When David Simmonds was searching for his voice, he found it as a student on Western’s campus. And now, as he begins his term as President of the Alumni Association, he plans to use that voice to share the university’s story and encourage alumni to engage with each other, current students and the broader community.
Simmonds, BA’07 (Political Science), grew up in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). In his current role as Vice-President of Public Affairs at McKesson Canada, he manages corporate marketing, public policy and communications for the large health company. He knew from the moment he first crossed over University Drive Bridge on a campus visit with his parents that Western had the atmosphere he was looking for in a university.
“The student voice is important at Western. When I was a student, I found myself having a role to play in offering that voice – and it just never stopped,” he said. “When I look at what we do with Western Alumni, I’m thinking ‘How do we make the alumni voice as central to that experience post-Western as the student voice is to that experience while at Western?'”
Prior to taking the reigns as President, Simmonds served as President of the University Students’ Council (USC) Alumni Chapter and volunteered on several association committees prior to his nomination to its Board of Directors in 2013. He hopes to use his skills to promote the association and its mission and value to the more than 285,000 alumni living around the world.
“I became passionate about telling stories early in my family life. You had to tell stories to get fed in a family with six kids,” he laughed. “And then I learned to tell stories in a powerful and persuasive way in the liberal arts program. My experiences at Western gave me tools in my toolkit I use to this day.”
Simmonds quickly found himself “immersed in the culture” as a student, becoming involved on campus in residence life, intramurals and students’ council, as well as off campus by helping organizations around the city.
“I felt very supported. Back then, not a lot of students really looked like me. As a young black man from a different community, I had a different perspective. But I was supported to be my full self. I remember the first time I met a faculty member who was black and what that did for me. It was a small moment, a small interaction, but it was important because it showed me Western was a place where I could bring my full self to the classroom. If I can play a role in some way to help others now, how can I not?”
Following graduation, Simmonds completed a master’s degree in education at the University of Toronto and a master’s degree in communications and media studies from Royal Roads University. In addition to his role at McKesson, he is an instructor in the post-graduate certificate program in marketing, communications and public relations at the University of Toronto, and works as a public speaker. He also volunteers for a number of organizations, including Toronto’s specialty HIV/AIDS hospital, Casey House and the Canadian Club of Toronto.
“If you have a good idea, you have to express it to make change,” he said. “The university has created a space for alumni of all ages and stages to come back and say, ‘I’ve got an idea about how Western can continue to be a fantastic institution.’ We benefited from its teaching, research and learning experiences. As we move on and become leaders in our sectors, there’s a role for us to come back and continue to build the good name of Western.”
As part of the process to draft its new Strategic Plan, the association recently hosted a series of roundtable discussions in key markets and solicited online feedback about alumni programming and benefits. One objective of the new plan was to make it clearer what benefits the association provides and to raise awareness about how alumni can engage, he said.
Some of the top priorities Simmonds and the association are focused on include developing and expanding programs to support alumni as they move through their life cycles, as well as continuing to grow successful initiatives like 10,000 Coffees, a networking and mentorship initiative launched in 2015.
Another way he plans to add value during his term will be taking advantage of opportunities to shape and share the Western story more broadly.
“As an outsider from the campus who cares deeply about the university, I want to approach people who are not from Western to find out what they would like to see the university doing, or how Western could help them or the community,” he said. “Public institutions play a powerful role in social change. I look forward to offering another perspective about how Western can grow and presenting opportunities to build cultural, social or economic capital across the country.”
Simmonds also hopes to inspire alumni to celebrate their connections to Western.
“The association is about creating and bringing back memories. My favourite memories are from Western. Every time I come to campus, no matter how much it changes, when I walk past a tree or hear a bird chirp, it reminds me of something that happened when I was on campus that had an impact on me. It’s a reminder about the transformative power this institution has on people’s lives.”