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The gift of a lifetime
published June 26, 2012

Paul Cantor, the outgoing chair of York's Board of Governors, stands with Grace Yogaretnam (BES '10), Jeff O'Hagan, Vice-President Advancement, and Mamdouh Shoukri, York University President & Vice-Chancellor, at the White Rose Legacy Circle inauguration. Cantor took the opportunity announce his own legacy gift to the University at the June 20th event.

How you’ll be remembered after you pass is something anyone who has grappled with their own mortality has considered. Members of York University’s new White Rose Legacy Circle have chosen to shape their personal legacies by leaving gifts to the University; gifts that benefit students, spaces and academic programs close to their own hearts. The Circle was officially launched on June 20 with the induction of its founding members.

Russell Smith – Glendon alumnus and legacy donor

Russell Smith (BA '67) and Osgoode student Mark Sheeley at the White Rose Legacy Circle launch

Russell D. Smith (BA ’67) was one of Glendon’s first graduates. York’s first President, Murray G. Ross, was Russell’s faculty adviser and inspired him to discover what would become his lifelong mission: to enhance the contribution of public servants to Canada.

For 30 years, that’s just what Russell did, managing human resources programs of several government ministries. His last position was executive services consultant with the Ontario Management Board Secretariat’s Centre for Leadership.

“Glendon was an important starting point in preparing me for my public service career,” Russell explained. “To allow Glendon to help others like me to do the same, I’m honouring York University with a bequest in my will to fund scholarships for promising future students of Glendon College’s master’s program in public and international affairs.”

“Today’s university education costs are much, much greater than they were in my day,” added Russell. “It would be a shame for someone to have to stop their studies because of a lack of money.”

Virginia Rock – former York professor and legacy donor

Virgina Rock (right) with Joan Wood (BA '75), a former chair of the York University Alumni Association. Wood travelled from Bermuda to attend the inaugural White Rose Legacy Circle gathering.

Virginia Rock has personal knowledge of how great an impact awards can have on students. “I cannot imagine what kind of life I would have had, had I not been helped financially during my own university studies,” admitted the former York University English professor.

For more than 40 years, Rock inspired and motivated thousands of students with her passionate teaching style as a professor, the first master of Stong College and the director of the graduate English program.

“It’s very tough for students to afford university these days—they need help,” explained Rock. “I chose to leave a legacy to support Women’s Studies students because this area of study is very important to me.” The Virginia Rock Award in Women’s Studies will support a graduate student in the program Rock herself helped create.

“When you want to leave something behind that will live on and benefit others,” added Rock, “investing in young people is the way to go.”

In fact more than half—62 per cent—of legacy gifts directly support York students through student awards. The average undergraduate tuition in Canada is $5,366 a year and financial support is vital to the success of many talented and deserving students.

Mark Sheeley – current Osgoode law student and award recipient

Three years ago when Mark Sheeley finished undergrad, he became the first in his family to earn a bachelor’s degree. He is now two years away from being called to the Bar and beginning his career as a lawyer.

Sheeley is a Blake Scholar: a recipient of prestigious Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP Award, awarded on the basis of outstanding academic achievement and financial need.

“The bursaries and prizes I have received at Osgoode Hall have done far more than assist me in paying bills,” said Sheeley at the White Rose Legacy Circle inauguration on June 20. “Limiting the time spent in part-time employment or worrying about debt has enabled me to completely dedicate myself to maximizing the law school experience.”

Raymond Peart (BFA '07, MEd '10)

Raymond Peart – current York student and award recipient

Raymond Peart’s (BFA ‘07, MEd ‘10) doctoral work focuses on bringing an ethical and compassionate perspective to education, with the goal of building a legacy of compassion. He has created an after-school program to put this philosophy into action. His program works with vulnerable elementary school students in Toronto’s Jane-Finch community, an ethnically diverse high-density neighbourhood struggling with high levels of poverty and social problems.

A recipient of a Vernon Oliver Stong Graduate Scholarship in Education, this York scholar has dedicated his life to paying it forward.

“My feeling on receiving my scholarship is gratitude to Mr. Stong, whose generosity I am carrying forward. I also feel humility and a renewed determination that has given me the confidence to persevere,” said Peart. “If I did not receive this award, I anticipate that the path toward my PhD and my goal of building a future for children who cannot help themselves would have been significantly more difficult.”

Peart’s long-term goals are to build a private school for the poor and teach at university.

“This award has given me the opportunity to continue to work towards providing for those who cannot provide for themselves,” added Peart.

Legacy donors such as Vernon Stong leave financial gifts that support not only deserving students like Peart, but also the many students Peart works with as the legacy ripples outwards.

In the past 25 years, York has benefited from over $14 million in realized gifts, and has an additional $10 million pledged in future gifts. The White Rose Legacy Circle was created to recognize those donors who have made the decision to leave a legacy gift to York.