Roundtable Q&A Discussion About Havergal College (2021)
Havergal College alumni, current students, and parents shared their insights on the school’s culture, values, strengths, and weaknesses. Hear what Buffy Grand O’Driscoll, Yasmin Alameddine, Carrie Porter had to say about the school.
- 1:53 - What did you appreciate most about the school during your time here at Havergal? And how has your perspective changed on that now that you've had some distance and you did have some distance in between child as well?
- 5:19 - What to the best of your knowledge, differentiates Havergal from other schools?
- 9:05 - If the school was to be represented as a single person, what would personality be like in only three words?
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Highlights from the Q&A discussion
Buffy Grand O’Driscoll — alum and current parent
- School alumni
Buffy graduated from Havergal College in 1985 and decided to send her three daughters there when the time came.Two of her daughters have graduated already, one of whom is now in medical school at U of T, and the other who is doing a Masters in animal science at Guelph University. Her youngest daughter still attends Havergal College and is in Grade 9.
The extraordinary opportunities that we were given is what I appreciate most about my years at Havergal. You were never pigeonholed into one particular area. I got to experience so many different things. If you were an athlete, you were also in the choir, or the band. If you were a debater, you were also an artist. There were just so many things that you could experience to discover who you were.
It’s really got a school culture that encourages engagement, and kids to be involved. I think the school is probably doing an even better job now than when I was there. There’s also an element of risk-taking as well within the school culture.
It’s a full ‘mind, body, soul’ experience that you have at Havergal.
Havergal really focuses on how girls learn. And everything is so specific to helping the girls learn and making sure they have the very best experience possible, so that they can achieve their full potential.
Havergal’s campus is extraordinary. Here we are in the middle of a city, with 22 acres, with sports fields, a pool, tennis courts, woodland trails, gardens, outdoor classrooms. I could go on and on. That enhances your student experience, whether you realize it at the time or not. When you’re sitting in class at Havergal College, and you’re looking out of a window at a forest and you’re in the middle of Toronto, it’s just unbelievable.
I think that if the school was a person, she would be dynamic, empowered, and also traditional. First of all, dynamic: Havergal has never rested on its reputation. It is always innovating and forward-looking and planning for the future. Empowered: the school itself is strong and confident in its position in girls’ education, and that’s the kind of student that they produce. And traditional: I think what Havergal has is a real balance between innovation, and the traditions and history that grounds us, our foundations that have carried through three centuries.
A lot of the time we can tend to focus on those Havergal students and those Old Girls who are extraordinary. There are a lot of them, and they do spectacular things. But there’s also the students and the Old Girls who are quietly making an impact every day, whether in school or in their community, and they’re really upholding the mission statement of the school to ‘make a difference’. Not too long ago we gave the Old Girls Award to a woman who wasn’t the fantastic scientist or the best-selling author — she was a woman who, in small ways, had dedicated her entire life to volunteering. And when you looked at her life as a whole, it was extraordinary. That helped send the message to students: you don’t have to be out there as a superstar to make an impact, you can also make an impact in small ways all the time.
Your connection to Havergal doesn’t stop the day you get your diploma — it continues for the rest of your life. There is an Old Girl community out there of almost 10,000 Old Girls, which is an extraordinary resource. And not just for networking or mentoring — it’s those global friendships and those global connections that span decades. Your daughter will have lifelong friendships, and they’ll have access to a community that is just amazing and welcoming and safe and exciting and inspiring.
My advice to new Havergal students is: get involved. Don’t be shy. Don’t hold back. Try something new. Join that club. Join that team. If you’re interested in photography, for example, give it a try. If you think you might like a certain sport, go for it. There’s just so much to do. I would say really, really get involved. That’s the culture of the school. I think it would be strange for students to not be involved. It’s such a big part of being at Havergal.
For my daughters, who are now in grad school, one of the biggest impacts was the fact that they were taught to think critically, to question. They entered university with an ability to express their ideas, and to communicate. It was a standard that was far above where their peers were at, and that was so valuable to them. They didn’t realize just how valuable until they had moved onto university.
There is a very high academic standard for Havergal students to keep up with, but it really helps them down the road. That’s the payoff for all the work, and responsibility, and the constant push of the staff to get them to think deeper and wider about everything.
The school’s values are really about preparing young women to make a difference. That’s something that is woven through all of the Havergal experience. And it doesn’t just come from their academic setting, but from all the different school engagements. It’s things like integrity and academic excellence, and compassion and caring and support. Those values become so ingrained in the student. It’s about creating strong, passionate, inquiring, and inspiring leaders for the future.
Yasmin Alameddine — alum
It will soon be 10 years since Yasmin Alameddine graduated from Havergal. She says the school’s expansive alumni network is one of its unique strengths. Yasmin says the Old Girls in her network are as diverse as they are remarkable: from professional hockey players to leading scientists. She now lives far away from her old Toronto stomping grounds. Nonetheless, she says the support she feels from the community is strong as ever. She says it’s a pleasure to be able to pay it forward with recent grads who often reach out.
The community at Havergal really excited me, back when I was a student. The fact that everyone — from teachers to parents to students — would all help you pursue any opportunity, anything you wanted to learn about or try, like a volunteer group, or hobby, or sport, or any class.
The Havergal community has extended past graduation even more than I thought it would. It’s been almost 10 years since I graduated, and I don’t live in Toronto anymore, but just this morning I was talking to two Old Girls, some of my best friends to this day. I always reach out to past teachers for their recommendations or career advice. Young alumni often reach out to me with different questions, and I reach out to older alumni as well. I’ve been so pleasantly surprised at this community that I cherished so much while I was there — and that supported me — still supports me 10 years out.
At prayers, three times a week, you see Havergal’s holistic approach to education in action. You’ll have someone speaking, either a student or faculty member, about an important topic each week, there’s music, and then there’s a lot of announcements about tryouts, or organizations, or different clubs and House announcements. It just shows that you’re not at Havergal for academics solely. You’re there to build out all the different parts of your holistic education, and I don’t think that is found anywhere else.
What is great about Havergal is that there’s no stereotypical girl that comes out of it, but if the school were a person, that person would be hard-working, thoughtful, and a leader. There is a work ethic that is instilled in Havergal students from the beginning, as well as grit and resilience. As well, thoughtful, because there’s always some thought behind the girls’ actions, whether it’s caring for their community, caring for their friends and family. And in terms of leadership, Havergal really values leaders who are up in front of the school, who are spirited and everything like that, but Havergal really encourages informal leadership too. When no one is looking, what are you doing?
I think what surprised us as a family is how involved each of the family members will be in the Havergal experience. When I say this, I mean that there’s Grandparents Day, Father-Daughter Dance, Mother-Daughter Brunch. My mother actually jokes that she went to Havergal longer than my older sister and I did, because she did the combined years. You really feel like the whole family attends Havergal.
My advice to students would be to take advantage of this community that’s there. Every single person will support you. When I was new at Havergal, I was really nervous. My sister’s advice was ‘take advantage of every single possible aspect’. So what I did was, I sat down at a different lunch table every single lunch for the first month or two. I tried different classes and different hobbies and sports. And I talked to as many teachers and fellow students as possible. Everybody is such a resource at Havergal.
Carrie Porter — current parent
Carrie has a daughter who is currently a Grade 3 student at Havergal College. She appreciates the school’s Anglican affiliation, because the school’s values align with her own. She feels that the school has created a safe, encouraging environment that allows her daughter to take risks, develop confidence, and a strong work ethic. Her daughter has fostered many close friendships within Havergal College’s tight-knit community.
We picked Havergal because we were looking at schools that had very high academic standards, and we believed in the benefits of all-girls schooling. We were looking for a very robust extracurricular program, and also a very well-rounded education, and that’s what we found at Havergal College.
I expected the school to bring out the best in my daughter, and that is exactly what is happening. She has been quite a reserved child and she is really coming out of her shell. I feel that Havergal has made her feel very comfortable and valued. They see who she is. I’ve been getting a lot of feedback that she is one of the chattiest kids in the class now. That has made me very happy.
At first I was a bit indifferent, maybe wary, of the school’s Anglican religious affiliation, but it has really been of huge value to my daughter’s experience. She has learned so much about all kinds of different faiths. And there is such a focus on how to be a good person.
One thing I didn’t expect was how I feel when I go to school assemblies and prayers, and the emotion that it brings out in me, because I feel like my daughter is where she’s supposed to be, and we’re so lucky that we have had this opportunity to send her.
I would describe the school’s personality as supportive, open, and demanding. Supportive, because I feel like Havergal has created such an encouraging, safe environment for my daughter, in which she can take some risks that will really grow her as a person. As for openness, we can see how at Havergal that extends to acceptance of different thinking, different beliefs, different faiths. And then demanding, because I think expectations are very high at Havergal. The work ethic being built is such an asset.