The beat of a healthy heart is music to her ears, and Dr. Maral Ouzounian happens to know a thing or two about hearts and music. An accomplished pianist who performed competitively, Maral simultaneously secured a bachelor of music degree in piano performance and a bachelor of science degree in anatomy and cell biology, a first for McGill University. Her love for music rivalled her passion for science until her exchange year in Paris. Not able to practise regularly, Maral recalled something a music teacher said: If you can see yourself doing anything else with your life, don’t pursue a career in music.
Maral went on to study medicine, obtaining her M.D., C.M. (doctor of medicine and master of surgery) from McGill and a Ph.D. in molecular biology from the University of Toronto. She completed her cardiac surgical residency at Dalhousie University. Keenly interested in cardiovascular surgery and aortic repair, she accepted a fellowship at the renowned Texas Heart Institute in Houston.
Today, Dr. Ouzounian performs hundreds of life-saving surgeries every year at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre (PMCC) in Toronto; she is also Assistant Professor of Surgery at the University of Toronto. She finds the dual role of research scientist and surgeon complementary. “As surgeons, we help one patient at a time; but hands-on clinical experience informs the research, which in turn changes what we can do for the patient.” Dr. Ouzounian thrives on the technical challenges of aortic surgery. However, when eloquently describing the similarities between music and surgery, she reveals a deeply personal connection that transcends technical expertise. “Both are complex, structured, highly technical disciplines, but within each there is room for creativity, individual expression, and the mental freedom to make it your own. Cardiac surgery is both a skill and an art.”
Delighted to be receiving the 2018 Alumni of Distinction Award, she recalls the stimulating demands of the International Baccalaureate (IB) and the excellence of her science courses at TFS. “We were encouraged to be academically ambitious, but, above all, TFS taught us that we could achieve anything.” TFS also encouraged students to form lasting bonds, she adds, and to this day she remains close to the friends she made at TFS.
The cardiac surgeon who once performed at Carnegie Hall has a message for the graduating Class of 2018: “You have choices. No career decision is final. Take your time, keep searching and always stay true to yourself.” Valuable advice from a remarkable alumna.
"At TFS, we were encouraged to be academically ambitious, and above all, TFS taught us that we could achieve anything."
Julia Rucklidge ʼ88 wants us to think differently about mental health treatment. A professor of clinical psychology at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, Julia is a leading world expert in the use of micronutrients to treat mood disorders, ADHD, anxiety and post-traumatic stress. Despite being one of the younger researchers in her field, Julia was named one of the 100 most influential women in New Zealand in 2015.
Julia’s research has led to ground-breaking discoveries about the effect of micronutrients on the expression of mental illness. “People want to believe that what they are doing is the best option,” she says. “When you challenge the current paradigm of how illness can be treated, this can often be met with resistance and great skepticism.”
Julia thinks deeply about the existing data and generates discussion about how mental health treatments can improve. She has been widely published in professional journals and online, gives lectures all over the world, has been profiled extensively in the media and her TEDx talk has logged over half a million views to date. She also interacts daily with people from all over the world who reach out to her about their personal experiences with mental health. Through this work, she has emerged as a tireless advocate for the mentally ill.
“I take pride in being a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves,” she says. “What the health care system is currently doing to help people with mental health challenges is not adequate. Not enough people are getting well in the long-term. We need to research new solutions.”
Julia’s ties to TFS run deep. She attended the school from age three to 18, her mother Adeline Rucklidge was director of services for 16 years and all three of her brothers are also alumni. Julia’s capacity to tackle complex intellectual challenges was nurtured at TFS.
“As a researcher, I challenge existing ideas by asking questions that lead to new ways of thinking,” she says. “I also do the research to find solid evidence. That approach was normal at TFS. The teachers pushed us to think, ask questions and be able to make an argument.”
Touched that TFS would honour her with this award, Julia sees a connection with the adversity she has faced. Julia hopes that current TFS students are inspired to reach beyond any challenges they may face. “My career has been a difficult journey. I would say to any young person at TFS that if you believe in something, pursue it. Be bold and don’t let criticism slow you down.”
"At TFS, the teachers always encouraged us to understand the principles we studied rather than memorize content. It was a challenging and inspiring way to learn."
For an up-and-coming professional racecar driver, Dalton Kellett ʼ11 early success has been impressive. Currently racing for Andretti Autosport, a team owned by famous former driver Michael Andretti, this will be Dalton’s second season competing in Indy Lights, one step from the pinnacle of North American open-wheeled racing: IndyCar. Yet Dalton’s racing accomplishments are only part of his incredible story.
When he graduated from TFS, rather than opting to race full-time like the rest of his peers in the sport, Dalton enrolled in the highly competitive engineering physics program at Queen’s University. While there, he was involved with the prestigious Formula SAE team that designs and builds a race car for competitions. At the time, school and sport meant that his rapid ascent through the racing ranks was delayed, but he is now reaping the rewards of being an engineering graduate.
“As you move up through the levels, the cars become more technical,” explains Dalton. “Drivers need to be able to give precise feedback about the car’s performance. My background is an advantage for our team.”
Dalton’s passion for engineering fuels his commitment to act by engaging in outreach to schools. “I realized early on that racing gives me a platform to introduce topics like aerodynamics. Students’ eyes light up when I talk about racing. I hope to inspire future generations to follow their dreams and pursue careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).”
Many of the skills that have helped Dalton succeed were cultivated during his time at TFS. “My schedule during university was pretty hectic,” he says, “but I already had solid time management skills. It was also a benefit to have had an international education in two languages because the racing community is very multicultural.”
Dalton also values his ability to reflect. “A big part of racing is understanding what is or is not working. If you don’t do that, your progress sputters and you fall behind. Ongoing reflection ensures your career continues on an upward path.”
Grateful to be the recipient of the 2017 Prix de distinction des jeunes diplômés (Young Alumni Award), Dalton knows that whenever he is pushing for a pole position or checkered flag, the TFS community is cheering him on.
"There were 20 or 30 of us who went all the way through TFS together. That sense of community was incredible and gave me an appreciation for the importance of cultivating relationships."
When Gabriela received her first camera at age seven, little did she know that her father’s gift would launch a career in photography, taking her on adventures both exciting and dangerous. “I fell in love with photography at TFS,” she confides. “The creative freedom was essential to my pursuit of photography as a career and the encouragement from art teachers Ms. Stewart and Mrs. Markovic was invaluable.” Her most cherished memory? Her first photo exhibit in the Level V art show.
New York City is where it all began professionally for Gabriela. There the Columbia grad published her first photograph, had her first gallery show and landed her first job as a photographer. Gabriela’s exquisite photos have appeared in numerous prestigious publications over the years. In 2008 she moved to Dubai for assignments in the Middle East, a move she describes as a leap into the unknown. That leap was life changing.
While on assignment at Badam Bagh, “the Almond Garden,” Afghanistan’s infamous women’s prison, she was drawn to another story that begged to be told. Almond Garden: Portraits from the Women’s Prisons in Afghanistan was not planned. “The project found me,” explains Gabriela. She would painstakingly spend the next four years shooting beautifully moving portraits of women incarcerated for moral crimes. When her book was published last year to great acclaim, the media attention it received raised awareness internationally and was selected by Time magazine as one of the best photography books of 2015. It is now used by organizations negotiating for the rights of women in Afghanistan.
Advocating for gender equality will always be important to Gabriela, and through her book project she supports Women for Afghan Women, a non-government women's human rights organization. “The relationships I forged with these women drove me. The book is very dear to me.”
This fearless, talented photographer continues to push at boundaries and plunge into new experiences. Honoured to be this year’s Alumni of Distinction Award recipient, she offers these words of wisdom to TFS students: “Work as hard as you can. Your education will shape the rest of your life.”
"The collective focus at TFS on hard work and achievement, and the innovative and integrated curriculum laid a strong foundation for future chapters in my life."
Julia Ivonoffski came to TFS seeking a larger educational community. She had been attending Lycée Français Toronto, but found it too small. It shouldn’t come as any surprise, then, that today Julia is President and CEO of Sero Communications, a global business with teams in Toronto and Dubai, providing language communication services in dozens of languages, notably in English, French and Arabic.
When setting up her company, flexibility was high on Julia’s list. “I can manage the business from anywhere as long as I have a reliable Internet connection. I love to travel, so I travel every chance I get,” says Julia. “But the most rewarding aspect of my business is connecting and working with people around the world.”
By the time Julia was 15, she knew she wanted to run her own company. Her methodical approach toward her entrepreneurial goal included choosing jobs for skills that she would need and learning as much as possible along the way. Her first job after university, in human resources, had a translation component. “I graduated into the recession, so I had to think about what I was good at — and I was good at translation. This skill turned out to be a huge component of not only making a living, but building my business.”
Julia is thrilled to receive the TFS Young Alumni Award for 2016 and speaks fondly of her alma mater. “I have always loved languages and was inspired by many teachers; notably, my French teacher M. Pilaprat and English teacher Mr. Tucker, who always pushed me to improve my writing and communication skills.” Her participation in the Model UN Club and attending the Secondary Schools’ United Nations Symposium in Montreal are special memories for her. Julia has stayed in touch with TFS friends, and now that her home base is in Toronto, she is more involved with the TFS Alumni Association (TFSAA).
What’s next for Julia? She plans to grow the business, acquire new clients and expand services in other areas. She credits the TFS environment for inspiring her to dream big. “TFS encourages you to aspire. Being surrounded by people with tremendous drive means that striving to excel becomes the norm.”
Her advice to TFS students? “Get involved in extracurricular activities to explore potential interests and develop new skills. The connections you’ll make with like-minded individuals are invaluable.”
"TFS encourages you to aspire. Being surrounded by people with tremendous drive means that striving to excel becomes the norm."
For Leigh Salsberg the law is more than words on a page or a set of rules to follow. Leigh cares about people, and she is determined to put a human face on the refugee issue in Canada. "I want to tell their stories so that the government, and all Canadians, will understand and care. There are so many myths about refugee law circulating today that need to be dispelled."
As a lawyer specializing in immigration and refugee protection, Leigh regularly sees the toll that war, conflict and persecution can take on ordinary individuals and families. Many of her clients have fled harrowing, life-threatening experiences or have endured incredible hardship to find not only a safe haven but a country to call home. Leigh has dedicated her career to helping them meet and surmount legal hurdles they may have encountered once in Canada. This has put the quiet, soft-spoken lawyer in the media spotlight from time to time, but she is a formidable advocate to have in one's corner. However, a career in law wasn't always Leigh's plan. Having enjoyed her history classes at TFS, Leigh went on to take a BA in History. After graduation, she assisted at a legal aid clinic, where she became inspired by the lawyers' genuine commitment to their clients. She decided then to enrol in law school. While there, she began working in a student legal clinic helping refugees. Leigh found her calling and has never looked back. She earned a law degree from the University of Toronto and was called to the bar in 2004. She joined Jackman (now Jackman Nazami) & Associates prior to establishing her own practice.
Although Leigh was inspired by the dedicated team of legal aid lawyers, she credits her TFS education for preparing her for the challenges of law school in general and for her area of the law in particular. "My time at TFS was rare and special. For a while, I was part of this small, personal environment where the teachers really cared about students' well-being. We felt that what we had to say mattered. I believe that gave us the confidence to pursue our own interests."
Leigh is grateful for the knowledge and the global perspective her IB experience provided. "A TFS education exposes you to history, cultures and politics, and teaches you to think critically and independently. It's surprising how many key decision-makers lack critical thinking skills — skills that every TFS student possesses." But being able to attend a school such as TFS is a privilege, an educational opportunity many will never have, she adds. "Make the most of it," she advises current TFS students.
For Leigh, that means giving back and doing good work that benefits others. "I think it is important to appreciate what we have and try to turn it into actions somehow. Even if the actions seem small, they can make a real difference, as they are actions that otherwise wouldn't have been done. Incorporate your TFS education into your life in a meaningful way." Lawyer, social justice advocate and humanitarian, Leigh Salsberg exemplifies the TFS values of excellence and leadership. Modest and unassuming, however, Leigh will simply tell you that she counts herself lucky to be working with people from all over the world and from all walks of life.
"I think it is important to appreciate what we have and try to turn it into actions somehow. Even if the actions seem small, they can make a real difference, as they are actions that otherwise wouldn't have been done. Incorporate your TFS education into your life in a meaningful way."
Many people can only dream of doing what they love for a living. For TFS alumna Cara Cheung, however, that dream is an everyday reality, and a very exciting reality at that, as she is one of Canada's rising young fashion designers.
"I always knew I loved fashion, but being a designer seemed more like an unrealistic dream job than a real plan," Cara explains. She knew virtually nothing about the industry itself. Cara's creative side was irrepressible, however, and she found her IB Art Show experience especially satisfying. "I think that's what really affirmed my love for fashion, because it gave me the opportunity to explore something I had always been interested in, through a structured environment, and with an end goal in mind that allowed others to connect with my work."
When the time came to choose a university, Cara applied mainly to business schools. She knew, though, that Ryerson had an excellent fashion program. "Why not just apply and see what happens?" she asked herself. That willingness to keep an open mind says a lot about Cara's creative and entrepreneurial spirit. Once accepted, she faced a "now or never" moment; she decided to take the risk, and that leap of faith in herself and her abilities, changed the course of her life.
Cara went on to earn a Bachelor of Design at Ryerson University and then interned with the prestigious Maison Chanel, before establishing her eponymous clothing line. By March 2012, she had made her World MasterCard Fashion Week debut. Cara has since dressed numerous television hosts and celebrities, and has been featured on Breakfast Television and ET Canada. Partnering with her brother Daryl, another TFS graduate, Cara sought to expand her business. In the summer of 2014, Cara and Daryl launched their first pop-up shop in Yorkville.
Cara credits her TFS education for her focus and drive. "The habits you develop early on have a huge impact on your successes, and TFS was such a rigourous and disciplined school. I feel that work ethic put us ahead. TFS truly gave us the tools to get to where we want to be in life, whether we were aware of that at the time or not." She is immensely proud of her Young Alumni Award. "To be honoured for working hard at something I love means so much to me, especially coming from such a respected establishment as TFS."
What's next for the dynamic designer? Cara is gearing up for the fall launch of her label's online store. And for TFS students and new grads, Cara offers some astute advice: "Learn what your strengths and weaknesses are, and do as much research as you can on potential jobs in your field of interest before choosing your program," she says, adding, "the sooner you can identify your long-term goals, the more applicable your learning experiences will be. Most of all, don't be afraid to question the norm and take risks."
Cara's success story perfectly illustrates the wisdom of her advice, and happy indeed is the person who is able to fashion his or her own unique career path.
"I really enjoyed my IB Art Show experience. It affirmed my love for fashion because it gave me the opportunity to explore my interest, through a structured environment, with an end goal that allowed others to connect with my work."
Dr. Ian D'Agata is an award winning-wine writer and frequent speaker in Italy and around the world on health and wine. He holds a medical degree with specializations in paediatrics, pediatric gastroenterology, nutrition and liver transplants. While these two topics may seem to counter each other, for Dr. D'Agata, the breadth of his career speaks to the diversity of his TFS education.
Dr. D'Agata developed a natural love for wine having tasted some great wines courtesy of his father's well stocked cellar. Years later when living in Rome, he realized that many of Italy's wine grapes were on the verge of extinction. This eventually led to him exploring and identifying grape varieties, and seeking to understand the composition of wine.
For more than 25 years, he has been writing and lecturing about food and wine. He fondly remembers his high school teachers who helped him become a better writer, and expresses his appreciation for their guidance and encouragement. As one of the world's best known wine writers, he covers Alsace, Bordeaux, Italy and Canada for the prestigious newsletter, International Wine Cellar. Named Italy's best wine journalist in 2012 and best young wine journalist in 2007, he is also the recipient of the 2009 International Association of Culinary Professionals Gourmand Award for D'Agata & Comparini Guide to Italy's Best Wines. He has written for Harper Collins/Ecco's The Ecco Guide to the Best Wines of Italy and his new book, The Native Wine Grapes of Italy, will be published by University of California Press in May 2014.
Though Dr. D'Agata spends more than half the year traveling, he maintains an active medical practice, is a guest lecturer in the food sciences master's program at New York University and is the regional co-chairman for Italy at the Decanter World Wine Awards. In addition, he serves as the scientific advisor of Vinitaly International and the scientific director of the Vinitaly International Academy. Dr. D'Agata's contributions nationally and internationally are astounding and of a rare vintage indeed.
"TFS gave me the opportunity to learn French, write it well and learn more about France. To this day, France is still my home away from home. TFS also allowed for the establishment of some pretty amazing friendships and bonds. There is no doubt that what I am today is in part due to TFS and the way it modeled and shaped me."
If you were to ask Emily Cole what is most rewarding about her work, her answer would certainly be the ability to promote new discussions that make the ancient world relevant to the present. "My study of ancient languages contributes to a wider understanding of how people adapt their speech to internal and external cultural pressures," she shares.
Emily is a doctoral candidate in Egyptology in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures (NELC), at the University of California, Los Angeles. There she focuses on the linguistic and social histories of ancient Egypt. Specifically, she explores the multicultural environment of the Ptolemaic and Roman periods, examining how Egyptian culture adopted and adapted foreign practices. For her PhD, she is conducting a sociolinguistic study of translation, where she investigates the processes of translation in ancient Egypt and the role of translators in ancient society.
Her passion for the ancient world was fostered at TFS, where her interests swayed between the arts and sciences. Inspired by TFS classes in history and Ancient Greek, she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Oxford, before pursuing graduate school. During her master's program, Emily worked for five years as an excavator and team-leader on the URU Fayum Project in Egypt at Karanis, to uncover the history of the region. As a result, she co-authored the first excavation summary and her findings were presented at an international conference on the Fayum region in Würzburg, Germany, in 2012.
Emily shares her inspiration, enthusiasm and knowledge with colleagues and students. From mentoring Egyptian and American students in the field, to her teaching roles within the university, she explains that it is imperative to make the past relevant to students today. "There is nothing better than working through texts and finally having the connections fall into place," she notes. This extends beyond the lecture halls, where she also brings her passion for archaeology and ancient history to children in schools throughout South-central LA. In addition, as an active member of the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE), she is engaged at the national level to increase graduate student conference participation and interaction.
In 2013, Emily was awarded a fellowship from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) to work at the University of Heidelberg in Germany, where she was able to establish new relationships with the European research community. Emily has clearly found a way to connect the ancient and modern, arts and science, and it will be exciting to watch this rising star.
"I was always between science and arts, but I had teachers who were 100% supportive and accepted my diverse interests. I would encourage students to pursue whatever major they feel suits their curiosity coming out of high school."
Depending on when you ask, Steven Shehori calls himself a writer, a comedian or a failed musician. The reality is he's nationally recognized as the first two things because of the last.
After graduating from TFS in 1989, Steven studied film and drama at McMaster University, while trying to break out as a singer and guitarist. "My band was going nowhere and one day a friend of mine working at Paramount suggested I write a movie script because she had the connections to get it read. So I hammered out a screenplay in four months, but by then her job had ended! In the end, nothing really happened with the script except it gave me the confidence to start thinking of myself as a writer."
Steven never looked back or, as he jokes, tried anything quite that ambitious again.
A three-time Gemini Award-nominee who has also received 10 Canadian Comedy Award nominations — and three wins — Steven has written and performed comedy that has aired on Canadian, American, European and Australian national television, including CBC's This Hour has 22 Minutesand The Hour with George Stroumboulopoulos. He's a regular contributor to The Huffington Post as a humourist and celebrity interviewer. As a member of The Shehori Brothers (with his brother Daniel), he has produced more than 100 live comedy shows, five full-length theatre productions and the siblings were head co-creators and producers of theShehori Brothers' Character Night, the longest-running show in the history of Second City Toronto.
"Over the years I've kept a pretty diverse resume: directing, acting, voice work, song writing and even video editing," explains Steven. "But I guess I'm a writer first and foremost." Smiling, he adds, "I've also got hand-model hands to fall back on, should the industry slow down."
In 2002, Steven added publicity and training to his repertoire. Through his company Sweat Equity Productions, he earns TV, press, radio and internet exposure for clients in the comedy, music, theatre, dance, charity and business worlds. He also offers seminars on topics like ‘DIY Publicity' for actors, comedians, musicians, and entertainment producers and promoters.
"I was really honoured to be asked to host TFS' 50th Anniversary Gala. It was especially flattering because I wasn't the best student. It was only later that I realized TFS helped me develop the skills that are the foundation for everything I've done."
Molly Shoichet is a University of Toronto scientist with a global vision. "I want to advance knowledge, and impact people's lives, that's my dream."
As a science undergraduate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a PhD recipient from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and now the Canada Research Chair in Tissue Engineering at U of T's world renowned Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomedical Research, she is well on her way. Molly is nationally recognized for designing methods of facilitating nerve cell repair and regeneration to treat patients with cancer or traumatic injuries of the brain and spinal cord.
"I design polymers," she says simply, "to deliver drugs and cells where they need to be."
Working with some of the world's best neuroscientists, neurosurgeons and cancer biologists, Molly and her team are taking steps to design a polymer that, when combined with potent drugs, will kill cancer cells and not healthy cells. She also hopes custom-designed polymers can help transplanted stem cells survive longer and integrate into existing tissue so patients with spinal cord injuries can learn to walk again.
Molly's achievements to date have earned her some of the highest honours awarded to Canadian scientists. In 2008, she was one of 10 researchers nationwide to receive a Killam Research Fellowship, Canada's most prestigious research award. Her recent induction into the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences earned her the distinction of being the only known person who also holds fellowships in the Canadian Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society of Canada's Academy of Science. In January 2011, Molly received the Order of Ontario, the highest official honour in the Province of Ontario. She was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in February 2013.
While privileged to have received these honours, "the things that I'm most proud of happen every day," she says. "I enjoy working closely with grad students and postdocs and watching them grow and flourish, and seeing our research progress and advance knowledge. The awards are recognition for those things. It's those things that matter."
"I get to work with some of the world's best neuroscientists, neurosurgeons and cancer biologists. We must have superb science and then the backing of the business world to translate it to peoples' lives. That's the dream."
"A servant of humanity." That, in a nutshell, is how Walter Dorn describes himself and the 30-year career that has taken him from TFS to Canadian Forces College (CFC) in Toronto, and from East Timor to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The Chair of the Department of Security and International Affairs at CFC, Walter is an "operational professor," spending almost as much time in the classroom as in the field, where he is a consultant to the UN's Department of Peacekeeping Operations.
"I seek to find a way to make the UN more effective in its role as an enforcer of peace," he explains.
In 1999, Walter travelled to the Southeast Asian island of East Timor as a UN electoral officer overseeing the country's first referendum on independence. "It was the best time of my life because I was a part of the process of bringing freedom to people under colonization for centuries." But it was also one of the worst times: in the Indonesian-led reign of terror that followed Timor's vote for independence, a member of Walter's team and several friends were killed. The horrors became the impetus for much of his work today.
While a student at TFS, Walter nurtured a love of history, but his top grades were in science. He studied chemistry at the University of Toronto, earning Bachelor, Master's and PhD degrees. After stints with Yale and Cornell Universities and some UN field work, he returned to Canada to study and teach on peace and conflict issues, arms control and international security. His book, Keeping Watch: Monitoring, Technology and Innovation in UN Peace Operations (2011), makes recommendations to enhance peacekeeping through technological innovation. "I ask how science can be used to enhance peace in the world."
This summer, Walter will be back in the field, on leave from the CFC to serve in a UN policy advisor role in the troubled Middle East.
"I'm so grateful for what I've experienced in life, in the field and in Canada, including the preparation I received through TFS."
"Dad put a huge value on education. He'd heard great things about TFS and was keen to give his son the best education. I'm so grateful for what I've experienced in life, in the field and in Canada, including the preparation I received through TFS."
Lara Brady has spent the last 12 years educating young people around the world about the importance of family, freedom, compassion and respect. Together with her father, George, she has turned the fate of her aunt Hana, who died at age 13 in Auschwitz, into a global lesson of tolerance. With Lara heading public relations for the Brady family and their numerous projects, Hana's story has become a bestselling children's book, a film, a children's play, a radio documentary and a CBC television feature.
"We thought that the last chapter closed with Hana's death, but the story suddenly came alive again and now Hana is teaching millions of kids around the world," says Lara.
Hana's modern-day tale took hold in 2000, when Lara was in her final year at TFS. A Japanese museum director wrote to ask about the owner of a small suitcase from the museum's collection. "The suitcase belonged to Hana," Lara explains. The Brady family ended up sharing their story with the museum director's students and, soon, the world. Hana's Suitcase, written by Karen Levine and published in 2002, is now in its 14th printing in Canada alone and it was chosen by Canadian children as a winner of the 2003 Silver Birch Award.
"Kids are just fascinated by Hana and George's childhood and the ensuing issues of isolation and racism, and by my father's escape from Czechoslovakia to Canada," says Lara, who also works as an account executive at Toronto's The Gabor Group. "We receive letters from children written in Hungarian, German and Italian, all wanting to share how they take inspiration from Hana and George."
In addition to participating in speaking tours and many outreach programs, Lara was instrumental in launching an interactive website that was nominated for an International Digital Emmy award in 2010. A graduate of U of T and Ryerson University, she facilitated a series of interactive webisodes on iTunes last year.
"It's been a wonderful journey to share such a personal story with millions of children around the world."
"I had such tremendous teachers. Across the board, our teachers pushed us and did a great deal to cultivate a real confidence in us as students."
As the young owner of a brand-new advertising agency in the mid-1990s, Justin Poy got pretty used to rejection. Then he started to ask about the Chinese market and prospective clients stood up and took notice. Today, Toronto's Justin Poy Agency counts the Canadian International AutoShow, Foresters and Birks & Mayors among its clients, and Justin is internationally recognized for his ground-breaking approach to ethnocultural advertising.
Justin's unique pitch draws from his own background — both his parents are from Hong Kong — and from the influx of Chinese immigrants he watched settle in Canada in the mid- 1990s. He's casting his net even wider today; the Poy Agency specializes in advertising for the entire South Asian market. Justin has earned numerous accolades for his work: Summit Awards, Emerging Media Awards, the Cannes Lions Award for special effects and he has been honoured by the Chinese Canadian Advertising, Marketing and Media Association.
"Figuring out niche markets is how I built my company," explains the TFS grad and former president of the TFS Alumni Association, who earned a Bachelor of Applied Arts degree from Ryerson University.
As proud as he is of his for-profit success, it's Justin's work in the non-profit sector that gives him the greatest pleasure. He's on the Board of the SickKids Foundation, the Ontario Media Development Corporation and the Kidney Foundation of Canada, and is Chair of the Asian Advisory Committee for the Toronto International Film Festival. A three-time kidney transplant recipient, Justin was the strategic mind behind the Trillium Gift of Life Network's ongoing ethnocultural organ and tissue donation campaign, and the Poy Agency's distracted driving campaign proved a winner for the non-profit Trillium Automobile Dealers Association.
"My philanthropic work defines me even more than my work at my agency," he explains. "It balances out my life."
In September 2002, Justin was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal and he received the Diamond Jubilee Medal in August 2012 for his community service and philanthropy.
"TFS taught me to have a strong passion and work ethic for doing things I really liked to do. During high school I was there seven days a week, setting up art exhibits, building sets and rehearsing for plays. Those were some of the best years of my life. It has greatly influenced who I am today."
Kristen Davidge laughs at the irony that a hand surgeon helped to open her eyes to the difference she could make in people's lives. Kristen was a University of Toronto medical student on track to a career in pediatrics, when a mandatory plastic surgery rotation paved the way for an unexpected, award-winning career.
"I fell in love with the complexity of it. Plastic surgery is meticulous and you can both improve function and quality of life through what you're doing."
Kristen's passion for all things scientific took root at TFS, where teachers like Leslie Barton and Asif Khan "gave me a real leg up" in undergraduate life sciences study at Queen's University. After medical school, she combined a seven-year plastic surgery residency with a Master's degree in clinical epidemiology, both at the University of Toronto. She earned accolades for her skills and promise at every level of training. Of her many awards, Kristen is most proud of the Shafie S. Fazel Outstanding Resident Surgeon and Investigator Award, presented at the completion of her plastic surgery residency last year. "It recognizes the soft skills that are hard to teach, but matter most in a doctor — honesty, integrity, compassion and respect."
These same skills factor in her current role: Kristen is completing a year-long fellowship at Washington University of St. Louis. In June, she will join U of T as a plastic surgeon and clinical researcher, specializing in hand and peripheral nerve surgery.
Balancing career and family has been "very challenging," she says. Above all else, she values time spent with her husband and friends, doing the things she loves most — being active outdoors, reading and exploring new restaurants.
"I'm very proud of what I've accomplished in my career, but life outside my career defines me even more than the career itself."
"The beauty of the school is the relationships you forge with your teachers. It was something very special and unique. They opened our eyes to so much more than the subject at hand. Mr. Henri Nguyen, for example, was an amazing math teacher, but he also shared stories of his Vietnamese-French background and culture. He even taught us Tai Chi!"
A trip to the United Nations in New York is one of the defining moments in Christina Piovesan's career as a film producer. It was 2011, one year after the release of Samuel Goldwyn Films' The Whistleblower, a feature film produced by Christina and starring Academy Award Winner Rachel Weisz as a real-life Nebraska cop who served as a peacekeeper in post-war Bosnia and outed the UN for covering up a sex trafficking scandal.
"We screened the movie at the UN and then I was able to sit in on a discussion with UN officials talking about issues of accountability," says the TFS grad. "As a result, they are now changing their policy on accountability. It's quite astounding!"
Astounding is an apt description of Christina's career. In the last four years alone, she has produced four films, all under the banner of her production company First Generation Films. FGF's first feature film, Amreeka (2009), premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and won the International Critics Week Award at Cannes. The movie was named one of the top 10 independent films of 2009 by the National Board of Review. Following The Whistleblower, she produced The Lesser Blessed, which debuted last fall at the Toronto International Film Festival, and co-produced Red Lights(2012), starring Robert De Niro and Sigourney Weaver.
After graduating from TFS in 1994, Christina studied cultural studies at McGill University and then earned a Masters degree in film production at the University of Southern California. Although she spent many of her TFS high school years producing theatre productions, she dreamed of becoming a director. At USC, however, she found herself gravitating to production and loving it.
Her vision for FGF is to become a "leader and innovator in creating content for a global audience." With a full slate of feature films underway, she is expanding into television with a reality TV series and a pilot newsmagazine show about app culture.
"Being a first-generation Canadian at TFS had a big impact on me. Everyone in my close circle of friends was also first-generation. It was a great experience to share culture and tradition."
Neurosurgeon, biotechnologist, human rights and peace activist, social entrepreneur, philanthropist, investor, renewable energy developer — it's virtually impossible to pin down TFS alumnus and parent Michael Dan.
"Life is a journey filled with many detours," he laughs, explaining his exceptionally diverse background that began with TFS' fourth graduating class. Inspired by a bilingual education that was "amazingly experimental," Michael pursued a medical degree at the University of Toronto, a PhD in experimental medicine from McGill University in Montreal and an MBA from Louisiana's Tulane University. After five years as an assistant professor of neurosurgery at Louisiana State University, he left medicine to become the CEO of Novopharm Biotech Inc., a publicly-traded drug discovery company. When the parent company, Novopharm Ltd., sold in 2000 for a reported $430 million, Michael reinvented himself yet again.
Today, he is president of Gemini Power Corporation, a private hydro-electric power generating business focused on Canada's First Nations.
"I want to change the paradigm of how large corporations do business with First Nations," he says.
Michael is giving back in other ways, too. Through the Paloma Foundation, a Toronto charitable organization benefiting homeless people, and women's and children's health and education, he supports eight downtown youth shelters. Paloma also funds an annual education series for youth shelter workers to learn about difficult topics like suicide ideation.
"It's taken me 35 years to figure this out," Michael says of his ever-changing, yet ever-passionate approach to life and career. "We have one of the best multicultural societies in the world and TFS is at the epicentre of it all. It's an amazing place with layer after layer of different cultures, experiences and perspectives. How could I approach life any differently?"
"Canada's First Nations form the bedrock for this country and we never really explored their story well enough. By giving them better business opportunities through Gemini Power, I want to change the paradigm of how large corporations do business with First Nations."
In 2003, shortly after the start of the Iraq war, Rita Leistner paid smugglers to lead her through the mountains from Turkey into Iraq while Turkish guards patrolled the border with shoot-to-kill orders.
"I felt like I had prepared my whole life for this moment," says the TFS alumna and award-winning freelance photographer and documentarian. "It was insane, but this was the war of my generation and the story deserved to be told."
From inside the front lines, Rita set out to capture on film the cost of war. It's a mission that has defined her entire career, covering stories in war-torn countries from Iraq to Afghanistan and Lebanon to Israel. Her pictures have been exhibited widely and published in Time, Newsweek, Vanity Fair, The Walrus and Rolling Stone magazines, among others, and she has earned three national magazine awards and a nomination for a Courage of Journalism Award by the International Women's Media Foundation. Rita has co-authored numerous books, including Unembedded: Four Independent Photojournalists on the War in Iraq (2005) and Memory of Fire (2013). Her first sole-authored book, Looking for Marshall McLuhan in Afghanistan, is due out this summer. Also this year, she will release her first documentary film: a 13-minute short filmed in Israel and called MIKLAT: The Bomb Shelter Project.
Rita's career took root at TFS, where she developed a lifelong love of languages. She earned undergraduate and Master's degrees in French and English comparative literature at the University of Toronto before freelancing as a photojournalist in Cambodia and moving to New York to study at The International Centre of Photography. "I'm definitely not a traditional photojournalist," she says. "I want to help tell people's stories, especially those who have suffered most from war, and I am constantly exploring new ways to do this."
In addition to writing, photography and filmmaking, Rita teaches a course on the history of photojournalism and documentary photography at U of T.
"I'm definitely not a traditional photojournalist. I want to help tell people's stories, especially those who have suffered most from war, and I am constantly exploring new ways to do this. My job is putting together the pieces of the puzzle that show what is going on in the world. One story at a time, we try to educate ourselves and others through that. If the story's not told, it's like it never happened."
Albert Haldemann's resume is, quite literally, out of this world. A payload and assembly manager with the European Space Agency (ESA) who started his career on NASA's Mars Pathfinder Science Team, Albert has participated in three successful Mars landings, all with NASA. He's now overseeing the integration and testing of the ESA's ExoMars spacecraft in preparation for its 2016 launch to the Red Planet aboard a Russian rocket.
"My fascination with space began as a teenager," admits the 1984 TFS grad. "I read a lot of science fiction in high school at TFS."
Always at his happiest when building things, Albert chose to study physics at Switzerland's Université de Neuchâtel because "I wanted to make a warp drive work," but he soon discovered that he was more suited to experimental work. After earning a PhD in planetary science at the California Institute of Technology, he began a post-doctoral fellowship at NASA, just one month before the Mars Pathfinder landing in 1997. When the first data transmissions began, Albert and his colleagues were tapped to receive them. "I was crazy, running back and forth trying to compare the data with our predictions on a poster in the hallway," he laughs.
Albert's role today is even more hands-on. Responsible for the interface between the instruments and the spacecraft at ESA, he checks to ensure the individual components of the ExoMars elements work together and meet the objectives of the space agency's ambitious Mars exploration program.
"The work I did with NASA was the Mr. Spock part of my career," explains the science fiction junkie. "I'm now doing more of the Scotty role."
Not to say Albert is done exploring. "I plan on being alive when the first human sets foot on Mars!"
"There's something innate in human beings about wanting to climb a mountain, not because it's there, but to simply explore, push boundaries, learn new things. Space is our next mountain. Learning about it teaches us about ourselves and our place in the universe. If I'm contributing to that, I think it's worthwhile."
Dr. Karandeep Sonu Gaind ‘86, psychiatrist and passionate advocate for improvements in care for the mentally ill, was delighted to be selected as the fourth recipient of the annual Le prix de distinction des anciens élèves de TFS.
Dr. Gaind has been a leader in bringing the plight of the mentally ill to the forefront by increasing public awareness, laying the groundwork for policy changes to the healthcare system and working for change in how psychiatric services are provided in Ontario.
Throughout his career, Dr. Gaind has influenced health policy on a provincial and national scale. Under his leadership, he has helped to develop policies to increase medical services to underserviced rural and northern communities, implement initiatives to improve access to community care for children with mental health challenges and, most recently as of September 2011, had his precedent-setting Clinical Care Modifier Model, developed to increase access to care for those mentally ill patients most at risk, adopted across psychiatric care in Ontario.
Dr. Gaind has received wide acclaim and numerous awards for his outstanding leadership and accomplishments.
Dr. Gaind is a TFS parent at the Mississauga campus.
"I believe what TFS has taught is the philosophy that education is not just about passively receiving information and it does not end in the classroom. Real scholarship and education is about learning even as we teach. It's about integrating diverse ideas, sometimes from different areas, in unique ways to impact the world... I use to this day the principles I learned at TFS."
Dr. Samantha Nutt '87, Founder and Executive Director of War Child Canada is the recipient of the third annual Le prix de distinction des anciens élèves de TFS.
Dr. Nutt is a medical doctor with more than fifteen years of experience working in war zones. Committed to peace, human rights and social justice, she has worked in some of the world’s most violent flashpoints with War Child, the United Nations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Darfur, Iraq, Afghanistan, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Burundi, northern Uganda, Ethiopia and the Thai-Burmese border.
Over the course of her professional career and as the Founder and Executive Director of War Child, Dr. Nutt has spearheaded efforts to provide direct humanitarian support and long term programming to war-affected children and their families, and to promote greater awareness in Canada concerning the rights of children everywhere.
Dr. Nutt was recently named one of Canada's 25 most influential figures by The Globe and Mail, the latest in a long list of awards and tributes. Time Magazine named her one of Canada's Five Leading Activists, while the World Economic Forum recognized her as one of 200 young global leaders.
In 2010, Dr. Nutt was awarded the Order of Ontario. In 2011, she was appointed to the Order of Canada and also received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from York University for her commitment to and excellence in public service.
Dr. Nutt released Damned Nations: Greed, Guns, Armies and Aid in 2011.
"Upon accepting the honour, Dr. Nutt reflected on the role her bilingual education has played, not only in the advocacy that has been a trademark of her career, but in her ability to listen to the children and families for whom she is so passionate."—ANDREW GRAHAM '01, TFS ALUMNI ASSOCIATION PRESIDENT ON DR. NUTT'S ACCEPTANCE SPEECH
Award winning, bestselling author and poet Martha Baillie '77, was presented with the second Le prix de distinction des anciens élèves de TFS at the annual Banquet des anciens élèves on May 7, 2010. Martha's most recent novel, The Incident Report, was long-listed for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and her other novels and poems have garnered much acclaim. Recognized for her unwavering passion, authenticity and determination, Martha inspires all those around her to be unafraid and stay true to one self.
Martha Baillie is the author of four novels. Martha has been published in Germany and Hungary; her non-fiction has appeared in Brick: a literary journal, and her poetry in journals across the country.
"...the Toronto French School, I feel, has stated unequivocally that it values those who labour precariously in the arts. It tells me the Toronto French School values determination and openness to the unexpected as truly as it did when I was one of its students."
Carole Piovesan '95 was presented with the inaugural Le prix de distinction des anciens élèves de TFS in recognition for her leadership, passion and work in the area of international human rights. An inspirational role model for students and alumni alike, Carole's compassion, curiosity, and commitment to human rights reflects many of the values at the heart of the TFS community.
"TFS is a school that delivers an international perspective. ...Carole would agree that the uniquely international education we received at this school has been pivotal to her success."—LISA RICHLER '95 INTRODUCING HER FRIEND AND AWARD RECIPIENT CAROLE PIOVESAN