Alumnae Day 2020: STEAM & Exploration

Julie Rousseau, Head of School, and Courtney Cousineau ’99, hosted Alumnae Day live from our new Senior School STEAM lab.

 Alumnae from 1948 to 2021, honorary alumnae, past and present staff and special guests attended our first-ever virtual Alumnae Day on Saturday, October 3, and what an amazing day it was! Like the year 2020, it was quite unlike any that had gone before. As an alumnae class rep shared, “I am just so impressed with the whole experience of the virtual Alumnae Day. It’s yet another example of something good resulting from COVID-19!”

Head of School, Julie Rousseau, and Alumnae Association President, Courtney (Smith) Cousineau ’99, hosted the event live from the recently launched YHS STEAM Lab in our Senior School. The lab, thanks to the generosity of our community, is already becoming a vibrant hub of activity where students can explore and draw on the integration of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM).

The day began with a virtual tour of the YHS Museum & Archives and the sharing of reunion photo albums for classes celebrating 2020-21 reunions. Video greetings were shared by Yorkies in cities around the world including Vancouver, South Island, New Zealand, Shanghai, Dublin, Washington, and Ottawa, as well as Hong Kong, London, New York, Groningen and LA

After welcome remarks from Julie, Courtney, and YHS Board Chair, Michelle Ostrow ’89, alums got the first glimpse of student reactions to the new STEAM Lab.

 “I could never have imagined the STEAM Lab in my York House days. What a future the school is providing for the students of today,” commented an alumna from the 1960s.

Manpreet Deol ’15, with Jeff Rosen, Assistant Head of School, in the new Senior School STEAM lab.

Manpreet Deol ’15, before embarking on her journey as a Rhodes Scholars at the University of Oxford, came to visit the new lab to share her thoughts on this new powerful space for student exploration. When Manpreet initially heard that Dr. Roberta Bondar, Canada’s first female astronaut and neurologist in space would be our Alumnae Day keynote, she exclaimed, “That is beyond amazing, I still remember my Grade 5 hero project, I chose to write and speak about her…This is absolutely incredible! York House comes full circle for me.”

Geraldine Santiago ‘83
Geraldine Santiago ‘83

 Children’s author Geraldine Santiago ’83, was honoured to introduce Alumnae Day keynote speaker, Dr. Roberta Bondar. Geraldine wrote a children’s book, Luisa and the Magic Star, featuring Dr. Bondar, to mark the occasion of Canada 150 and space exploration. 

In celebration of the new YHS STEAM Lab and the theme of exploration, Dr. Roberta Bondar talked about some of her extraordinary experiences from her childhood explorations through to becoming a scientist, neurologist, astronaut, and photographer. She shared that the best part of her exploration on Space Shuttle Discovery in 1992 was looking out the windows and being able to look down at the countries below without visible borders, and to see the earth as a planet from a totally different perspective. When she returned, she wanted to convey this new perspective, using her background in science, arts, and technology to connect people back to the natural habitat and the Roberta Bondar Foundation.

Dr. Bondar out in the field today
Dr. Roberta Bondar

One of the research projects she is most deeply involved in is AMASS (Avian Migration Aerial Surface Space), which is inspired by the natural phenomena of avian migration coupled with Dr. Bondar’s lifelong passion for flight and her view of Earth. The project’s aim is to increase awareness, educate and contribute to the world’s knowledge of biodiversity, its challenges, and needs for continuous support. 

Her insightful and enlightening thoughts resonated with alumnae and were greatly appreciated by all decades. “WHAT AN INSPIRATION!!! Commented an alumna from the class of 1982. “Dr. Bondar’s key takeaway today was that we can always continue to grow and explore with our minds no matter how old we are. Growth is a mindset and we need to continue to keep growing. Gratitude for her wise words and encouragement.” 

Saara Bhanji ‘03

 Alumnae Association President, Courtney (Smith) Cousineau ‘99 introduced this year’s Alumnae Special Achiever, Saara Bhanji ’03, the founder of AWARE: The Association of Women’s Action, Research, and Empowerment. This feminist organization works with young women to overcome barriers based on race, class, poverty, ethnic background, sexual orientation, and gender identity. In her video presentation, Saara explores issues close to her heart. 

An annual highlight of Alumnae Day is the Association’s alumnae and staff basketball game. To help us look forward to next year’s game, the association created a virtual basketball game.

“I can’t wipe the grin off my face. So much fun to watch the virtual basketball game! exclaimed an alumna,” And to sing Onward and Upward, just like I did 55 years ago!”

We were delighted to have such a great turnout and to have received such positive feedback for our first virtual Alumnae Day. We look forward to welcoming everyone back again next year, hopefully in person!

Founders’ Day and the Golden Alumnae Luncheon 2018

Student executives ready to welcome the Golden Alumnae.

On Founders’ Day, alumnae from 1942 – 1968 came back to school and were met by student executives before being led on a fun school-wide tour by Laura Edwards ’74, Executive Director Advancement and Gillian Smith ’81, past YHS Parents’ Association President.

Alumnae gathered by founding Head of School, Mrs. Lena Clarke’s portrait, for a tour of the school.

The Golden Alumnae luncheon began with the melodious tones of Ragazza, the YHS Senior choral group, led by music teacher Benila Ninan, in the singing of the old YHS assembly hymn Unto the Hills and a glorious rendition of Blue Skies. Head of School, Julie Rousseau welcomed the Golden Alumnae, YHS Legacy Society members, and guests.

Ragazza singing the old YHS assembly hymn, Unto the Hills and Blue Skies.

“This is a very special day, one that honours our seven founders, trailblazing women, for whom I am truly grateful, who in 1932 had the bold vision to establish this wonderful school for girls.” Mary Raikes-Tindle, niece of founder Gladys (Morden) Jopling, who attended the luncheon commented, “This echoed my sentiments that these seven women, were way before their time and were very courageous and strong to take on such an endeavour.”

Julie introduced this year’s Alumnae Day theme, “Breaking the mold, overcoming obstacles, dismantling barriers and creating opportunities for both ourselves and others. Our founders clearly broke the mold as I am sure they surmounted many challenges along the way to making their dream a reality, this wonderful school for girls that continues to represent excellence in girls’ education, 86 years later.”

Nancy Gibson ’67, past YHS Foundation Trustee; Gail Ruddy, retired Head of School; Barbara (Sanderson) Armstrong ’55, YHS Legacy Society Founder; Catharine (Walwyn) Turner ’84, past YHS Foundation Chair; Margaret (Shepard) Walwyn ’55, Alumnae Class Rep; Pat Sexsmith, past Parent’s Association President; Bill Sexsmith, past YHS Board of Governors Chair; Julie Rousseau, Head of School; Derek Francis, husband of the late and beloved teacher Joanne Francis; and Gillian (White) Smith ’81, past Parents’ Association President.

Stevie (Bryson) Mitchell ’61, YHS Foundation Chair, led grace in the words of founding Head of School, Mrs. Lena Clarke, and the first course was served, an aromatic squash soup with yam, apple and nutmeg, quite different from the meals recalled by York House boarders. 50th through 70th reunions were celebrated with the sharing of a myriad of memories from earlier times. A member of the class of 1958 commented, “What a wonderful day we all enjoyed. The tour of the school was very impressive and the speeches and luncheon outstanding….it was such great fun chatting with classmates.”

Members of the Class of 1958 celebrating their 60th reunion with YHS staff and friends.

After the luncheon, Joanne Lee-Young ’90, Alumnae Association President, announced the 2018 Alumnae Lifetime Achiever, Irene (Triandis) Harvalias ’52, who has truly lived the school motto, Not for Ourselves Alone, throughout her life and was nominated by her class of 1952. For their nomination, they prepared an amazing handwritten book, including many photos of Irene tirelessly at work in the community and of her exquisite hand-made quilts, as well as those of her many students. Much of the finished work of the students, completed on donated sewing machines, is given to hospitals, homeless shelters and other deserving places.

Irene (Triandis) Harvalias ’52, the 2018 recipient of the Alumnae Lifetime Achiever award.

The nomination book is currently on display in the Museum & Archives display case in the Gail Ruddy foyer as part of a 1950s – 60s Alumnae Special Achiever display. Samples of her quilts are hanging in the Alumnae Art Gallery on the 3rd floor of the Senior School.

Sophia, Junior Vice Head Girl and Jessica, Junior Head Girl speaking on Breaking the Mold.

Jessica and Sophia, Junior Head and Vice Head girls, shared their thoughts about the Founders’ Day theme, Breaking the Mold, “Mme Curie, Rosa Parks or more recently Malala Yousafzai and Serena Williams. All of these women are connected by a common thread – they broke the mold. These important women have inspired many people here and around the world to act with courage, persevere when times are tough, and be willing to break through barriers that limit us. We too, each and every one of us, can Break the Mold.”

Their passionate address was followed by a lively performance by the Grade 2 girls, who sang I’m a York House Girl to a rapt audience.

Grade 2 students performing I’m a York House Girl.

Following the much-anticipated delivery of York House chocolates by the youngest Junior students, YHS Head Girl Ava, Grade 12, welcomed the Golden Alumnae on behalf of the student executive and shared a few experiences from her time at the school. Joanne Lee-Young, Alumnae Association President, encouraged all to attend the Founders’ Day assembly after the luncheon.

Junior students delivering Yorkie chocolates.

The highlight of the assembly was the presentation of the 2018 Alumnae Special Achiever award to Kirsten Sutton (Koopman-Osterreicher) ’83. As VP & Managing Director, SAP LABS Canada, Kirsten is one of only two female Managing Directors within the global SAP Labs Network. She is also the Global Head of Engineering for SAP Jam, leading a multinational development team on a product with over 51 million subscribers.

Ava, Head Girl, Grade 12; Ishita (Kalia) Hayer ’98; Kirsten Sutton (Koopman-Osterreicher) ’83, Alumnae Special Achiever 2018; Kirsten’s daughter, Olivia, Grade 8; and Joanne Lee-Young ’90, President, Alumnae Association.

As an unconventional tech leader and executive, Kirsten is also an advocate for girls in tech, and supports education initiatives like Templeton STEM and GIRLsmart4tech and has led the way for SAP Canada’s adoption of Autism@Work, an initiative to hire 650 individuals on the autism spectrum globally. Kirsten was recognized in 2018 as one of Business in Vancouver’s Influential Women in Business and a YWCA Woman of Distinction. All were inspired by her address to the whole school.

Barbara (Lawson) Lecky ’58 and granddaughters, Lauren, Grade 12 and Julia, Grade 6.

Other highlights included the presentation of Alumnae pins, which were given to Grade 12 students. This was an especially memorable moment for alumnae in attendance, who had the chance to give the pin to their sisters, daughters, nieces, or granddaughters.

Winkie (Bucholtz) Steele ’61 with her granddaughter, Olivia, Grade 12.

New on the Founders’ Assembly agenda this year, was the presentation of two new YHS Foundation Awards in memory of two outstanding alumnae, Caroline Anne (Sexsmith) Trausch ’84 and Katherine Manders ’96.

Pepi, Grade 12, our first recipient of the Caroline Anne Sexsmith Trausch award.

The Caroline Anne Sexsmith Trausch Award was presented to Pepi, Grade 12 and the Katherine Manders award, to Grace, Grade 12.

Grace, Grade 12, our first recipient of the Katherine Manders award.

The Grade 4 student’s energetic performance of the YHS School March and the singing of the school song all together by alumnae, students, staff and guests, stirred up many memories, which will remain with those who attended this special day of celebration.

Grade 4 students singing the YHS March.