‘Something very special’: Reflections from members of the Woodsworth College Alumni Association

May 29, 2024 by David Goldberg - A&S News

Half a century after its founding, Woodsworth College has sent more than 30,000 alumni into the world. In many cases, they've returned to where it all started.

The Woodsworth College Alumni Association (WCAA) is governed by a board of directors, comprising alumni volunteers, who create meaningful opportunities for alumni to reconnect with the college, other alumni and the university.

Bernice Frieday, Lucinda Thomson  and Leith Drury.
Bernice Frieday, Lucinda Thomson and Leith Drury.

The WCAA supports students through events like the inaugural Woodsworth College Alumni Panel Event, the Alumni-Students Mentorship Program, and many years ago, the Woodsworth Annual Book Sale. Spearheaded by the late alum Wiebke Smythe, the book sale raised more than $100,000 and created the Book Box Award. The association also created the WCAA Summer Abroad Award and the WCAA Award through the Boundless Promise Program.

Some WCAA board members help govern other aspects of the college as well, simultaneously sitting on the Woodsworth College Council and the Woodsworth College Academic Advisory Board and on the university’s College of Electors.

WCAA remains committed to being a relevant and valuable resource for the entire Woodsworth community and stays connected with constituents through initiatives such as their alumni survey.

Here, WCAA board members, past and present, share their thoughts on the college and its alumni network.

Celeste Francis Esteves, HBA 2006

Celeste Francis Esteves.

Getting involved with the WCAA was the right next step for Celeste Francis Esteves at the time, and continues to guide her decisions years later.

“As a first generation and mature student, I knew the post grad world was filled with possibility, but I didn't have a road map to navigate it,” says Francis Esteves, who received an Arbor Award in 2011 for her involvement. “I knew my work ethic and degree were assets, but I needed a community to explore how best to use them. When the invitation to join the WCAA came, I knew that was the next right step, and I still reflect on those experiences when contemplating options in my life today.”

The Arbor Award recognizes her commitment and loyalty to the association, of which she’s served as president, secretary and vice-president, and chaired the committee that organized the 35th Anniversary Spring Reunion in 2009.

Bernice Frieday, BA 2000

Bernice Frieday.

Being a full-time working mom with three children didn’t stop Bernice Frieday from pursuing her bachelor of arts degree part-time as a member of Woodsworth College. She graduated at 60, the same year she retired from her job at the Peel Board of Education. Esteemed WCAA member Elizabeth Stinson invited Frieday to attend her first WCAA annual general meeting, kicking off more than a decade of volunteer service. She served in multiple roles within the association, including president. Frieday was recognized with an Arbor Award in 2003.

“It was so fulfilling to be part of that group,” says Frieday. “It opened doors for me at a time when I was no longer working.”

Annum Bokhari, HBA 2012

Annum Bokkari.

Annum Bokhari has been an avid ally of Woodsworth College since her days as president of the students’ association. She helped run the college newspaper, orientation week activities and co-organized a rather memorable viewing of a legendary cricket match. After earning her honours bachelor of arts, Bokhari mentored students before joining the WCAA as a board member in 2021.

“I wanted to reconnect with the University, and I thought it would be a good opportunity now that I was further into my career and was able to give back,” says Bokhari. “It's another way to expand your network, which is tougher to do as you get older.”

Lucinda Thomson, HBA 2006

Lucinda Thomson.

“There was something very special about Woodsworth,” says former WCAA board member Lucinda Thomson. “And when I graduated, I didn’t want to leave.”

Thomson’s WCAA legacy includes the highly touted Alumni Café lecture series she helped create. The stage has hosted distinguished U of T faculty, politicians and Iranian human rights activist and author Marina Nemat. Thomson also played a key role in succession planning for the WCAA that ensured a mix of experienced and energetic board members led the association for years to come.

Sofiya Datsyuk, HBA 2015

Sofiya Datsyuk.

Sofiya Datsyuk was inspired to get involved with the WCAA after she attended an Alumni Café event. She started volunteering as a board member six years ago and is now president. Datsyuk says Woodsworth’s history of being a place for mature students to pursue higher education is an important part of the college’s identity. “Everyone at Woodsworth College has an interesting life story,” says Datsyuk. “It’s a really special place because we have such a diverse community.”

For the rest of her mandate, Datsyuk is focused on keeping grads engaged and connecting with alumni abroad. She encourages all Woodsworth alumni to consider volunteering their time, supporting a scholarship and attending events.

Learn more by visiting the WCAA website or make a gift to support Woodsworth College students.

John Stewart, BA 1995

John Stewart hopes his involvement with the WCAA will help set current students up for success — just like it did for him while earning his degree in 1995.

Stewart was a Major in the Canadian Army Reserve, served in Afghanistan on NATO’s International Security Assistance Force and on Kabul’s Multi-National Brigade. He worked with National Defence Headquarters and the Pentagon on several Latin American military conferences and acted as personal Aide de Camp to two lieutenant-governors of Ontario.

He's also been active in the WCAA since 1994, including on the board from 1994 to 2003 and serving as president from 1991 to 2003. He established and sponsored the John Stewart Veterans’ Bursary and was chair of Woodsworth’s role in U of T’s Boundless Campaign.

“I do those things because I believe that those of us who have had the good fortune to be a Woodsworth grad need to make sure that those who follow us have the same opportunity,” says Stewart. “This world needs educated critical thinkers more than ever. I hope that my support of the college will make it easier for students to attend. It is important to the world that we fight ignorance, and that starts with each of us.”