A cherished ceremony, to mark the formal installation of student leaders and graduating students, highlights this year included a heartfelt speech from newly installed Head Prefect Amonda, which earned her a flurry of post-event accolades from her peers. As well, guest speaker and alum Heather Wright'03, national correspondent for CTV News, had a powerful and timely message about the "double-edged sword" of social media and the quickening suspicion—even overt antagonism—directed towards network media, and what students can do to ensure they're not isolated in like-minded online communities where misinformation has potential to flourish. Watch her full message here
Principal Karen Jurjevich reminded everyone of a chief tenet of leadership—the ability to listen. She spoke of feminist icon Gloria Steinem’s 2017 visit to Branksome. “Amongst the many pearls of wisdom about leadership, were her comments about the power of listening and her practice of participating in listening circles. ‘I don’t learn while I am talking. I learn when I am listening. If you are in a position of more power, try listening more. It is not humbling to learn; it is exciting.’ The concept of listening and doing so with intention is one that many of us have practised at Branksome Hall. This is especially true when we think of how we bring our values to life.”
In terms of Branksome values, Jurjevich touched on how Wright, as a news correspondent, makes a difference. “Reporting on the stories that touch people’s lives every day truly does make a difference locally and globally. The power of storytelling, of raising others’ voices, and making connections—these are the basis for real change.”
As guest speaker, Wright spoke of the exponential change in media over the past 20 years. Remembering the days when reporters kept bags of quarters handy to call from payphones, she spoke emotionally about how the CTV van was recently vandalized, as a small segment of people, emboldened by finding like-minded types online, actually believe Bill Gates puts microchips in your arms and that the doctors CTV interviewed about the pandemic on television were actors, and the patients in the beds were mannequins.
“These wild theories wouldn’t have gained traction 20 years ago,” she says. “We should all agree the [COVID] virus is real and makes people sick.” She urged students to read from unfamiliar sources and talk to people with views different than their own. “People are more agreeable face to face,” she said. “And before you share something online, pause and think, is this real and could this be hurtful?”
After Clubs Prefect Thea spoke, Deputy Principal Amanda Kennedy recognized the Grade 6 and Graduating Year classes, both at different points in their leadership journey, along with Read Acres graduates, who have been at Branksome since Junior and Senior Kindergarten. Prefects and Heads of Clan were installed. Lily was announced as this year’s winner of the Ruth Caven Memorial Medal, and Brooke Shaughnessy’21, who is studying at McGill University, was recognized with the Governor General's Academic Medal.
It was star debater and Head Prefect Amonda’s speech that really cemented the spirit of renewed community amongst her Graduating Class members. She spoke widely about coming to Branksome as a boarding student in Grade 7, learning to find her voice, her identity as an Asian student and the school’s work to support Diversity, Equity and Inclusion over the past 18 months.
“My experience of what is called cultural conformity, immersing yourself into the dominant culture, was such a seamless occurrence that I almost didn’t notice it,” she said. “This is an experience that perhaps many of us here can relate to—losing a connection with your past culture, but not realizing you have lost it until you are reintroduced to it. It wasn’t until the racially targeted attacks and harassment towards the Asian community in Canada began being circulated around the Internet did I realize how internally connected I still am to my roots,” said Amonda, whose parents came to Canada for the sole reason of providing her and her brother access to a better education.
Since then, as she’s succeeded and thrived at Branksome, she ended with some wise words about leadership, that serve as inspiration for all who aspire to affect change:
“A few weeks ago, I heard the phrase ‘leaders go first’ and I thought about how, as in bowling, it is fundamental to knock the first pin down in order to create a knock-on effect.”