Greetings from Ali

Hello again, lovely Artsies!

I’m reporting from the East Side, though for a few days I was in limbo.

I was in Ontario briefly this past weekend (October 1-3rd) as part of the Think Again Conference. This conference was an initiative spearheaded by the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation as a way to bring together like-minded students who demonstrate leadership and academic excellence. Unfortunately, ten years after the foundation’s mandate was proposed, the Canadian government has decided not to continue its financial support. In effect, this meant that the conference would be the last of its kind for who knows how long.

Originally scheduled to be in Ottawa, the conference had a last minute logistical issue and was moved to Markham. Although totally bummed that I wasn’t close enough to downtown to see my Ryerson friends (during Nuit Blanche, the best weekend to be in Toronto!), I recognized this as a opportunity to interact with new people. And what a great decision! I met people from all over the country, from rural Alberta to cosmopolitan Montreal. I even met someone from the Northwest Territories, which was a first. =)

The conference was broken up into numerous workshops and group activities with a group makeup that was constantly changing. The group’s transformations kept things interesting and allowed for maximum networking opportunities. Speaking to these people about their initiatives, their dreams and their communities was certainly inspiring. From a high school student who single handedly fundraised enough for her and her sister to go to travel to India to build wells to the university students who had organized a bottle drive to raise money for breast cancer, these people were truly seizing any opportunity or idea they had been provided with.

On Saturday morning, we experienced keynote speakers that addressed issues such as negligent treatment of Aboriginal children, the importance of being informed and ways to use the world’s state of “crisis” to our benefit. One of the speakers even performed some slam poetry (go to http://www.bravenewvoices.org// to learn more about this movement) with several others. These poets (some of whom are still in their teens) are bringing attention to social issues so much larger than themselves in an artistic and beautiful way, and their talent is ridiculously unbelievable.

This conference also proved personally beneficial. I took part in a workshop called ‘No Mistakes Drawing, Painting and Collage.’ An artist by the name of Scott Macleod (http://www.macleod9.com//) demanded that the 20 participants to essentially let go of our inhibitions. Now, as I am somewhat (ha!) of a control freak, the thought of not having guidelines or a game plan (more than slightly) terrified me. And that is precisely the reason I chose such a workshop. He laid out 21 pieces of paper on the ground and instructed us to use charcoal, paint and various other media to create whatever we felt with no limitations of rationality or caution. We each worked on a piece for several minutes before moving to another square. This was extremely frustrating for me, as you couldn’t control what other people would do to the square you had just gotten attached to. Ultimately though, it proved to be therapeutic. I learned to relax a little and people who described themselves as “artistically challenged” created random, meaningless and rarely profound pieces of art free from judgement.

In a “speed networking” activity, we met with another student every four minutes to discuss our most audacious goal. Much to my surprise, when I was put under such pressure, I was able to come up with a goal. Strange, considering that’s something I’ve been lacking for years. I realized that I want to eradicate illiteracy in Canada...or at least I want to kick-start the movement to do so. I love language and editing, so this goal seems to fit in well with my interests and experience. The amount of people who are semi-illiterate in Canada is something like 42%, so I’ll definitely have my work cut out for me.

I’d like to create a Ryerson chapter for a program called Students for Literacy. I’m currently participating in a program of the same name at UPEI, though it’s designated as an opportunity to improve the English of ESL students from Japan and Saudi Arabia. I also volunteered for this program in my first year of school at the University of Victoria, though it was essentially directed to children. I am interested in pursuing this model not just to benefit ESL students or children, but extending it to adults as well. The stigma surrounding this issue could be remedied by something as simple as people volunteering their time to be a tutor. If this project gets off the ground, I will need some lovely volunteers who would be willing to offer 2 or 3 hours a week.

I met a student from McGill who is interested in bringing internet access to developing countries. He told me that supplying children with a laptop and the internet is actually cheaper than having them in a traditional classroom. I figure with the digitizing of books, this is a worthwhile idea to pursue for both of us. Of course, I now have some contact information for people who I can bounce my ideas off of or involve in my projects.

At the risk of sounding totally cheesy or cliche, the personal and professional growth I experienced in such a short time truly gave me some perspective. To be surrounded by 350 other like-minded people gave me hope that the generation that everyone seems to be touting as the “generation of change” will do something great. Or many great somethings.

I was able to participate in this conference as I am a recipient of one of the foundation’s In-Course Awards (http://www.millenniumscholarships.ca/en/index.asp).Though this specific fund is being discontinued, there are always plenty of opportunities through websites (such as studentawards.com) and even through Ryerson to receive scholarship money. And you never know when you’ll be given the opportunity to participate in something like this, which is more beneficial than money could ever be.

I encourage you all (regardless of the status you may attach to yourself) to get involved in your program or even in the wider community. Not only does it strengthen your chances to receive financial assistance (yay money!), but you will become a better person for it. Such involvement helps you to understand your place in the world, which I feel is a large aspect of any Arts-based program, especially one like Arts & Contemporary Studies. University is all about growth, and the importance of taking the opportunities afforded to you can’t be stressed enough.

Plus, there can be lots of good food. And you could learn Kung Fu. =)


Two of the teen poets from the "Slam High" group. Check out "slam poetry" on youtube for a treat.

The results of "anything goes".



My roommates in Room 437. Left to right is Emma (Toronto School of Dance Theatre), Emily (McGill), me and Janet (University of New Brunswick).
Open mic night at the 10th floor lounge. People sang, recited poetry (both slam and otherwise) and danced. This girl played the Hungarian fiddle and sang along (IN HUNGARIAN)! Unbelievable.
M-Space: What's Next?" keynote.
Dancing (Bollywood and otherwise) on the last night together. Bittersweet.

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