A leader in youth engagement and graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School, Michelle Dagnino (W. Garfield W. Garfield Weston Loran Scholar ‘98) believes that the support she received through the Loran Scholars Foundation was crucial to her academic and professional development. “It was because I received the W. Garfield Weston Loran Award that I am where I am today professionally, and for that I’m very grateful,” she says. “I come from a working-class family. I’m a first-generation Canadian. I didn’t know other people who had gone on to post-secondary education. The Loran Scholar family supported me in my decision-making processes and opened my eyes to the fact that I could go on to graduate school.”
Michelle recalls the steps that led her on the path to her present role as executive director of the Jane/Finch Community and Family Centre . As she was finishing high school in Victoria, BC, she learnt about programs at York University through Loran Scholars Foundation contacts, which proved an excellent fit. She went on to obtain a master’s in political science from that institution. Her mentor, Covenant House Toronto executive director Ruth daCosta, introduced Michelle to the non-profit sector in Toronto. Eventually, Michelle would become an executive director in her own right with Youth Action Network, a national charity dedicated to youth activism and empowerment.
Michelle’s accomplishments have been widely recognized, including a Person’s Day Award from the City of Toronto and being named one of the “top 25 leaders under 30” by Maclean’s. One initiative that stands out in her mind is “Keep It Real,” a program she developed that uses hip hop as a tool to help young people learn about culture, history, and social activism. “That work in particular,” she says, “has resonated long past the program I started and been picked up by other schools.”
Having benefited from the support of her W. Garfield Weston Loran Award, Michelle is pleased to contribute as an assessor and a donor. “As a former scholar,” she notes, “that’s how I show my commitment and belief to the organization, by giving back financially. It’s a way of telling the scholars that this really did change my life and I want this to continue.” She adds: “It takes people from diverse backgrounds and brings them together and says ‘we as Canadians believe in you and support you and want you to go on to become Canada’s best and brightest.’ It’s really building a generation of Canada’s next leaders in a wide variety of sectors.”