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Making their mark: Honouring student leadership at the Cressy Awards

Photo of students at Cressy Awards

Students Larysa Workewych, Cara Lew, Samuel Chan, Maya Deeb and John Dunan, Director of Ethics, Society & Law program. Photo: Joseph Ticar.

It’s late-April and students are gathered at Convocation Hall. Despite the fact that exams are in full swing, there are no signs of stress in the crowd. No frazzled looks, no sweatpants, no bleary-eyed student zombies reaching for energy drinks. That’s because tonight, they’ve taken a well-deserved break from studying­ to be honoured as this year’s Gordon Cressy Student Leadership Award recipients. While the university experience wouldn’t be complete without term papers and textbooks, the Cressy Award is proof that life at the University of Toronto extends well beyond the confines of the classroom.

“[This award] marks an important milestone in my life, and it’s about more than recognition,” said Sergio Betancourt, a student in the Department of Statistical Sciences who held leadership positions in the Statistical Sciences Association of Students, the Economics Students’ Association and University College’s Organization of Latin American Students. “It embodies every lecture I attended, every project I developed, and every test I wrote at U of T. These awards are inspirational to aspiring leaders and also motivate graduating students to deepen their relationship with U of T’s rich network of alumni.”

Since its creation in 1994, the Cressy Award has been given to more than 1,400 Arts & Science students — including 87 this year alone — who have demonstrated exemplary leadership skills and made a lasting impact on their communities. Student society executives, research interns, mentors and volunteers — the list of ways in which each student has gotten involved varies, but their motivations for doing so always come back to one thing: enriching their on- and off-campus community.

Following a special luncheon for Arts & Science Cressy Award winners with Dean David Cameron that took place a week before the official award ceremony, recipient Shreya Batra shared her thoughts on the effort that the award represents: “I believe that the Cressy Awards push the students to keep striving for greatness. It symbolizes the time and effort that students have given to the community.”

Batra is a student in the Human Biology Program and in addition to her role as a research intern and volunteer for the Sick Kids Foundation, she has held mentorship positions with the Human Biology Students’ Union and the Medical Science Students’ Union. “Academics and co-curriculars go hand-in-hand and student accomplishments are a reflection of what is taught at the institution,” she said.

During his remarks at the luncheon, Cameron made note of how “truly inspiring” the Cressy recipients are. “I can see how meaningful your contributions are to the U of T community and beyond, and I know you will continue to make an impact after you leave U of T,” he said. “I can also imagine how many other students you’ve inspired to volunteer and get engaged outside of the classroom, as a result of seeing you share your time and knowledge with those around you.”

Second-year neuroscience and psychology student Luisa Garzon took a leadership role at a campus organization to raise funds and awareness for the Arthritis Society and has since gone on to be involved as an outreach volunteer for Scott Mission, an Ontario-based charity that provides services to poor, homeless and vulnerable individuals. This summer, she will add Pan Am and Parapan Am Games volunteer to her list of accomplishments. To Luisa, receiving a Cressy Award is an honour that represents the core values that all students should strive for. “It makes me part of a community of great leaders who have willingly given their time to bring about a positive change for charitable initiatives, the university and our community as a whole.”