Held on Thursday, May 9 at the Toronto Centre for the Arts, the event drew a near-capacity crowd of graduates’ family members and friends to cheer on their loved ones as they marched across the stage in the George Weston Recital Hall to accept their scrolls.
“Your parents, partners and children here today are thinking about what you have achieved, and they’re looking forward to all the possibilities ahead of you,” Dr. Rick Davey, President of Yorkville University/Toronto Film School, told graduates in attendance.
“That’s why graduations are, for me, so special. They identify the people who matter to you, and they evoke memories and possibilities for everybody involved.”
The two-hour ceremony saw the conferment of degrees and diplomas in the wide range of specialty programs offered at Yorkville University and Toronto Film School’s three campuses at Steeles, Davisville and Dundas Square, as well as online programs – from Yorkville Bachelor degrees in Interior Design and Engineering Electronics Technology, to TFS diplomas in Film Production, Video Game Design, Acting, Screenwriting, Fashion Design, Marketing, and Graphic Design.
Keynote speaker Andrew Barnsley took his opportunity at the podium to heap praise on all those graduates in attendance he’d encountered over the past two years in his role as TFS’s Executive Producer in Residence.
“Your enthusiasm invigorates me. Your commitment to learning inspires me. Your vision, your skills, your talent and your hard work have blown me away,” said Barnsley, the two-time Canadian Screen Award-winning executive producer of CBC/Netflix’s cult hit Schitt’s Creek, CTV’s Jann, and the upcoming Family Channel show Up In The Air.
“All I can hope for for those of you I’ve spoken with over your six semesters at Toronto Film School is that I have been able to give to you a fraction of what you’ve given to me.”
To those ends, Barnsley summed up the words of wisdom he’s accumulated over his nearly 20-year career in the creative industries with the following pieces of advice to graduates:
1) Have a ‘big dream’ to which you anchor all your decisions and choices moving forward;
2) Your education doesn’t end today. Lifelong learning and expertise development is a vital way to set yourself apart from others;
3) Find a community of like-minded people, and seek out ways to elevate and support each other;
4) Take risks, because making yourself uncomfortable is one of the greatest ways to grow and learn;
5) Failing is integral to success. Make mistakes, learn from them, recalibrate, and come out stronger and wiser;
6) Believe in yourself and your goals. If you don’t, who will?
7) Commit to hard work and perseverance, push through rejection and ‘nos’ to get to success, achievement and glory;
8) And last, but not least, take time out to reflect on your accomplishments.
“Today is not the first day of the rest of your life…You’re not starting today, you’re already mid-stride on your journey – and you’re doing it. You’re equipped to take on the world, so please take a moment to reflect on this today. And as you grow and your careers evolve, don’t forget to reflect,” Barnsley urged graduates.
“Reflect on the faculty and the staff who challenged you, who pushed you in directions that weren’t necessarily comfortable, but who taught you so much.
“Reflect on your classmates who lifted you up when you felt you couldn’t move forward.
“Reflect on the choices that put you here…because if your choices got you here, as a graduate of Yorkville University and Toronto Film School, just imagine where your choices are going to take you in the future.”
Barnsley wasn’t the only one offering up inspirational messages during the ceremony – graduates also heard from a trio of peers chosen to represent them as valedictorians of each of the three campuses.
During her speech, Bachelor of Interior Design valedictorian Maggie McCormick spoke on behalf of her Steeles Campus classmates about how better prepared they now are to chase their dreams.
“Whether you were here gaining formal training to bolster an existing skill set, making a career change, or pursuing post-secondary education for the first time, it’s been a privilege to watch my classmates develop their skill and style, to learn from one another, and to challenge and be challenged by each other to create better, more thoughtful work,” she said, crediting Yorkville’s ‘tremendously supportive’ faculty for their encouragement along the way.
“The respect they inspired and continue to inspire consistently compelled me to push further and work harder. I hope and expect that this is not unique to the Interior Design program and that others here have had a similar experience…because the truth of the matter is that each of us is now better equipped to go out and accomplish our goals, whatever they may be.”
Speaking on behalf of Davisville Campus graduates, Marketing for Fashion Entertainment valedictorian Courtney Lawson said her newfound ability to face her fears is the biggest lesson she’s taking away from her time at Toronto Film School.
Initially afraid that her return to school at age 30 after working for nearly a decade would seem like a step backward, Lawson said she struggled with her decision to attend TFS. But it was that decision, she said, that taught her that stepping out of one’s comfort zone often leads to the most personal growth.
“Coming here was a turning point for me. I made a commitment to myself to step into this uncertain ground and what’s funny is, the decision that seemed like such a defeat was actually the thing that put me in the place I felt like I was in the flow of my life,” she said.
“…In the past, I’ve wished a lot of my time away, I didn’t embrace experiences, I always wanted to be somewhere else. Instead of leaning into the fear, I ran from it. So, my advice for you today, as the person selected to represent your time here, is to lean into your fears, take all of those experiences you can, and always find your gratitude in forgiveness.”
Lastly, representing Dundas Square Campus graduates, Acting for Film, TV & the Theatre valedictorian Matthew McDonald urged his classmates to utilize all the gifts and talents they nurtured during their time at TFS to help built a better world.
“We’re entering into a very dark period in history – one of hate, one of oppression, and one of fear. In the past, the masses turned to greater things for answers during dark times. But the masses aren’t looking there anymore. They look to us,” he said of the creative industries.
“They look to us, because when we do our job right, we have the opportunity to take them away from everything, even just for a moment. And that’s enough.
“We have the power to heal. We have the power to inspire. And it takes all of us – the writer’s words, the actor’s choices, the director’s vision, the designer’s eye, and the editor who places all the pieces of this beautiful puzzle we call film together. Please don’t waste this gift.”