Marc Garneau Collegiate alumni offer gift of education

At their high school’s 20th anniversary reunion in 1992, the alumni of Toronto’s Overlea Secondary — now Marc Garneau Collegiate — decided to use the leftover cash from the party on a scholarship for promising new grads.

Since then, the Overlea Garneau Alumni Association has raised more than $200,000 and given out more than $140,000 in scholarships to students of the school that serves the struggling communities of Flemingdon and Thorncliffe Park.

“From a small group of people coming together to do something for their high school, this is pretty amazing,” says association founder Dawn Dickinson, 56, who cut the ribbon on the school’s opening day in 1972.

“You often hear so many bad things about Thorncliffe and Flemingdon,” she says. “But these are incredible communities with families that have endured so much to come here. And education to these kids is absolutely the world.”

Fellow alumnus Fareed Khan, 53, moved from Pakistan with his family to Flemingdon in 1967, when he was 6.

“It was an amazing place to be,” he says of his old high school. “It was a home away from home. The teachers were like the extended family I never had.”

However, Khan, a management consultant now living in Ottawa, believes students at the school today face far greater challenges than he did.

“With university tuition rising more than four or five times the rate of inflation, low-income students have a tougher time getting an education,” he says.

“It has been heartbreaking to be the one who has had to select certain students over others to receive awards,” says Khan, the alumni association’s past president and scholarship director.

For graduates like 2007 scholarship recipient Deluxshan Pathmanathan, the award is more than just money.

“Everyone goes through hardships,” says Pathmanathan, whose family came to Canada from Sri Lanka when he was a baby. “But winning the scholarship taught me that hard work pays off. It made me want to achieve even more.”

Pathmanathan graduated from York University last year and, in April, the 24-year-old insurance company claims adjudicator helped his parents buy their first house — a five-bedroom home in Ajax.

“Coming from where we did, it’s a really big accomplishment for us,” he says.

Out of gratitude for his $1,000 scholarship, Pathmanathan joined the alumni association this year “to honour the past and keep the tradition going.”

Student Sameeha Zaynab won the first Dr. Robynne Neugebauer Social Justice Award in 2009.

The only child of a single mother from China who dropped out of school at age 12 to support her family, Ng knows the value of a dollar and a good education.

“It was such a great joy to see the level of involvement of the alumni in student success at the school,” he says. “I hope that I can also be part of this tradition and that all alumni can play a meaningful role for the future.”

Recent Marc Garneau grad Ameer Mirza is part of that future.

After being unable to attend school for two years due to social unrest in her native Pakistan, Mirza was grateful to be able to come to Canada with her family in 2011.

A $750 alumni scholarship helped her begin a bachelor of science program at the University of Toronto last fall.

“I met the best people in my life at Marc Garneau, so many good teachers and good friends,” she says.

“The scholarship money has been quite helpful,” she adds. “University education is very expensive.”

Until recently, the association has been handing out awards of between $750 and $1,000 to five university- or college-bound students every year.

But last year, past association president Khan said they had to scale back to three recipients to ensure the scholarship fund’s long-term health.

“We are so proud of our graduates and what we have been able to do to help them,” he says. “It’s great that a new generation of alumni is keen to join us.”

To donate to the Overlea Garneau scholarship fund go to: