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#UofTGrad17: Congratulations Woodsworth College graduates!

Novera Hasan Khan taking a "selfie" with Aadil Nathani and Sandleen Azam

Aadil Nathani, Sandleen Azam and Novera Hasan Khan. Photo: Diana Tyszko.

Woodsworth College was named after J.S. Woodsworth, a social justice advocate, a member of parliament and a founder of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), the precursor to the New Democratic Party (NDP).

Great Grad

Woodsworth grad Valeriya  Mordvinova is a recipient of the Governor General’s Silver Medal, awarded for exceptional academic achievement.

This year, Woodsworth’s stellar and diverse graduating class includes a community organizer who fundraises for refugee students, a social justice and justice reform advocate who’s heading to law school, and a newly arrived student from Pakistan whose passion for immigration and refugee issues is both personal and professional.

Get to know a few of Woodsworth College’s stellar grads!

Sandleen Azam

Sandleen Azam in a graduation gown

Sandleen Azam. Photo: Diana Tyszko.

In addition to her double major in sociology and criminology & sociolegal studies, Sandleen Azam is a passionate and dedicated community organizer who co-founded Because We Care, an on-campus group that connects students to volunteering opportunities in community organizations.

The initiative “has been a labour of love right from the start,” says Azam, and has built a volunteer base of around 200 students since its inception. “This year we were able to create and deliver
‘Blessing Bags’ filled with basic hygienic necessities, to the homeless population in Toronto. It was amazing to have the idea come to life and see all the people we were able to help.”

In addition to her scholarly and community organizing accomplishments, Azam has also managed to inject an international experience into her time at U of T. She particularly relished the summer abroad course she took in Italy between her second and third years. “Studying in the heart of Siena was absolutely amazing and it’s an experience that I would never trade,” says Azam. “I was able to immerse myself in the city and culture for five weeks and it became like another home to me. The food, the friends, the siestas, the views! That trip was a highlight of my undergraduate career that I will always remember.”

Off campus, Azam delighted in the experience of living in Toronto, home to so many diverse cultures and communities. “I gained a new outlook on the experiences of those who come from different walks of life than myself,” she says. In fact, living in Toronto has inspired her to want to visit other major cities around the world!

Azam credits Woodsworth College for the support and opportunities it provided her, such as the Woodsworth One program, which she says eased her transition from high school to university. She also participated in her residence’s Floor Council (which organized social events), was a member of the Woodsworth College Students’ Association for two years, and held a work-study position at Woodsworth’s Office of the Dean of Students.

So what’s Azam’s advice to future U of T grads? She recommends immersing yourself in extra-curricular activities, which can help you build skills, discover new interests, and make new friends. “Spending all my time on the academic aspect of university would be a waste of the vast opportunities offered at U of T,” she says.

Azam also says it’s important to take your time and find your own path in life, whether that means taking time off from school, traveling, working, volunteering, or even just exploring your interests and hobbies. “Don’t feel pressured to apply to higher studies or full-time positions just because your peers do or you feel like it’s what university graduates are ‘supposed’ to do.”

Sounds like Azam has already discovered her own perfect balance for a fulfilling life.

Aadil Nathani

Aadil Nathani in a graduation gown

Aadil Nathani. Photo: Diana Tyszko.

As a first-generation Muslim Canadian, Aadil Nathani is personally invested in social justice, justice reform, and immigration and refugee law, particularly “due to the interesting time we are living in, with a rise in nationalism sweeping over the West.”.

For the Gordon Cressy Student Leadership Award recipient, who graduates today with the Woodsworth College class of 2017, personal interests are closely aligned with his achievements — in academics, campus community organizing and extra-curricular activities. Nathani served two terms doing community outreach and as vice-president of finance on the Woodsworth College Students’ Association, was the president of the Criminology & Sociolegal Studies Students’ Association, interim president of the Woodsworth Political Society, and coordinator for both the Woodsworth E-Mentorship program and the Woodsworth First-Year Mentorship Program.

If that’s not enough to pack a calendar, he was also captain of the Woodsworth Soccer team!

Nathani speaks highly of his time at U of T, saying his experiences here “have pushed me to my intellectual limit, challenged me and enabled me to open my mind to view issues from more than one perspective.” He credits stellar teachers like Beth Fischer, an assistant professor in political science, who led his Woodsworth One course, and Scot Wortley, associate professor of criminology & sociolegal studies,with whom he completed a summer abroad course in Italy, for contributing to his rewarding time at U of T.

The College System

Every Arts & Science student is a member of one of the seven colleges on the St. George campus.

“It is hard to put into words what this experience did for me,” says Nathani about his summer in Italy. “Prior to this, I was simply an average student at U of T, but going on the trip helped me mature and grow into the student and person I am today.”

Academically, Nathani’s studies have served to broaden the scope of his interests significantly. He points to a class in which students “discussed basic criminological theories and the crime-immigration paradox at length only to find that immigration reduces crime more often than not.” The experience helped solidify his interests in immigration, ethnicity and justice together. Still, Nathani maintains that not all learning happens at school.

“I believe that education occurs not only within the classroom and textbooks but from real life experiences,” he says. “It is proven that students who are involved in extra-curricular activities also improve academically — and I am a personal testament to this. My last two years where I was heavily involved were my best two years academically.”

Nathani particularly valued the close-knit atmosphere of the Woodsworth community, despite the fact that it’s the largest college at U of T. “The programming available at Woodsworth helps keep the community close and gives it a family-feel,” he says. And it wasn’t just connecting with fellow students that served Nathani well — Woodsworth staff helped connect him to individuals in the legal field who gave him invaluable advice and guidance.

Nathani’s words of wisdom to future U of T grads? “You are not defined by your marks, so don’t let a number take over your life,” he says emphatically. “Expand yourself beyond the classroom and break out of your shell. I wish I could have four more years just to try all the things I did not have a chance to do.”

Nathani may not have taken advantage of all the opportunities available but he came pretty close! Next up, he’s heading to law school where his skills, passion and experience will no doubt serve him well.

Novera Hasan Khan

Novera Hasan Khan in a graduation gown

Novera Hasan Khan. Photo Diana Tyszko.

“I came to U of T in September 2013, six months after my family and I immigrated to Canada,” says Novera Hasan Khan, a Woodsworth student graduating with a major in political science and minors in sociology and economics. Khan’s parents, an anesthetist and a pediatrician and professor of biochemistry in their native Pakistan, have had to take up positions outside their line of work in Toronto for the past four years in order to ensure their three daughters would have a promising future in Canada.

“They sacrificed their whole lives’ worth of work, education and relationships to ensure a better lifestyle for my sisters and I,” says Khan. “Their primary goal was to have their children study at the most prestigious university in Canada, and they are very happy that we have been successful in doing so.” (Khan’s younger sister is pursuing a double major in biology and global health at U of T, while her youngest sister is currently in high school and hopes to attend U of T too.)

While the road to settlement in Canada hasn’t been easy, Khan graduates with great academic and extra-curricular success. As vice president of the Woodsworth Political Society, she organized a series of talks in which political figures debated issues arising in the 2015 federal election, including women’s empowerment, youth engagement, tuition, transit and employment. As president of the Woodsworth College Students’ Association, she worked to amend the Association’s constitution to address sexual violence prevention and land acknowledgement.

Khan credits the variety of resources and mentorship programs for international students available at U of T with making her transition to Canada smooth and successful. “In addition to aiding my transition into university, the resources and the diverse environment at U of T also helped me to create new support systems and overcome any barriers that hindered me from unleashing my full potential.”

Woodsworth College in particular paired well with Khan’s personal and professional interests: getting involved in student government and mentorship programs “allowed me to build community within the College and live the experiences of a wide array of people,” she says. “This was helpful for me as a political science and pre-law student, since I hope to put into perspective the unique experiences of various individuals to devise policies that will benefit them.”

Khan’s post-graduation plans to attend law school testify to the passion and dedication she brings to community-building. “I am interested in pursuing either constitutional law or international law —specifically immigration/refugee law,” she says. “Essentially, I hope to understand, and directly or indirectly impact the policies that effect vulnerable populations.”

Thanks to the support of her family and the communities that she’s made herself an indispensable part of, Novera Hasan Khan’s future looks very bright indeed.

Woodsworth College

Founded in 1974.

Notable alumni: author Rohinton Mistry; filmmaker Shelley Saywell; musician Sarah Slean; and Dani Reiss, president, Canada Goose.

Fun Fact: Woodsworth College was initially established to serve part-time students exclusively — particularly transfer students and adults pursuing continuing education studies. Today, one-third of its students are part-time and the college remains committed to serving their needs.

Congratulations to the 856 students graduating today!