winston, who was in his twenties when he first came out, losing the support of family and friends, found its other forms of strength where he least expected. Support can often come quietly, he’s learned over the years—a like on social media, a photo, an article shared by someone he didn’t know supports the same cause as he. “It’s all about being visible,” he imparts. “Just showing who you are, speaking about what’s important to you, allowing others to see you. It shows people they can be themselves too—that’s a fight in itself.”
Winston doesn’t know where life will take him, but he does know it’s getting easier. “It’s woefully optimistic to expect everyone to love you for who you are,” he admits. “And that’s ok too.” For the young couple, their lives together reaching out ahead of them, there’s still plenty of work to be done to ensure everyone’s rights are recognized—whether in the courts or on the streets. But for now, on the islands of Bermuda, they’re learning though the water’s surface may look still, there’s always movement underneath, and sometimes farther below that, common ground.
This article was printed in the latest issue of Tiger magazine. Learn about our alumni, get community updates and find out where Ridley is heading next! Read more from our summer issue.
Michele-Elise Burnett on leaving broadcasting, her Indigenous roots — and how she’s helping reshape Niagara’s cross-cultural landscape
When it comes to her Indigenous heritage, Michele-Elise Burnett ’86 is busy building bridges—and her work is helping to invigorate and reshape Niagara’s cross-cultural landscape. A proud Métis with Algonquin roots, in conversation she’s quick to laugh, wise and measured in her words, with a steady strength she credits her mother, well-known broadcaster and businesswoman, Dr. Suzanne Rochon-Burnett. Michele-Elise left a career in radio to follow in her activist footsteps, and now she’s working to find the creative platforms from which her people can speak.
“My mom was an art collector, and she would tell me that our teachings are in our art forms,” the Ridleian thoughtfully explains. “Whether it be through paintings, opera, music, or modern dance—our Indigenous artists are the ambassadors to our culture and traditions. I’m working to educate others on the power of healing through the arts, and help construct a strong cross-cultural community based on mutual and sustaining respect.”
“We’re oral people, with oral traditions, and our teachings are in our art forms—our artists are the biggest ambassadors to our culture. That’s how we tell our stories.”
To speak with Michele-Elise is to receive a lesson in conversation—but you might say it’s in her blood, coming from a heritage rich with oral traditions, and the only child of one of Canada’s broadcasting pioneers. Michele-Elise was raised in radio, her time spent playing in production studios, her world filled with music, talk and entertainers. Her father, radio-station owner Gordon Burnett, served two terms as President of the Juno Awards, and brought country music to life in Canada. In 1992, he was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame as one of the founding members of the Country Music Awards.
“I always knew I’d go into broadcasting,” she says, looking back. “I loved that you weren’t at the mercy of the size of a screen—you had to think outside the box to be able to paint pictures with only words and sound.” In 1996, after graduating from Ryerson University’s Radio, Television & Film programme, Michele-Elise and Suzanne took over the radio station and launched Spirit 91.7 FM, a hard-won battle that followed two gruelling years spent in and out of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). The women proudly became the first Indigenous people in Canada to be granted licenses by the CRTC.
“I always knew I’d go into broadcasting. I loved that you weren’t at the mercy of the size of a screen—you had to think outside the box to be able to paint pictures with only words and sound.”
Before her mother passed in 2006, she entreated her daughter to take over where she left off, to continue sharing the deep-rooted beauty of her people’s culture and traditions through the lens of art. Michele-Elise was heartbroken by the loss. Suzanne was highly decorated and revered in the community, named to the Orders of Canada and Ontario, a founding member of the Métis Nation of Ontario, recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation, and the first woman to be inducted into the Aboriginal Business Hall of Fame. But she was also Michele-Elise’s best friend, her mentor and teacher.
When Michele-Elise left the business two years later, there was no set plan. “In the radio industry, I knew who I was. I lived a great life,” she shares. “But I still have pain. I still carry the pain of my mother, my grandmother, my ancestors. I just knew that I wanted to bridge people together, to find those platforms that would give our people a voice.”
“My people will sleep for 100 years, but when they awake it will be the artists who give them their spirit back.” — Louis Riel
And, over time, the plan came into focus. Michele-Elise now develops projects that are transforming the Niagara’s understanding of Indigenous people—and, looking forward, she’s determined to bring those projects to life across the country.
She officially relaunched Kakekalanicks, the consulting company her mother had started back in the 1980s, which helped champion and sell Indigenous art pieces all over the world. But where her mother focused on visual arts, Michele-Elise takes a multidisciplinary approach, working to promote and educate people about Indigenous ways of life on stage, in outdoor spaces and in classrooms nationwide. The company now supports many of the area’s cultural projects.
Joining forces in 2014, she and business partner, Tim Johnson have since worked together to develop arts and educational programmes across the Niagara region. Projects include the Indigenous Cultural Map—an online resource which brings to life historic and cultural locations along the Niagara Escarpment through artistic expression; the Celebration of Nationsevent—an annual gathering of Indigenous arts and culture; and Landscape of Nations 360°—an ambitious not-for-profit which works to create, design and implement educational and expressive arts programmes to help transform public understanding of Indigenous peoples.
And Niagara has been quick to respond. In 2018, Michele-Elise won the GNCC Women in Business Cultural Arts Award for her work with the Celebration of Nations. “It felt like I was receiving this on behalf of our artists, our knowledge keepers,” she recalls, honoured to be amongst so many accomplished women. “To have Niagara honour an Indigenous person was heartwarming—because without our community behind me, nothing happens. Things are shifting.”
“I’m working to educate others on the power of healing through the arts, and help construct a strong cross-cultural community based on mutual and sustaining respect.”
The pair is now working on a new project called Empathic Traditions, a virtual museum created in partnership with the Niagara Falls Historical Museum which will teach people about the region’s rich history. “Before contact, the different chiefs would come to Niagara’s ‘Thundering Falls’ to discuss what was going on in our nations on Turtle Island,” she says, using the name used by many for North America. “It was a migration path for millennia. We’ve found artifacts in Niagara dating back 13,000 years.”
A Brock Board of Trustees member and co-chair of the Aboriginal Education Council, Michele-Elise is also working closely with the school’s inaugural Vice-Provost of Indigenous Engagement, helping to develop plans for the years to come. “It’s a moment of change,” Brock President Gervan Fearson said in an interview with Brock News. “We’re building an institution that’s inclusive of all peoples—and in particular Indigenous communities.” The university now proudly flies the Two-Row Wampum flag, gifted by Michele-Elise and Tim, and the campus roundabout has been named “Suzanne Rochon-Burnett Circle,” and a scholarship given in her name.
“We need to always think about how things are going to affect the next seven generations: How will doing this or that affect my family? Am I being a good ancestor? Will they thank me for it? Everything we do today will impact everything we do tomorrow—and when you have this philosophy in mind you will do things differently; you will think and not simply react.”
The first training programme of its kind in Canada, the Landscape of Nations 360° Indigenous Education Initiativeis going into its third phase, developing a framework for essential understandings about the region’s Indigenous peoples, aimed at educators across the Peninsula. “We in Niagara are the inheritors of a profound story involving many of the Indigenous nations,” Michele-Elise explains, hoping to expand the programme country-wide. “But students have been taught with materials which leave them with no understanding of the world-changing achievements of our ancestors. Policy decisions that negatively impact Indigenous, Inuit and Métis people—these deficiencies result, in large part, from a lack of education beginning in grade school.”
The impressive programme, which aims to soon rollout these materials in classrooms, has been eagerly taken up by schools across Niagara—including ours. This past year, four teachers from Ridley participated in the training sessions. For Michele-Elise, working to bring Indigenous history and culture to its familiar classrooms is a natural fit.
“We’re a Ridley family,” she laughs, sharing that they’re building a memento-filled ‘Ridley Room’ in their new house. “I was no longer a minority when I went there,” she explains. “There were so many different cultures and backgrounds; I was just like everyone else, all raised under the same Ridley roof.”
“To now be working with Ridley and collaborating on LON 360° is incredible. It’s family.”
One of the few women on Ridley’s U.S. Foundation Board, Michele-Elise has been an integral part of our community for years, whether serving on the Marketing Committee (now Advancement Committee), on the Board of Governors, or launching the Women of Ridley—a group where like-minded alumnae can reach out for mentorship and support.
“I was one of the few single mothers. It was difficult, at times, and led me to think about how we can help other women, other alumnae, who are now doing the same.”
She dreams of one day establishing a Women of Ridley scholarship. When Michele-Elise had children, it was important to her that they attend Ridley, which provided her with the discipline, global mindset, and friendships she still has to this day. “But I was one of the few single mothers,” she remembers. Her children, Zander Burnett Metz ’12 and William Louis Reich ’19 both graduated from Ridley. “It was difficult, at times, and led me to think about how we can help other women, other alumnae, who are now doing the same.”
And, as the region continues to embrace its Indigenous history, our school one of many eager to incorporate a rich and little-known past into its future, Michele-Elise’s commitment to her community only deepens, the footprints on the path her mother travelled now shared by her own steps.
“My people will sleep for a hundred years,” Métis leader Louis Riel predicted more than a century ago, a quote that’s close to her heart. “But when they awake it will be the artists who give them their spirit back.” For Michele-Elise, who has long recognized the need to rouse us all—be it by brush, on stage, or in the classroom—the voices of our past are growing louder, and the stirrings of these lands are coming to life once more. It’s time to wake up.
This article was printed in the latest issue of Tiger magazine. Learn about our alumni, get community updates and find out where Ridley is heading next! Read more from our summer issue.
Ridley welcomes new Director of Development, Shelley Huxley
Though we’d hoped to welcome her in person, the pandemic had other plans. So, we sat down for a virtual Q&A to learn more about the Niagara native—and get a sneak peek into what she has in store for our community. With her passion for education, strong local ties, and decades-long experience working at universities across Ontario, Shelley’s ready to hit the ground running.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? I was born and raised in Niagara (specifically, Fonthill), though I left for a period of time to attend university and launch my career. After my son was born, I realized there was no better place to raise a family, so we came home. It was really important to me that my kids understand the traditions of my family and grow up with their grandparents nearby — I grew up with mine and they taught me a lot. I wanted my own children to have that same experience. Now, I live in Fonthill with my partner, Iain, my two children: Evan, who’s 16, and Nathan, who’s soon to be 12. We also welcomed a new addition to the family, a now 10-month-old Labradoodle, named Coco! We’re a busy family; the kids are involved in a number of activities, so a lot of my free time is spent supporting them.
You’re coming to us from Brock University, where you were their Director of Alumni Engagement. Can you speak a bit about your professional background? It’s usually a circuitous route that gets you to Development. [laughs] Originally, I went to Wilfrid Laurier University to study Business—I wanted to be a floor trader. But a year into school, I realized I could spend all my time studying, or I could invest in the fulsome student experience that Laurier had to offer. I switched my major to English and Sociology and spent a lot of time doing various activities on campus and working in student government.
That’s what really set me up for my career path, because it introduced me to senior administrators, and those relationships ultimately led me to return to support my alma mater professionally—initially through communications, speech writing and working for the President—and that then led to working in alumni relations.
From there, I went on to work at Queen’s University. Queen’s was embarking on a $250 million capital campaign at the time, and I was responsible for setting up their Toronto office, working with campaign cabinet members and developing campaign strategy. I next had the opportunity to work at McMaster University—which is a big research-intensive school—where I was able to blend both alumni relations and development in my role. Five years later, I had my first child and it was then that I decided to move home. By happenstance, a job came up at Brock University and I was the successful candidate. Over the past 15 years, I’ve worked in all areas of development at Brock: I started as their event planner, then as their advancement strategist, which later morphed into responsibility for donor relations and stewardship and most recently alumni relations. I’ve spent the past six years as their Director of Alumni Engagement.
What led you to Ridley—and what are you most looking forward to as you embark on this new journey? I’ve been lucky enough to work for some great institutions, so when you decide to make a move it has to be the right one, and there were a number of factors at play. The top of my list was that I would be going to a place where I felt I could make a difference, and at the same time felt that Ridley really believes in what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.
What I love about Ridley is its level of tradition, its strong reputation and collegiality, its dedication to education and commitment to innovation. Take the recent pivot to online learning: for any school to have done this so quickly would have been a challenge, but Ridley made the transition beautifully. These are all really appealing to me and working in development will allow me to use my skills to connect with alumni and engage donors in philanthropic opportunities. I’m really just hoping to help Ridley grow and prosper.
“Together, alumni and donors provide support, foster strong reputations, contribute to our admissions, and are an essential part of the student experience. They’re a core part of the school’s mission and values—and that network is important for the health and well-being of any institution.”
You obviously have some close ties to the local community. What are your thoughts about the changes taking place in the Niagara Region—and what is your approach to fostering relationships between school and community? The Niagara Region has been steadily growing both in sophistication and opportunity—particularly over the last ten years. We had a fair amount of big business exit our region, but Niagara’s response to that has been good: both Brock and Niagara College have developed programming and outreach strategies in terms of innovation, entrepreneurship and growth. For example, their makerspaces and the programmes they’re putting in place to help businesses develop within the community have been incredibly beneficial for us as a region.
The result is that there’s a lot of opportunity for students to participate in this innovation. I find myself thinking about cultivating the student experience, about potential experiential opportunities, and finding partners for mutual benefit. How can we engage our community partners to allow students these opportunities? How can we leverage our alumni connections both within our local community and beyond?
We’re here to build the student experience, and if we’re talking about preparing them for university—particularly our upper school students—there is a lot happening in this region from which they can learn, whether in business, tourism, or through partnerships with Brock’s Performing Arts Centre, or applied opportunities at Niagara College. There are plenty of ways we can offer experiential learning.
Your experience with events, alumni and development in the education sector is certainly impressive. What is it about this work that you find so rewarding? I find it a lot of fun. Every day is different and brings with it its own challenges. I’m proud of the work we support in alumni relations and development, and in working to educate minds. And that’s what brings me back day after day: I feel I’m making a difference and contributing to the fabric of society. That’s a pretty special thing to be a part of.
Can you speak to the importance of Development and Advancement when it comes to educational institutions? Any good school works hard to build and sustain a strong reputation—and alumni and donor engagement supports that. We think about how alumni contribute: with a sense of pride, loyalty and tradition, and a deep understanding of their alma mater. They share this not only with each other but with those around them who may want to attend or support the school philanthropically.
We think about alumni, who return to the school to engage with student life; they can be really beneficial in judging where an institution might be or needs to be. They can contribute in terms of time, talent and treasure. We think about donors, who invest in our future. Donors support an institution that knows where it is headed and the work that’s taking place now—this support is what allows faculty, students and staff to aim higher and dream bigger. Together, alumni and donors provide necessary support for our success, they help us foster a strong reputation, and are an essential part of the student experience. They’re a core part of the school’s mission and values—and that network is important for the health and well-being of any institution. For me, it’s all tied together: what’s happening on campus and what investments are taking place as well.
You’ve worked at a number of Ontario’s universities. In what ways do the approaches taken in higher education—in relation to development, events, community outreach, and alumni engagement—transfer nicely to an independent school setting? The strongest similarities, I think, will be in the student experience. Some students live on campus and others off, but together they contribute to the fabric of the school. Dedicated faculty are working hard to educate, staff are supporting students and the school at large—and when an institution is collegial and respectful of its faculty and staff, students pick up on it. A strong student experience is made up of more than what is learned in the classroom; everybody plays a role, and this creates a tight-knit community. This feeling of belonging, of family, ultimately contributes to student success, because when there’s belonging, the pride and respect come along with it. And those are wonderful nurturers for life.
We have a very diverse alumni population, comprised of different generations, who may come from or be living in different geographic locations, and who represent a range of political opinions and interests. How can we reach and keep our community strong as a whole, while also ensuring that we’re meeting the different needs of the groups within it? A diverse population contributes to a healthy environment; we learn from each other and learn to respect each other’s values and principles—and these various perspectives that students learn about at Ridley will help them to navigate life. We need to encourage open dialogue and use our vast network to reach out to each other both locally and globally. We all have stories to tell, we all have perspectives to share.
But everyone’s experience is different, and we have to approach those experiences differently. I will reach out to someone who graduated three years ago quite differently than I would someone who graduated 50 years ago; we use different platforms, we respond differently because they’re looking for different things. Each alumni is important to engage and value, to listen to, and provide with opportunity to be involved. And when we do this effectively, our alumni come forward to support us, to provide meaningful input that affects change. It’s mutually beneficial.
Welcome to Ridley, Shelley! We look forward to getting to know you over the coming months and are so pleased to have you join us—we’re sure there will be a number of exciting changes and opportunities ahead! As we introduce you to Ridley faculty, staff, parents, and alumni, is there anything in particular you’d like them to know? I am really thrilled and honoured to be joining this community and can’t tell you how much I look forward to hearing from each of you about what makes Ridley so special. For now, I will say that the Development team is here to support our student experience, to provide resources for faculty to thrive in the classrooms, and to connect alumni to one another and alumni to Ridley. We’re here to support Ridley—and you—today and in the future.
We’re wishing a fond farewell to one of our most valued colleagues, Director of Development, Susan Hazell, who will be retiring from Ridley this summer. Susan first came to our school in 1979 to teach French and Spanish; returned in 1984 as a teacher and swimming coach, becoming the official Housemaster of Arthur Bishop East the following year; and, in later years, made an enormous impact as Ridley’s Director of Development. For decades, Susan has been an integral part of our community, and we couldn’t be more grateful for her experience, leadership, vivacity, and warmth.
We asked Susan’s close friend and former colleague, Vera Wilcox—another long-time member of our community—to reflect on Susan’s career in Canada’s independent school system—and to give us a peek into what’s next. But if you’ve met Susan, you’ll know that wherever this next stretch of the journey takes her, it’s almost certain she’ll be smiling.
Sue and I first crossed paths in January 1980 when, at the suggestion of her tennis-playing fiancé Mike Hazell ’73, she came to take lessons at White Oaks Tennis and Racquet Club, where I was the tennis pro. I had met Mike a few years earlier, when my husband and I played tennis with him in Stratford.
“My first impressions include how Sue’s smile lit up her entire face, making me feel great just being around her; her eagerness to try something new—and how hard she worked to learn the skills; and her strong determination to excel.”
My first impressions from those lessons include how Sue’s smile lit up her entire face, making me feel great just being around her; her eagerness to try something new—and how hard she worked to learn the skills; and her strong determination to excel. I soon realized these were not just impressions, but Sue’s inherent essence, the enthusiasm which she brought to everyone and everything in her life. In 1984, Mike was hired to run Sports Ridley, and the couple returned as teachers and housemasters of Arthur Bishop East. The move rekindled what came to be a lifelong friendship and, for me, started a period of mentorship, as we worked together in independent schools for more than 35 years.
“Teacher, coach, housemaster, parent, administrator, mentor, friend – through her warmth, enthusiasm and her strong sense of doing what is right, Susan Hazell’s contribution, not only to Ridley but to independent schools across Canada, is immeasurable.”
— Trish Loat
As Sue moved through her career—at Ridley, The Bishop Strachan School, and later at Lakefield College School—she held a variety of leadership roles, ranging from Head of Residence, to Dean of Students, to Assistant Head of School Life—always dealing with staff, students and their families. In each role, she brought with her a curiosity and love of learning (Sue is a voracious reader and researcher), sincere listening skills, and a passion for helping others to improve and get the most out of their experience in their environment.
Sue provided opportunities for people to voice their ideas, concerns and dreams, and she would always listen intently. She made them feel validated when she integrated this information into a vision, presented the group with a plan to evaluate, and then looked to each member for ownership—not only during the plan’s implementation, but its success. A consummate team player and leader, Sue always stood in front of, beside, and behind her team, whether it was made up of students, families or staff. Her passion for teaching continued with her involvement in the Independent School Management (ISM) Summer Institute, where she worked as a workshop leader alongside Ellie Griffin, presenting sessions such as “Balance Your Contrasting Roles as Dean of Students” and “Power and Influence: Women and Leadership”.
“Thinking about my relationship over many, many years with Susan, reaching back to when I was a student at Ridley, babysitting the boys, housesitting the pets, working for her at Bishop Strachan School, working in the Hazell family business, connecting with Susan in a variety of professional roles, and recently in her capacity as head of Development, simply brings a smile to my face.
Every experience has felt like its own little adventure full of friendship, optimism, energy, laughter and purpose. Susan lifts up everyone and everything she touches with humility and heart. I am one of many women who have benefitted from her mentorship and friendship over the years.”
— Georgina H. Black ’85
Sue’s role changed in the early 2000s, when she became the Executive Director of CAIS, working with heads of schools from across Canada. Three years later, her career took another turn when she was invited to become the first Executive Director of Advancement at Collingwood School in Vancouver. Both moves were built on a solid foundation of knowledge and deep understanding of the independent school system—along with her valuable hands-on experience working with staff, students, families, and alumni. And, along the way, Sue took courses in fundraising and strategic planning, earning her IAP-S and CFRE certifications. Because she was such an effective and inspirational teacher, Sue continued to teach at ISM—now as a member of the Advancement Academy, where she worked with mentees developing action plans for capital campaigns and strategic planning.
“For over forty years, Susan has devoted her professional life to advancing independent schools, especially Ridley. I’m personally grateful for her guidance and the ways she has bolstered our school’s fundraising over the past six years. Susan’s ties to our community run deep and her daily presence on campus will be missed. I have no doubt she will remain connected to the RCA as she enters into a much-deserved retirement.”
— Ed Kidd, Headmaster
This period led Sue full circle back to Ridley College in 2014, when she became the school’s Director of Development. During her time at Ridley, Sue has not only worked in Development, but has shared decades of experience in helping to develop a number of the school’s areas, such as residential life, student leadership and more.
Not one to sit still, in addition to tennis, walking, hiking, biking, spinning, and golf, Sue has now added curling and rowing to her ever-growing list of activities. With her retirement, not only will Sue now have plenty of time for these active pursuits, but she’s looking forward to spending time with family and her boys; connecting with friends near and far; planting, working and harvesting her garden; travelling; and any other new adventures that come her way. Sadly, Ridley’s loss is everyone else’s gain!
I’m sure I speak for many when I say, thank you, Sue, for sharing your passion, your wisdom, your joy in mentoring others, and your life’s journey with all of us.
— Vera Wilcox
This article was printed in the latest issue of Tiger magazine. Learn about our alumni, get community updates and find out where Ridley is heading next! Read more from our summer issue.
“If you eat, sleep and move well today, you will have more energy tomorrow. You will treat your friends and family better. You will achieve more at work [or school] and give more to your community.” — Tom Rath, from Eat Move Sleep
This powerful advice is even more important today than when it was written—and more challenging when much of our day is spent inside, sitting and often in front of a screen.
Be sure each member of your household gets up and moves at least once per hour. It’s a great opportunity to get a glass of water (another important aspect of well-being!), check in with others (remember, relationships are important!), and reduce the risk of many long term health concerns. Here are some simple stretches to try during your day.
Speak with your child(ren) about screen time. Its forms are definitely not all created equal. We’re now using screens in so many different ways: to communicate, create, work, and explore. It’s still important to have a balance of screen and unplugged time. Keep in mind, however, given how important relationships are for well-being, screen time spent communicating with others needs to be considered. Talk to your child(ren) to better understand how they’re using their screens, and determine together a reasonable amount of daily screen time.
And please remember, parents, eating, sleeping and moving is not just for children. Look after yourselves, too!
REMINDER: Hanna Kidd and I hope to see you Tuesday, May 12th at 8a.m. or 2p.m. EST—wherever you are in the world—for our Tuesday Tips chat on ZOOM! Next week’s topic will be Cultivating Optimism.