President’s breakfast celebrates diversity

A snowy morning, unfamiliar to some in the room, didn’t stop more than 250 international students from gathering for the sixth annual President’s Breakfast for International & Exchange Students.

The event capped off International Week, a week-long celebration of the diversity international students bring to Western’s campus community and to the City of London.

The students were joined this year by special guests Omar Alghabra, Member of Parliament for Mississauga Centre and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade Diversification, Kate Young, Member of Parliament for London-West and Peter Fragiskatos, Member of Parliament for London North Centre.

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“Your president has been an instrumental figure in bringing students to Canada,” said Alghabra.

“As students, you bring your own perspectives, your own experiences and values. You teach us how to learn about other countries and other values. You will be an incredible asset to whatever country you end up living in,” he continued.

“You will be amazing ambassadors for Canada. You will share the incredible experience you’ve had here at Western.”

International week organizers had a few surprises for Western President Amit Chakma, recognizing his dedication to international education and marking his last international breakfast.

“International students, and international experience, are at the core of Amit’s philosophy of learning. And he has drawn from his own journey as an international scholar to improve circumstances for international students and create opportunities for international learning – not only at Western, but across Canada through his leadership in higher education,” said Vice-Provost International and event host Julie McMullin.

Hashini Rathnayake, who is originally from Sri Lanka and came to Western in 2013 to study Medical Sciences, shared an original work of poetry she wrote as a tribute to Chakma for his efforts in bringing more international students to Western.

Jimmy Li, a 2017 Ivey Business School graduate, now working as an account director at InfoTech in London, transferred to an international high school in 2012 in Southern China. As a Grade 11 student, he was chosen to attend a meet-and-greet with then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper who was joined by a Canadian delegation.

“It was assigned seating and it had me seated next to Dr. Chakma,” Li told the crowd.

After a warm handshake and a bit of discussion, Chakma asked Li if he had ever heard of Western University.

“You should consider it, I’ve heard it’s a really good school,” Chakma told him.

Struck by the warm greeting, Li couldn’t stop thinking about Western. He accepted his offer and recently completed his four-year undergraduate degree. It was during his time at Western he realized that the man he had met in high school was Western’s President.

“You were right about the school,” he told Chakma. “The thing I value the most are the connections I made. The professors, staff, friends and classmates and peers that I have formed a bond with.”

The final surprise of the day came from Sharmistha Kar.

An art practitioner from India, currently living and working in London, Kar is a Master of Fine Arts graduate from Western and has exhibited in India, United Kingdom, the United States and in Canada. Her work is complex and explores mapping, migration and identity.

Kar presented Chakma with an original work of art – an embroidered map of the world.

Touched by the gift, Chakma said, “I love this wonderful piece of art. Not only for its sheer beauty, but what it represents. I am proud to be Canadian. But I am also proud to be a global citizen.”

“Thank you for enriching our campus. Diversity of ideas is what makes universities special,” Chakma told the students. “You have decided to explore the world. You have decided to leave your comfort zone and that’s so important.”