“What can we do?” – Advisory Council asks the SASAH Students

This past Friday, November 18, was the Fall 2016 meeting of the SASAH Advisory Council, a stellar group of nationally and internationally renowned people from Arts and Culture, Finance, Human Resources, Media, and Not-for-Profit. It was the first time, for instance, we welcomed Heather Abbott, formerly with CBC, now Senior Producer with CBS News in New York. And here’s the really great thing: they’re all Western Alumni, most of them with Arts and Humanities degrees.

Kim Mason, Regional President for RBC, hosted the meeting in the 19th-floor Board Room of the Royal Bank Plaza, 200 Bay Street, Toronto, overlooking Union Station, Trump Hotel, and Lake Ontario. Thank you Kim (though not for the view of Trump Hotel)!!

For this meeting the Year Four students travelled to Toronto to participate in the second half of the AC meeting. It was the first time we’ve done this, the first time all of the students had quality one-on-one time as a group with the AC members and vice versa — and without the Director, Dean, Associate Dean, Program Coordinator, or Alumni and Development Officer (Jessica Schagerl) in the room! But we need the AC to hear how SASAH is developing, and they’ve been dying to find out.

Afterward we ate a catered lunch, and Paul Kennedy conducted his weekly session of the Year Four Integrated Seminar, with guest author Katherine Govier. Katherine told moving stories of The Shoe Project, part of her work with budding immigrant writers – with immigrants to Canada for whom writing of any kind is a necessary mode of self-expression and self-empowerment. Paul purchased copies of two of Katherine’s beautifully-researched novels to distribute to the class – her most recent The Three Sisters Bar and Hotel (2016) and her earlier The Printmaker’s Daughter (2011) – which she graciously autographed for everyone. And after that, Paul and Katherine took students on a moonrise/moonlight tour of public art in downtown Toronto.

The Advisory Council is SASAH’s vital connection to ‘the outside world.’ At some point each of them has told us about their various life and career paths, from Western, to early successes, sometime failures, false starts, unexpected opportunities, and eventual triumphs. Each one of these stories is truly inspirational – a reminder to us all about the talent, imagination, skill-building, resilience, and compassion that all of you possess in abundance. Over time the Blog Team will interview the AC members in order to record these stories for all of us to read. And wherever possible, we’ll continue to invite them to come to SASAH to tell their stories in person.

Conducting discussions about the Arts and Humanities on the 19th floor of the Royal Bank Plaza felt a bit like a guerilla maneuver, if you think about the discussions that usually take place in the headquarters of a major Canadian bank. Which brings me to my final and most important point: the AC members were blown away by meeting all of the Year Four SASAH students. Without fail, each of them came up to me afterward and expressed their excitement about what SASAH has become and promises to be in the future, all because of meeting the students and hearing about the incredible work they’ve accomplished over the past four years – and about where their futures might take them. And without fail each of the AC members said, “You need to get us to do more on the students’ behalf. What can we do?” We’ll be sure to follow up on that enthusiasm with them.

Yes, I’m singling out the Year Four students, and I beg all later cohorts’ forgiveness for doing so. They’ve been at the vanguard of developing this beast and beauty of a program that is SASAH, and for their patience and understanding as we all found our way, infinite thanks.

BUT, you’re all a part of this experiment, and it’s my hope that the experiment will be ongoing, with plenty of key results, but no final outcome except the continued excitement that I know ALL of you in SASAH will continue to generate.

The Advisory Council is anxious to meet all of you, and we’ll make that happen in succeeding months and years whenever and wherever possible. In the meantime, tonight I’m hoisting a martini in honour of all SASAH students for a job well done. Yes, I’m never at a loss for an excuse to do so, but this one will taste especially fine.


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