On September 22, 2023, Branksome Hall celebrated the start of the new school year with the Welcome Back Event and the $30-million Make Way Campaign Launch— the biggest campaign in the history of the school. The centrepiece of the campaign is the new Innovation Centre and Studio Theatre (iCAST), a 32,000 square-foot first-of-its-kind space for JK to Grade 12 students to develop the STEM- and entrepreneurial-related skills that will be so valued in tomorrow's workplace. That afternoon, students emerged from their classes to see the Branksome campus fully transformed into a wonderland of fun. From food vendors to an update on this year’s exciting fundraising campaign, there was never a dull moment—and those moments are ones that this community will never forget.
Students, parents, employees and their families enjoyed a wide array of food and drinks, including delicious macaroni and cheese and fruity mocktails. Guests danced to live music and students who participated in Noodle, our innovation incubator, sold products and spoke to passersby about their businesses.
Many members of the community flocked to the Athletics and Wellness Centre (AWC), which had been completely transformed into a playhouse any kid—or grown-up—could enjoy for hours on end. Parents were hit with a wave of nostalgia as they jiggled joysticks and mashed buttons at retro arcade machines, or got a taste of the future as they explored iCAST through virtual reality headsets including the learning spaces for robotics, augmented and virtual reality, design, fabrication and presentation. The younger kids ran upstairs to the Kids Zone, where the gym was transformed into a giant playground complete with bouncy castles, arts and crafts, an endless supply of snacks and an energetic dance party where students of all ages grooved to trendy songs.
At the halfway point of the evening, partygoers made their way to the main stage for a special announcement. Principal Karen Jurjevich and the Campaign Cabinet introduced Branksome Hall’s historic $30-million May Way Campaign to the public for the first time. “I’m so proud and grateful for our community’s generosity,” said Jurjevich. “We are set to smash the ceiling on philanthropic support at a girls’ school in Toronto. It’s time to put girls first, and there’s no better way or time to do it, than in our 120th anniversary year and as we prepare to open our iCAST building in 2025.” iCAST is Branksome’s response to an acute skills shortage and profound gender imbalance within both entrepreneurial and STEM-related careers. While these sectors have grown by 80 per cent in the past 20 years, women hold barely a quarter of those positions. “It's time for that to change,” Jurjevich noted in her remarks.
But it was when Make Way Campaign Chair, Claire MacNamara invited the Prefects onto the stage that the crowd really began to take in how big this campaign really is. One by one, the Prefects held up numbers that totalled $22,007,121—more than 70% of the campaign’s goal. Since Make Way first sought support in 2019, the campaign has received more than 7,600 gifts and the highest number of $1 million gifts in the history of the school, as well as the largest gifts of $1.2 million, $1.5 million and $2 million.
“We can’t think of a better cause than girls’ education; it is certainly close to our hearts,” commented parents and Campaign Co-Chairs Claire and Tyler MacNamara. “We can’t thank our fellow Cabinet members enough! They are so passionate about Making Way for our students to blaze trails in a world of flux. We invite the entire Branksome community to step up and share in this defining moment.”
The rest of the evening was filled with excitement and hope for the future as the community dreamed of the possibilities that would be possible for them thanks to iCAST and the Make Way campaign. “The Make Way Campaign is an important milestone in a long list of firsts,” says Board Chair Mona Malone, “and it's going to be absolutely transformational for Branksome Hall.”
Branksome Hall would like to thank our event sponsors and Campaign Cabinet members for their incredible support and generosity. For more information on the Campaign, please visit branksome.on.ca/MakeWay