A Magazine for the Alumni of Crescent School
Time to Pivot Crescent alumni like Sean Hoff ’02 share how they adapted to seismic career shifts Page 16
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JUAN PABLO BAYONA GALVIS
Taylor Gunn ’95 has spent two decades helping young people experience civic participation
A Vote for Democracy
PHOTOGRAPHY BY DUSTIN THOMAS CHAMBERS
Chris Homer ’01 is a pioneer in the online apparel resale business
Crescent School Alumni Magazine 1
Words from the Alumni Chair
Climb Together It is my honour and privilege to address the alumni community as the new Chair of the Alumni Executive. On behalf of myself and the rest of the Alumni Executive Committee, I thank Tim Watson ’01 for his leadership of the Alumni Executive for the last two years and wish him success as he takes on a new role as Chair of the Facilities Committee of Crescent’s Board of Governors. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Shayan Rakhshan, Head Boy for the Class of ’22. I was inspired by his Prefect team’s motto for this year: “Climb Together.” As we begin to move beyond 20 months of pandemic-induced challenge and uncertainty, the Crescent community is well-poised to follow this motto and emerge stronger and more resilient. This edition of Past & Present describes how many in our alumni community are doing just that. As an alumni community, we face many opportunities at this moment which your Alumni Executive aims to pursue in the coming year: Engage lapsed alumni with new events and programs Educate alumni on the impact of student financial assistance C reate connections between the school and the alumni community to promote diversity, mentorship, educational opportunities and entrepreneurship I’d like to thank the Alumni Executive for volunteering their time and effort to make these goals a reality. We embrace innovation and new ideas, so if you have an idea, suggestion, event or program that you’ve always wanted to see happen, please don't hesitate to reach out! Enjoy this fantastic first issue of the school year! Andrew Norris ’03 Chair, Crescent Alumni Executive
Past & Present is published twice a year by Crescent School’s External Relations Department to help all alumni stay connected with the Crescent community. Cover Photographer: Nation Wong
Editor: Kristin Foster Editorial Committee: Kristin Foster, Kathryn Foster, Leslie Pringle, Lynda Torneck Editorial Board: Spencer Belyea ’13, David Bruser ’95, Bert Fielding ’13, Philip Lloyd ’09, Myles Slocombe ’92
Design Agency: Aegis Design Inc. Senior Designer: Sabrina Xiang Writers: Rob Csernyik, Kristin Foster, Pat Morden Photographers: Dustin Chambers, Juan Pablo Bayona Galvis, Cait Lavoie, Nation Wong Illustrators: Nick Shepherd
Comments and suggestions about Past & Present are always welcome. Reach us at: Alumni Relations Office, Crescent School 2365 Bayview Avenue, Toronto ON M2L 1A2 e: firstname.lastname@example.org t: 416.449.2556 ext. 260
Upfront / Experiences
Athletics Is Back! Hundreds of enthusiastic students returned to soccer, cross-country and volleyball this past fall as Crescent School’s athletics programming resumed for the first time since March 2020.
01 Crescent's Grade 10 volleyball team faces off against The York School 02 The Grade 6 soccer team participates in training as part of the Lower School intramural program 03 Crescent boys look to defend their net as the U13 White soccer team takes on St. Andrew's College 04 Crescent’s Upper School crosscountry team competes in a dualmeet with Upper Canada College 05 A Crescent player looks to dribble past an Upper Canada College defender during the Grade 12 soccer team's hope opener
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Past / 1979 The 1979–80 Lower School II soccer team pose for a group photo with their coach, Geoff Roberts, who went on to become Headmaster (2000–2014). They had an outstanding season, with 11 wins, one tie and one loss. Back row: G. Yull, J. Pitblado, R. Brent, J. Wong, N. Bartzis, P. Webster, M. Williams, J. Connacher, Mr. Roberts. Front row: J. Dickins, I. MacCulloch, D. Serenym, R. Watt, A. Harnett, L. Goldman, G. Taylor
Upfront / Alumni News
Giving Devices a Clean Slate Tech donation helps Crescent through COVID-19, and beyond
Before COVID-19 made frequent hand washing and surface sanitizing de rigeur, Oleg Baranov ’11 was obsessed with better hygiene in a tech-centric world. His company, CleanSlate UV, developed a sanitizing device that uses ultraviolet rays to clean smartphones, tablets and other handheld devices in healthcare, manufacturing and scientific settings. When the pandemic hit, Oleg saw an opportunity to give back. CleanSlate UV donated 100 units to different companies and organizations; Crescent School was one of the beneficiaries. “From the business standpoint, it was an interesting use case for us—we hadn’t really seen the device used in education facilities. From a more emotional standpoint, I owe Crescent a whole lot. It’s been very pivotal in shaping me into the person that I am today.” Today, the CleanSlate UV device sits in the IT office at Crescent School, sanitizing everything from smartphones to tablets to laptops and more. “We have equipment going out to students every day,” shared IT Manager Djordje Kalik. “Sanitization is a top priority.” Other applications of the CleanSlate device, such as the school library, are currently being explored.
Crescent School Alumni Magazine 5
Upfront / Alumni News
Daniel Shane ’15 Shares His Journey to Medical School “Ask questions, and surround yourself with people who are smarter than you.” Crescent alum Daniel Shane ‘15 recently shared this timeless advice during a Career Spotlight session on how to apply to medical school. Both alumni and Grade 12 students were in attendance. Shane is currently pursuing a Doctor of Medicine at the University of Toronto. “I wrote the MCAT three times,” he said, explaining how he corrected his strategy for success. “I studied really, really hard and focused on the two sections where I needed to improve.” Shane described what motivated him to pursue a career in medicine, the path he took to get there, and the obstacles he had to face. He cautioned students about the need for high marks before applying to medical school: “It is really competitive. They need to know that you can handle the intensity of it.” Enthusiastic and informative, Shane spent ample time answering questions, which were thoughtful and diverse. Career Spotlight is a series of career-focused events for universityaged alumni interested in learning about different professions.
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Jesse Wente’s Unreconciled is a Call to Action for Canadians
“I remember the exact moment I learned I was an Indian.” Jesse Wente ’92 was ten years old and playing softball when the other team started to yell and “war-whoop” at him. This experience had such a profound impact on Wente that it opens his new book, Unreconciled. In this moment, he realized that his Indigenous identity would be understood differently by others and that the world around him would have preconceived ideas about him because of his background. The book’s title is an acknowledgement of Wente’s relationship with his own Indigenous identity—he was born to an Anishinaabe mother and an American father. Growing up in Toronto, he often travelled with his parents and sister to visit his mother’s family on the reservation where they lived. He often felt disconnected from his heritage, but also never quite fit into life in the city. As the first Indigenous student at Crescent School in 1986, this divide
was amplified. He describes Crescent as both a place where he sometimes felt “excluded or attacked or othered,” and also where he was taught by engaged and caring educators: “I was tremendously lucky to go somewhere that gave me the support and encouragement to succeed academically.” He goes on to say that the socio-economic context by which he was surrounded “taught me to dream big and to feel licensed in seeing those dreams realized; it prepared me to walk into a room of powerful people and feel worthy of being there.” Throughout his writing and journalism careers, Wente has worked to forge connections between Indigenous and Canadian communities, sharing his own stories with honesty and vulnerability. In a 2017 interview with the CBC, Wente said that Indigenous Peoples have accepted many apologies—from institutions, from governments, from Canadians —but that “we’re asking now for change, and we’re not going to stop asking.” Unreconciled is a new call to action for Canadians, who must now reconcile what “change” means.
Upfront / Alumni News
Nicholas Latifi ’13 Leaves His Mark Class of ’13 alumnus and Formula One racing driver Nicholas Latifi has been inducted into Crescent School’s Alumni Wall of Honour. The in-person ceremony took place on October 19 with admiring students, faculty and staff in attendance. During his opening remarks, Headmaster Michael Fellin shared that, in Crescent's 108 years, Nicholas is the sixteenth alumnus to adorn the Wall of Honour. Andrew Norris ’03, Chair of the Crescent Alumni Executive, chronicled Latifi’s journey to becoming an F1 race car driver. In his remarks, Latifi noted how good it was to be back at Crescent and in Toronto. “It’s the longest I’ve ever been away from home,” he said. “This is a hugely satisfying day for me.” He ended with a heartfelt message to the Grade 12 students: “The nine years I spent here were a real privilege. You will appreciate once you graduate and move on just how fantastic a school this is.”
Enrolment Event for Sons of Alumni Crescent alumni had the opportunity to connect with Headmaster Michael Fellin, Deputy Headmaster Nick Kovacs and our enrolment team on October 6 in a special enrolment event for alumni who now have sons of their own. The event included an overview of what Crescent is like today, with details about the academic plan and Portrait of a Graduate. Student financial assistance was then discussed, and the session ended with a question and answer period. If you were unable to make the event but are interested in sending your son(s) to Crescent School, please feel free to email David Shaw, Director of Enrolment and Student Financial Aid at email@example.com.
Paying It Forward In Memory of Ken Reucassel ’83 Lifelong friendships, great experiences, and supportive teachers are what Ken Reucassel ’83 cherished from his time at Crescent. His family hopes to pay them forward with the Ken Reucassel ’83 Scholarship, a $1 million endowment established in Ken’s memory. The fund will finance a full scholarship to one Crescent student each year in perpetuity. “As a family, we have been trying to figure out the best way to honour Ken’s life,” says brother John Reucassel ’87. “One idea that kept coming up was creating a scholarship at an institution that he loved, and we love.” Crescent has played a huge role in the Reucassel family. In addition to John and Ken, seven second-generation Reucassels
have passed through Crescent’s doors – Ken’s son Duncan ’21, John’s three sons Rives ’19, Turner ’24 and Parker ’27, and sister Cathy Mackie’s three sons Henry ’13, John ’15 and Ian ’19. The son of youngest sister Kim is not yet old enough to attend Crescent. Reucassel believes that all Crescent students benefit when learning in an environment with people from different socio-economic backgrounds. But the family’s reasons for supporting student financial assistance run deeper and recognize their good fortune to attend Crescent. “It means a lot to us to offer that potential to a student who couldn’t otherwise afford it,” says John. “My brother would have liked the idea of helping someone else.” Ken passed away in November 2015 following a two-year battle with pancreatic cancer. Crescent School Alumni Magazine 7
Upfront / Staff Focus
Crescent is fortunate to have a number of highly dedicated, long-serving facilities staff. Past & Present recently sat down with five members of the team who have each been with the school for over 20 years. Here’s what they had to say about their time at the school.
What have you learned in your time at Crescent? I’ve learned about teamwork. We can accomplish more together. I know if I can’t do a job, someone else will help me. Crescent is my second family.
Roman Arendacz Caretaker Joined Crescent in 1989
What is one of your fondest memories of Crescent? When I got married, Crescent staff surprised me with a wedding gift and celebrated with me during an all-staff meeting. I didn’t even tell anybody! That touched my heart.
Facilities Technician Joined Crescent in 1988
What have you learned in your time at Crescent? I’ve learned to ask for help. My job is a little bit different and a lot of the time I would do it alone, but I work in a team. What achievement are you proud of? You can see my work all over the school. I work as a technician, and I’m always doing different things. Sometimes I’m hanging a picture or installing a whiteboard. Somebody needed a shelving unit and I built it from scratch. I’m proud of what I’ve built.
8 Past & Present / Winter 2022
Upfront / Staff Focus
Caretaker Joined Crescent in 1997 What have you learned in your time at Crescent? I learned about computers here —I didn’t really know how to use a computer before I came to Crescent. What’s your favourite thing about working at Crescent? The staff. They’re very kind and welcoming here. Everyone talks to one another. I’ve made some friends here.
Bogdan & Maggie Hirniak
Evening Facilities Supervisor (Bogdan) Joined Crescent in 1989 Caretaker (Maggie) Joined Crescent in 1996
What’s your favourite thing about working at Crescent? Bogdan: The kindness of people. We are treated as equals. Maggie: I’ve worked different jobs at Crescent and my colleagues have always been so friendly and ready to help. They would ask, “How are you?” What is one of your fondest memories of Crescent? Maggie: Once I was very busy cleaning a classroom. I had a lot of equipment with me, and I was trying to grab everything and take it to the next classroom. But it wasn’t possible, I had too many things. So I was about to grab a garbage bag, and I saw behind me a student. He grabbed the vacuum cleaner and carried it for me. It was a huge help for me and touched me deeply. Bogdan: I am not so sensitive. [Laughter] When Mr. Roberts was leaving his job as Headmaster, he called me to his office and we spent thirty minutes together. It was very good. I got recognition. Crescent School Alumni Magazine 9
Upfront / Crescent News
“It takes an army,” says Lorne Rabinovitch, Crescent’s Director of Facilities. He’s talking about the team needed to install and inflate the dome that now sits on the newly-refurbished Innes Field. “It comes in three major pieces, they’re huge, and it takes about 30 to 50 people to pull it out.” Thanks to its lighting, heating and shelter from windchill, “the dome enhances what we do,” says Athletics Director Fraser Bertram. “It means more indoor space for phys-ed, it can increase options for recess in the winter, and we can offer more programs like rugby, soccer and intramural options over the winter season.” Installing it for the first time took just over one week.
Lower School boys experiment with plaster masks in this art class photo from the early 1990s.
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PHOTOGRAPHY BY OLLIE JONES ’24
Sports Dome Means More Winter Fun
Upfront / Crescent News
Crescent’s Grad Lounge Reopens After being closed for over a year and a half due to the pandemic, the Grad Lounge reopened in mid-November. The exclusive space for Grade 12 students is a welcome haven where students can relax during their spares in a casual environment. It includes an entertainment system, seating, a projector and more. Students are continuing to follow all health and safety protocols so that they can make the most out of the space.
By comparison, today’s Lower School boys wear masks in art class to stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Upfront / Crescent News
Lessons on How to Raise a Boy
Hoping For a Year Like Most Others “The whole campus was buzzing with the return of the boys after more than five months apart.” In a message to parents, Headmaster Michael Fellin used these words to capture the excitement at Crescent School after it reopened its doors in September to students for the first time since April 1. The boys will benefit from numerous programs and strategies this year: athletics are back, modified for safety;
senior student leaders are planning community-minded initiatives across the school; and Crescent Student Services is working with Home Form teachers and Mentors on programs that build healthy and positive relationships, promote skills in social-emotional learning, and encourage fun. “We know there is still much uncertainty about the full shape of the year ahead,” shares Mr. Fellin, “but what we do know is that we will support one another and our boys in the Crescent Way.”
A Seat At the (Picnic) Table A new picnic table has been added to our outdoor furniture on campus, thanks to a gift from the Class of ’21. Located near the gazebo (gifted by the Class of ’99) and the Stuart Cumner Pond (gifted by the class of ’18), this high-quality weatherproof table has already become a popular place for Crescent students and staff to gather and learn. As a final touch, a plaque is being commissioned which will commemorate the generosity of the ’21 grads. 12 Past & Present / Winter 2022
What causes boys to disconnect from school? What can make them lose their passion for learning? During his Parent Education talk on October 25, psychologist Dr. Michael Reichert pondered these questions, many of which are answered in his new book, How to Raise a Boy: The Power of Connection to Build Good Men. Through extensive research and consultation, he has identified relational learning as the keystone to positive student-teacher relationships. Dr. Reichert encourages parents to support their sons as relational learners, knowing that positive relationships with educators will produce better outcomes. “You can be an advocate for him, rather than rescuing him,” he shared. “Help him understand who he is.” He praised Crescent teachers, who are trained in a relational learning framework which recognizes and respects each student as an individual. When it is done well, it ignites a passion for learning and a desire to participate in positive relationships: “Like a plant to light, he will lean in,” says Dr. Reichert.
Upfront / Crescent News
A Day of Reflection and Commemoration September 30 was a day of reflection and commemoration for Crescent boys as they honoured Indigenous Peoples and their histories. The morning began with a full-school Orange Shirt Day assembly video. Students then participated in age-appropriate activities and conversations about the origins of the day, the impacts of residential schools on Indigenous people and their identities, and the 94 calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In order to deepen students’ learning, faculty laid groundwork early on that provided context for what would come, incorporating Indigenous lessons into diverse subject areas such as drama and phys-ed. “The importance of blending these teachings into the curriculum yearround is evident,” says Middle School history teacher Charlie Mills ’99. “Orange Shirt Day is a jumping-off point towards infusing lessons about Indigenous cultural wisdom and education into our program in an appropriate and intentional manner.”
Getting to Know Head Boy Shayan Rakhshan What is the most important thing you've read? A book called Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. It’s quite a heavy nonfiction book, so I’ve been reading a little bit here and there. It details mainly the history of human beings and our present as well. It covers not only how we evolved, but how societal structures and people’s ideas evolve. What is your favourite way to spend a Saturday? Usually after a long week
I like to sleep in. I’m a morning person, but at some point I get tired of mornings! Which talent would you most like to have? Talking to strangers. It’s a great talent to have. Every stranger has lived their own life, and every interaction you have with a stranger is a nugget of wisdom. What do you want to be "when you grow up?" I’m very interested in the human body, especially the heart and how vital an organ it is, so I want to become a cardiothoracic surgeon. That’s been my goal for
the last several years. What is your favourite memory of Crescent School? It’s hard to choose just one. One thing that happened over and over that stuck with me: We used to play soccer during lunch last year, no matter what the conditions were. Sometimes even if it was snowing or the field was wet, we would just take our shoes off and play anyway. We were just having fun, being kids while we were kids. To read more of Shayan’s answers, see the Crescent Blogs page on crescentschool.org. Crescent School Alumni Magazine 13
Present / September 2021 Charlie Mills '99 brought his class outdoors as we navigated a temporary power outage in the Middle School wing.
Perspective from the Headmaster
Opportunity in Change Open yourself to everything, and everything opens itself to you. —Richard Wagamese
daptable. Resourceful. Creative. You can find these three words in Crescent’s Portrait of a Graduate, part of the essential qualities we believe our graduates need in order to achieve future success, wellbeing, and purpose. Long before COVID-19 impacted our world, Crescent identified these traits as central to developing one’s character and critical for meeting the challenges of a complex world. Whether navigating a global health crisis or your personal or professional life, staying agile and open to opportunity is vital. We saw many businesses and institutions pivot for short-term survival during the pandemic. Crescent was no exception: Last year, we began the school year in-person, flipped to remote learning in January, back to in-person in February and closed the year remotely—a feat that, in retrospect, still amazes me. Pivoting is not new or unique to this particular time in history. Life is constantly changing, and a person’s professional trajectory can shift due to life circumstances or in pursuit of one’s passion. In this issue, we read about five alumni who have changed the course of their careers for various reasons. Along the way, they have confronted the unknown and dealt with uncertainty, but all have prevailed and found satisfaction in achieving new beginnings. I'd like to think that their time at Crescent helped prepare them for this journey in ways large or small. As the world emerges from the dark shadow of the pandemic, there is a renewed optimism for the future. If you’ve been considering a change, I hope you find some inspiration in the stories told on these pages. Now may well be the perfect time to pivot. Michael Fellin P’24 Headmaster, Crescent School
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Career changes can cause upheaval and uncertainty, but they can also bring new adventures, professional growth and life lessons. Five alumni reflect on their journeys.
16 Past & Present / Winter 2022
Written by Rob Csernyik Photography by Nation Wong
Pivot Crescent School Alumni Magazine 17
amie Campbell ’97 has always been an entertainer and early on set his sights on radio broadcasting, using household items as stand-ins for microphones. “My parents joke about me walking around with a wooden spoon when I was a kid,” he remembers. For years, he worked behind the microphone entertaining audiences on the radio airwaves before shifting to work as a media executive at Astral Media and Bell Media. But today when the urge to entertain strikes Campbell, he takes his guitar off the wall and heads a few doors down from his office to his audience. Instead of thousands of car-bound commuters, he performs for about 100 infants, toddlers, and preschoolers at the Two Short Storeys Academy, which he co-founded in 2018. And he eschews the latest chart toppers for classics like Itsy Bitsy Spider. His move to the business side of media felt natural but entrepreneurship didn’t. “Entrepreneurship was not something I focused on during my MBA. I always thought I’d go back into media,” he says. “Most of my life, I have not been a risk taker.” But he became interested in the idea of building a business and through fatherhood discovered both a calling and a business opportunity in a sector where demand outpaced supply. Today, Two Short Storeys operates at full capacity and employs a staff of thirty. For some workers, making a career pivot means becoming entrepreneurs. This requires more than hard work, a business plan or funding. It means asking questions about your character and risk tolerance and stepping into the unknown. But when looking for examples of lessons learned—to help those who want to strike out on their own or enter a new field— one need look no further than Crescent’s alumni network. “I love the fact that the buck stops with us,” says Campbell, who left his executive office to become a jack of all trades. Now he does everything from procurement and human resources to meeting with parents and painting walls. But there’s a host of freedoms he cherishes, like the dress code. “I never wear a tie, which is just the greatest thing in the world.”
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01 to 03 Images of the Two Short Storeys facilities, in Toronto Photos provided by Two Short Storeys 04 Jamie Campbell at Two Short Storeys 05 Ross Kerr
“Entrepreneurship was not something I focused on during my MBA. I always thought I’d go back into media. Most of my life, I have not been a risk taker.” —Jamie Campbell ’97
PHOTOGRAPHY BY NATION WONG
TAKING SKILLS FORWARD Ross Kerr, a ’91 alum and current Crescent parent of Andrew ’24, was considering a change before the pandemic hit. He was a leader in his industry, using his expertise in human capital to advise Canadian insurance companies as a partner in management consulting at Deloitte. Yet he wondered how long he had left in his career horizon and “whether it justified making a change now versus waiting for later.” This led him to take a sabbatical in summer 2020. The clarity he got from time with his family and the shift to working from home helped tip the scales. “Perhaps, like other people during the pandemic, there was a revisiting of what was important to me.” That’s why in January 2021, Kerr co-founded Crestwater Capital with friend and Crescent alumnus Holton Hunter ’91 P’25, ’27, to acquire and operate businesses in the lower middle-market—a shift from a career mostly spent in human
resources and consulting. Leading up to the move, Kerr had questions about whether he could run an independent business. What helped him make the leap was realizing he was putting his abilities into a new context. He’d built a business within his division at his previous work, bringing it from a non-entity to a multimillion dollar category. Was this fundamentally different? “That was part of the journey that I had to go on in my own thinking,” he says. Ultimately, he decided it wasn’t that different from what he was pivoting to and worked toward “trying to bridge that gap to make [the transition] less scary.” Kerr believes drawing on lessons learned at Crescent on character, capabilities and friendship is helpful in grounding oneself during a time of transition and upheaval. “I think it’s a nice foundation in a world where things will be topsy-turvy for a while.” → Crescent School Alumni Magazine 19
For Henson Tam ’11, leaving the major accounting firm he worked at was always an option in the back of his mind. His father’s Markham-based firm, which specializes in accounting for small businesses, was a natural move. But it seemed like he had all the time in the world to decide. A few years ago, after his father decided to retire due to health issues, it “sped up the decision timetable.” Suddenly Tam, who was only a few years into his career as a tax analyst at Deloitte, had a few months to make a decision: continuing to work at a safe, corporate job or becoming an entrepreneur as a partner in a small firm. Three years ago, he took the plunge. Though he had concerns over what risks might be present, Tam found many to be over-exaggerated in his mind. While he still works long hours, he finds working with smaller companies more rewarding. “When I was downtown, most large public clients weren’t concerned about differences of $10,000,” he recalls. “But with an owner-manager, a difference in savings of $10,000 directly impacts them.” Even though he’s pleased with his decision, Tam says the question of whether his pivot was the right choice never really goes away. “I think if anyone’s looking for certainty in making the switch like this, you won’t get it immediately.” He’s also found comfort in continuing his professional and social relationships with old colleagues. “Leaving one job or career for another doesn’t mean having to leave all aspects of it.”
—Henson Tam ’11 20 Past & Present / Winter 2022
PHOTOGRAPHY BY NATION WONG
“I think if anyone’s looking for certainty in making the switch like this, you won’t get it immediately. Leaving one job or career for another doesn’t mean having to leave all aspects of it.”
“Sometimes you don’t realize you need to change until it’s too late. The time for change is before you need it, like drinking water before you are thirsty in a marathon.”—Tim Usher-Jones ’01
PANDEMIC PIVOTS “We had to take a big leap of faith to come here, sight unseen,” Tim Usher-Jones ’01 says of his new home in Bermuda. The North Atlantic island is about 1500 kilometres west of South Carolina and a short flight from Toronto, but it’s an entirely new world to Usher-Jones. The island nation of 64,000 is so small, he can pick out his house on a map of it. For someone with deep roots in Toronto, the move was a daunting prospect, but COVID-19 offered a lesson. “You don’t need all the things that you think you need, both from a physical standpoint and from an emotional standpoint. Life can be a lot simpler,” he says. Inspired by tales of digital nomads, Usher-Jones, his wife and two children moved there during the pandemic when he decided to leave his senior vice president position at Chubb Insurance behind. Today, he operates Banyan Risk Ltd., a specialty directors’ and officers’ insurance company, from a modern office in Bermuda’s capital, Hamilton. “The things you don’t do can sometimes be more worrisome than the things you do,
even if people say you’re crazy,” he says. Usher-Jones enjoyed working at Chubb, spending seventeen years there after graduating university—but the time was right for a change. “Sometimes you don't realize you need to change until it's too late,” he says. “The time for change is before you need it, like drinking water before you are thirsty in a marathon.” Usher-Jones says that at one time, a company like Banyan Risk would have required many more employees and that travelling to meet clients would have been important but expensive and timeconsuming. Now that online meetings are more widely accepted, his Bermuda-based employees can meet with clients around the world instantly. As Banyan expands globally with a lean startup mindset, he will look to acquire the best talent around the globe, not the best in a local jurisdiction, and everyone can be interconnected virtually. “That’s changed the way we're going to run our business,” he says. “We can access the entire global market from anywhere.” →
01 Henson Tam in his Markham office 02 Tim Usher-Jones with his children after their move to Bermuda Crescent School Alumni Magazine 21
But for some business owners, the pivot wasn’t towards entrepreneurship —it was a pandemic necessity. Luckily Sean Hoff ’02 had previous experience with making a big shift. For the last nine years, Hoff has owned Moniker, a corporate travel agency specializing in company retreats. He’d always felt a pull towards a career in travel, spending his undergraduate summers abroad and working in the industry just after graduating university. But his parents worked in finance, and throughout his business education it was the career people were groomed to aspire to, particularly in his MBA program. “Basically, you get brainwashed into feeling you need to be an investment banker, a management consultant, or you need to work at a tech company to make the most of your MBA,” he recalls. He felt the pull. But while attending a trip to Barcelona organized for top performers at the bank he worked at, he felt a different tug. Having worked as a bicycle tour guide in Barcelona during his summers between semesters, he was unimpressed with some of the events and organized alternatives. “I lined up about 32 bikes within an hour, and I was leading my colleagues on a bike tour around Barcelona.” There were stops for tapas and sangria on the beach. His coworkers had the time of their lives, but the company was less thrilled that they spent money on events workers skipped. “That’s where it clicked—that moment. I was like, I can do this better,” he says. He started counting down his time in finance and looking for a way to make his passion for travel a career. As he was first making the switch, Hoff looked into the Crescent alumni database. There was only one person who came up in a search for the travel industry, Greg Sacks ’91, owner of Trufflepig Travel. They met for a beer, and Sacks offered direction on how to start making his career change. Years later, now successfully running Moniker, there would be another pivot. One night in March 2020, Hoff’s phone wouldn’t stop buzzing. It was a barrage of texts informing him to turn on the news, where President Trump was announcing he was shutting the U.S. borders to European travel. The COVID-19 pandemic was causing travel bans across the world. Hoff would enact salary cuts—including 50% for himself —and spending rollbacks, but it wasn’t going to be enough to survive for long. 22 Past & Present / Winter 2022
“It was all part of the right path.”
01 & 02 Moniker’s own internal annual retreat to Morocco in 2020. Photos provided by Moniker 03 Hoff at his Toronto office
lark Davis ’02 was three years into a finance career at TD Wealth when he realized he needed to make a change. An alum who regularly visited campus, he would look around the offices of his former teachers, which were covered in pictures and mementos. “I remember thinking, this is what I would want my office to look like. It reflected years of experiences, and I knew I couldn’t get there if I stayed in finance.” Grateful for his time at TD, Davis
took out a student loan and applied for teachers’ college. When he told his parents, they were thrilled. They had long felt that teaching would be a good fit for him. After earning his Masters in Education, Davis did teaching placements with different school boards before finding himself “back home” at Crescent. With expertise in business and economics, Davis was asked by Crescent’s Head of Business Studies Gavin Muranaka to do a placement in his economics class. He left Crescent briefly for a job at Lakefield College, before the stars aligned less than a year later. He received a call from Dean of Studies David Grant—who had once been his Grade 9 tech teacher —and was offered a job in Crescent’s business department. Now in his sixth year teaching at Crescent School, he is thankful for the journey that led him back. “It was all part of the right path.”
“I lined up about 32 bikes within an hour, and I was leading my colleagues on a bike tour around Barcelona. That’s where it clicked—that moment. I was like, I can do this better.” —Sean Hoff ’02
PHOTOGRAPHY BY NATION WONG
Then came a fateful question from a long-term client who wanted to engage their employees online: What are you guys doing in the virtual world? Hoff saw parallels between the experiences Moniker offered during corporate retreats and the need to build connections and morale during COVID-19. “You’re having fun with them, you’re developing and building that relationship.” Moniker started offering virtual murder mysteries, employing actors and writing scripts. Hoff and his team created virtual escape rooms and scenarios where participants roleplayed being part of a jury or lost at sea. It was a gamble, as the work-from-home audience they were catering to was new. But Hoff was willing to try anything. Participants loved the novel attractions, and they started drawing international press including a feature interview on CBC’s Toronto Now and even landing on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. Despite starting the pandemic awash in cancellations, Moniker became more profitable than ever. With corporate travel
starting to return, and the realization that working from home has created a permanent market, the pandemic pivot to online events will remain a part of the business. Hoff has even doubled his staff and expects to grow further in the coming months as travel has started to make its return. Even though the risk paid off for Hoff, not every business owner is willing to work so hard in the face of adversity. But after finally achieving his dream career, he didn’t feel there was any other option. “I had worked too hard for too long— eight years of my life—and risked all that I have, put all the chips on this company, and I was not going to lose it.” In many respects, the right perspective can be just as important as hard work when pivoting a career. Having the discipline to identify and mitigate real risks, the wisdom to identify opportunities and the flexibility to try new things doesn’t replace long hours put in building a business. But it can be the difference between success and failure and between shying away from a goal or pushing forward down a path less travelled. Crescent School Alumni Magazine 23
A VOTE FOR DEM Taylor Gunn ’95 has spent two decades helping young people experience civic participation. By Pat Morden
Voting. In some ways, it’s simple. Pick up the pencil, mark your X, and hand your ballot back to the returning officer. But really, it’s not simple at all. Deciding where to put your X is the most complex responsibility of citizenship. Party, platform, leader, or candidate? Local, regional, or national issues? For some people, the task is overwhelming. As a result, as few as 60% of eligible voters turn up at the polls. Eighteen years ago, low voter turnout was the issue that Taylor Gunn decided to tackle. His concept —experiential civic education for elementary and secondary schools—has caught on across Canada and beyond. →
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PHOTOGRAPHY PROVIDED BY STUDENT VOTE CANADA
Crescent School Alumni Magazine 25
At Crescent, Gunn was a Prefect, took part in every play he could, and loved his music classes. He admits, though, that academics weren’t his forte. When he graduated, he enrolled at Western University. “That year, I did everything other than school,” says Gunn. He took a year off and then returned to Western. After another year, he left the university with, as he puts it, “my tail between my legs.” Back in Toronto, he took jobs in bars and restaurants. He also began to work one-on-one with a 12-year-old boy who was struggling at school. “I got fascinated with educational philosophy,” he says. “I started to read every book I could get my hands on.” One of those books mentioned a democracy education initiative in the U.S., based on the idea of getting children involved in the election process early on to help them build the habit of participation. In January 2002, Gunn put on a suit and walked into the office of the Chief Elections Officer for Ontario, asking to speak to him. “I assumed I could just go and knock on his door. He wasn’t there but a couple of
process, research parties and platforms, discuss issues, and cast “ballots” for their candidates. “All our work is about creating teachable moments out of real-life political events,” says Gunn. “We believe the best way for students to grow into citizens is to practice and rehearse the skills of being a citizen, rather than reading about them in a textbook.” Student Vote for the 2019 federal election saw 1.2 million mock ballots cast from more than 8,000 Canadian schools. Student Vote has grown into CIVIX, a non-partisan national registered charity with offices in Toronto and Montreal. CIVIX has other offerings, including a timely program on information literacy designed to help young people identify mis- and disinformation online. Says Gunn, “This has emerged as one of the most important things we do.” Gunn has always seen the potential to apply the concepts behind Student Vote in other countries and has presented his ideas around the globe. In 2017, he developed a partnership with Colombia’s elec-
01 & 03 Taylor joins his Colombian team in the city of Cúcuta for Liderab, a national youth leadership program piloted in five regions in 2021 02 Students at John Fraser Secondary School in Mississauga are getting a chance to practise voting through Student Vote. Photography by Steve Russell 04 Student Vote in action during the 2019 federal election. Photo provided by Student Vote Canada
“We believe the best way for students to grow into citizens is to practice and rehearse the skills of being a citizen, rather than reading about them in a textbook.”—Taylor Gunn ’95
weeks later we met, and I told him what I had in mind.” By then, Gunn had developed some ideas for how to launch a school-based experiential civics program. When he met his future wife, Lindsay Mazzucco, she joined the effort. “It seemed like such a long shot,” he says. “We didn’t realize that we were really onto something—we were just young people who believed in what we were doing.” During the 2003 Ontario election, 600 schools participated in the fledgling program that would become Student Vote, and 300,000 students had their first experience of hands-on democracy. Gunn, who had convinced himself that he would involve one million students, was disappointed. Despite this, Student Vote was launched. Through Student Vote, students learn about government and the electoral 26 Past & Present / Winter 2022
tion agency. He expects 200,000 Colombian students to participate in Student Vote during the presidential election in May 2022. He is also working with authorities in Chile and potential partners in the U.S. and Latin America. So, does it work? Gunn says there are a lot of factors that affect civic participation. But there is evidence that CIVIX is making a difference. Research shows that the information literacy program dramatically improves students’ ability to identify credible sources of online information. Another study demonstrated that Student Vote helps develop the characteristics of young voters, including interest, knowledge, and a sense of civic duty. “Maybe we can’t change the world,” says Gunn, “but we keep going because we think we do this better than anybody else. Somebody has to do it.”
809,312 students from 5,988 schools participated in Student Vote Canada 2021 Votes were cast in all
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JUAN PABLO BAYONA GALVIS
Crescent School Alumni Magazine 27
Chris Homer ’01 is a pioneer in the online apparel resale business By Pat Morden
Secondhand First C
hris Homer, Chief Operating Officer of the secondhand apparel company thredUP, has an unusually humble approach to advising other entrepreneurs as they embark on their journey to find product market fit and then scale. “I like to tell them my advice could easily be wrong, because I’m wrong as much as I’m right,” he says. “What’s critical is quickly figuring out when you’re wrong and then iterating fast.” It’s possible that Homer’s approach to innovation has its roots in his time at Crescent. He was involved with robotics Team 610 and remembers working in the machine shop late into the night. “I loved designing, building, experimenting, and then rebuilding with my peers. I have a lot of good memories, working late into the night, doing something I was passionate about and challenged by.” David Grant, head of the robotics program, and physics teacher Greg Michalski were important influences, he says. →
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PHOTOGRAPHY BY DUSTIN THOMAS CHAMBERS
Crescent School Alumni Magazine 29
PHOTOGRAPHY BY DUSTIN THOMAS CHAMBERS
After Crescent, Homer completed an undergraduate degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton. He developed an appreciation for the engineering process—a way of breaking down problems in a methodical, consistent way—but decided he didn’t want to be an engineer. Drawn toward computer science, his favourite classes involved hands-on programming. He spent two years in the technical sales group at Microsoft, and then enrolled in the Harvard Business School MBA program. That’s where he met fellow student James Reinhart. The story goes that Reinhart decided to clean out his closet one day, but when he sent items to a consignment store, it rejected everything. As he explored ways to sell clothing online, he saw a business opportunity. Knowing Homer had a technical background, he asked him to get involved. Homer would go on to spend ten years as thredUP’s Chief Technology Officer. The first iteration of thredUP, which launched in 2009, was a swap site where consumers could post items they wanted to trade. But it turned out that most people weren’t willing to take the time to list and describe what they had to trade, so supply consistently lagged demand. The company tried an experiment. Green polka-dot bags were sent out to customers, who were asked to fill them with unwanted clothing items and ship them back by courier. For the customers, it was easy and quick. “Almost immediately, our office started filling with bags,” says Homer. “We saw what was happening and flipped the paradigm.” Now it’s thredUP staff who sort, photograph, display and sell the used clothing, while customers receive a portion of the sale prices.
“It was amazing to be able to experience that moment and share it with our families. But then the weight of what’s in front of you descends, and you realize, oh yeah, there’s a lot of responsibility in front of us now!” —Chris Homer ’01 30 Past & Present / Winter 2022
01 to 04 Chris Homer in the Atlanta distribution centre, which can hold up to 3.6 million garments at any given time 05 Chris, his wife Heidi, and children Isaac and Anna after the IPO in March, 2021. Baby Charlotte was born one week later
"I like to tell them my advice could easily be wrong, because I’m wrong as much as I’m right. What’s critical is quickly figuring out when you’re wrong and then iterating fast."—Chris Homer ’01
In addition to pleasing thrifty customers, Homer says that thredUP’s approach reduces the environmental impact of the apparel industry. “The more people buy used instead of new, the less impact overall.” The company’s mission is “to inspire a new generation to think secondhand first.” Today, thredUP has three large distribution centres in the U.S. and some 2000 employees. Three additional centres will open in the U.S. by the end of 2022. In the spring of 2021, thredUP filed a $1.3 billion Initial Public Offering (IPO). In the midst of a pandemic, the IPO process was different. Typically a grueling road show, this time investors were reached by Zoom. Despite some concerns about timing, everything went as planned and the stock priced well. NASDAQ had paused its iconic bell-ringing ceremonies for much of the pandemic but reopened in time for the thredUP offering. “It was amazing to be able to experience that moment and share it with our families,” says Homer. “But then the weight of what’s in front of you descends, and you realize, oh yeah, there’s a lot of responsibility in front of us now!” Powered by the infusion of capital, thredUP recently bought a company in Eastern Europe, the first step in building a European market presence. The company is also building a “resale as a service” business, which enables apparel brands to access the thredUP platform to participate in the resale market. In his new role as Chief Operating Officer, Homer says he’s been on a steep learning curve but is enjoying the challenge. “I worked with our operations team before, but it’s different being the one ultimately accountable for delivering on our promise to customers.” Things are also demanding on the home front, with three children under six. “It’s busy but fun!” Does Homer wear secondhand clothes? Not from thredUP, which only carries women’s and children’s clothing. But the company is popular with his wife and children. “As a family, most of the clothes coming into our house are secondhand.” Crescent School Alumni Magazine 31
Tips for entering the job market By Bram Belzberg ’98
When I graduated from McGill University in 2003 with a degree in psychology, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I think the vast majority of new grads are in the same position. I’ve witnessed some epic career touchdowns and fumbles in my time, and I’ve learned a few things along the way. Here is some advice that worked for me.
32 Past & Present / Winter 2022
ILLUSTRATION BY NICK SHEPHERD
Bram Belzberg ’98 is Chairman and CEO of KEV Group, North America’s leading provider of online payments and cash management software for K–12 schools. He started his career at Goldman Sachs before earning an MBA from Harvard Business School. Bram was named one of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 in 2019.
Make the first one a good one
Beware the shiny startup object
When you come out of school, you have some cachet, even if you don’t have any experience. You're educated! You’re idealistic! You work hard! Your first job can determine your career trajectory; it can set you up for success or slow you down if it doesn’t work out as expected. Take the time to choose wisely but don’t wait too long and risk losing your lustre.
Startups can look very attractive. They may dangle stock options, a laid-back culture, a flat org structure and a clear path to a “senior” role, and we’ve all read stories of the lucky few who became millionaires before they turned 30. But it’s like winning the lottery, and most people don’t win. The majority of startups don’t turn into Google. That’s a fact. And if that happens, you will be seeking your next job with a company on your resume that few have heard of with phone numbers and emails that no longer exist.
Give yourself time to grow
Bigger can be better
Entrepreneurs generally need three things to succeed: a great idea, a reliable funding network, and strong leadership skills. If you have a great idea, it will still be there when you’ve learned how to develop it into a business. If you want to create your own startup, do it when you’ve developed your career and established a safety net in case it fails. Take risk, but make sure it is measured and that you can afford the bets you place. Above all else, learn as much as you can every step of the way.
Large companies—such as banks, consulting firms and established tech outfits —are good at nurturing new graduates. They’ve been developing the best talent for decades. They have full-time employees whose sole responsibility is grooming young go-getters into future managers. They teach you how the professional world operates and how to network—foundational skills that will serve you well throughout your entire career. Best of all, you will get to see how great businesses run, which will stick with you always.
What You Need to Know About Food Allergies By Dr. Derek Chu ’04
You might not actually be allergic!
Dr. Derek Chu ’04 MD, PhD, FRCPC, Pediatric & Adult Allergy-Immunology specialist, is a Clinician Scientist and Assistant Professor in Allergy and Clinical Immunology at McMaster University, Department of Medicine and Department of Health Research Methods, Evidence, and Impact.
Don’t be misled by skin testing One of the biggest misconceptions is that skin testing alone can diagnose a food allergy or inform how severe it is, when studies have shown that skin testing can misdiagnose over 80% of children. Though our lab is actively working to find better tests, the best available one right now is a graded supervised feed (an “oral food challenge”) with an expert in the technique.
It takes a village to live confidently with food allergies Having a food allergy should be minimally disruptive, not focused on fear or isolation. With food allergies affecting almost one in 15 people, communities need to normalize food allergies and support those living with them.
Research is an often-neglected path to empowerment and transformative change If there’s one thing that I gained from Crescent, it was the skills and drive to carve my own career path and be the instrument of change. Though our lab pivoted in 2020 to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, we are hard at work to understand food allergy better and rigorously test new treatments. Our Evidence in Allergy group’s studies at McMaster excite me every day about the potential to achieve a world without food allergies. Come check us out some time, we would love to have you!
ILLUSTRATION BY NICK SHEPHERD
I know first-hand many of the difficulties and frustrations that come with living with a food allergy. My time at Crescent inspired me to change that. My mother was one of the first parents to advocate for food allergy awareness and safety policies at Crescent, and the school was formative in my journey to becoming a clinician scientist and specialist in allergyimmunology. Here are some pearls I have learned along my journey of living with, researching, and treating patients with food allergies.
Clarity about allergies in older children and adults can be life-changing—I lived 30+ years thinking I was allergic to tree nuts in addition to peanuts, only to find out that was a false assumption. Clarifying what is and isn’t a food allergy in infants and children is especially important because prolonged avoidance of certain foods can, paradoxically, increase the risk of becoming allergic to the foods that are avoided. If you have any uncertainties about your allergies, be sure to have it checked out by a board-certified allergy specialist!
Reflections from Grads of 1975 The grads of 1975, Crescent’s first Upper School graduating class, were planning to celebrate their 45-year reunion in May 2020, but due to the pandemic their event was held online. We asked five alumni about what they remember from their time at Crescent and what they learned while they were students.
If you had been able to meet at the reunion in 2020, what would you have reminisced about? David Payne: The teachers. I can still remember all of their names and how profoundly they influenced my life. There are too many to mention all of them, but each one has my thanks. Blair Howkins: Teachers, winning the ISA Soccer championship, lots of 34 Past & Present / Winter 2022
great memories. Classmates who are still friends. Peter Corolis: Teachers who you really got to know on a personal level and the small class sizes. We were only a group of 17. What place on campus would have brought back memories for you? David: I would like to visit room 336.
It was our homeroom class, located just inside the main entrance of the original building. Peter: The soccer pitch (we were co-soccer champions in 1974) and the formal garden with the columns from Dentonia. Fred Gaby: The main house. That is where we had all our classes.
01 Class of ’75 02 & 03 During their special visit, the alum were gifted Crescent School toques. 04 Class of ’75 alum visited campus in November. From left to right: Blair Howkins, David Payne, Fred Gaby and Peter Corolis. (Not pictured: Roy Bartell)
Alumni from the Class of 1980
What are your fondest memories of Crescent? Peter: Having been the last Grade 8 class at Dentonia and the first graduates from the Bayview campus. Fred: Standing on the sidelines at St. Andrew’s College in Aurora watching our soccer team play them in the middle of a blinding snowstorm. Blair: Lots of great memories, like
playing British Bulldog in the front garden of the Manor House. Roy Bartell: Fond memories of winning the Ontario championship soccer, dances in the lunchroom, and music classes. What was the greatest lesson you learned in high school? Blair: Chris Gordon taught me to be understanding and give a second
chance to people. David: It is very difficult to state the most important thing I learned in high school without sounding trite but here goes: “Do no harm.” Peter: Don’t take anything for granted. Roy: We were taught camaraderie through sport.
Crescent School Alumni Magazine 35
Life After Crescent
Milestones and Celebrations Have family or career news to share? Send your Life After Crescent updates to firstname.lastname@example.org.
1980s Bob Palmer ’80 is currently working as a Senior Advisor in the Corporate Communications team at ATCO Group in Calgary. Prior to joining ATCO in October 2020, Bob spent 12 years in corporate communications, public affairs and government relations with WestJet. Ernest Chan ’84 has released the second edition of his first book, Quantitative Trading: How to Build Your Own Algorithmic Trading Business.
Lee Goldman ’85 was featured in the October 2021 edition of Report on Business magazine, sharing his expertise on real estate investment trust portfolios.
Sean Hoff ’02 and Alicia Beaver were married on August 21 in Tuscany, Italy, at Castello di Gargonza. Sean’s brother Alex Hoff ’99 was also in attendance.
1990s Humza Teherany ’96 joined the Board of Directors at Basketball Canada in June 2021. Paul Kingston ’99 published his first book, Butterflies in Glass, in June 2021.
2000s Farhad Shariff ’01 and his wife Nissa welcomed their second son, Kamran Moaez Shariff, to the world on October 10, 2021. Older sibling Zafar is excited to take on his new role as big brother and is happy to show his new little brother the ropes.
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Derek Chu ’04 was recently awarded the 2021 AAAAI Foundation Faculty Development Award—the first Canadian to win this award in North America—in July. He was also appointed Assistant Professor in the Department of Medicine at McMaster University. Jeff Ballard ’08 started a new position as Assistant Vice President at Liberty Mutual Canada.
Retired faculty member Rob Cranston (far right) attended the Blue Jays vs White Sox game with Max Greenwood ’03, Lucas Greenwood ’06 and Sam Greenwood ’06.
Life After Crescent
Matt Murray ’07 and his wife Linea welcomed their first son Charlie Michael on September 6.
David Wright ‘05 and his wife Gabriella Siciliano welcomed their daughter Sophie Madeline Wright born May 9.
George Tory ‘06 and his wife Allie welcomed their daughter Grey Bradford Tory on October 13.
George Gleeson ’08 and his wife Emma welcomed their son Bruce John Jay Gleeson on September 4.
Griffin Bush ’06 and his wife Sarah are thrilled to share that Carter William Bush was born on November 11, weighing in at 7lbs and 7oz.
Crescent School Alumni Magazine 37
Life After Crescent
Remi Ojo ’08 joined RBC Ventures on its Analytics team in October 2021. Phil Williams ’09 married Martine Lloyd in Muskoka on September 18, 2021, exactly 10 years after their first date at Queen’s University. Best man was Pearce Jarvis ’09, with the wedding party including Phil’s brothers, David Williams ’11 and Colin Williams ’13, Martine's brother Philip Lloyd ’09, and Patrick Alton ’09. Robbie Mitchnick ’09, Clark West ’09, and David Merrithew ’11 were also in attendance to toast the happy couple! Phil is currently doing his residency in General Surgery at the University of Toronto.
Gianrico De Pasquale ’09 married Adelyn Barr on September 18, 2021. Best man was Marco De Pasquale ’12 and there to celebrate were Class of ’09 alumni Adrian Dingle, Chris Leung, Josh Chan, Josh Su, David Lye, David Monus, and Nick Riedlinger and Graham Rotenberg ’12. Gianrico recently started a new position as legal counsel at the Department of Justice Canada.
2010s Petr Schumacher ’16 started his own charter business through the company Private Air in October 2021. Petr flies a brand new PC-12 NGX out of Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (CYTZ) to destinations across Canada and the U.S. To learn more visit his website: vortacaviation.com
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Asher Weiss ’14 recently launched his new company, Tixologi, a blockchain-based ticketing platform putting venues, teams and event producers in control of their own ticketing. Prior to launching Tixologi, Asher was working for the Golden State Warriors.
Eric Cislak ’17 is currently studying in the JD Program at Allard Hall at the University of British Columbia.
Life After Crescent
These retired Crescent teachers got together in October for a long walk followed by pizza and libations. They shared stories and laughs about their time at Crescent and committed to socializing more often. From left to right: Stuart Cumner, Steve Davies, Hugh McKechnie, Greg Michalski, Rob Cranston, Pat Mills, David Thompson, Mark Suckling and Rex Taylor.
Crescent School Alumni Magazine 39
Catching Up With...
James Wright: Teaching students and their families
By Robert Mackett ’91
Robert Mackett: When did you start the journey at Crescent and what was your very first assignment? James Wright: I met with Chris Gordon who just took over and was the youngest headmaster in Canada. I knew Chris because he was my math teacher in high school. He said, “Jim, I heard you just graduated from university. I want you to come work here.” And I said, “I beg your pardon, would you like to see a resume?” He said, “I don’t need to see one. I know you. I want you to join my team.” The year was 1973. RM: In comparison to starting your journey, what was your last role? JW: I am going to fill in the middle gap. I was teaching Grade 13 math [and] they came to me and asked me to chair the Math Department. I don’t have a math degree, so I went to York University part time and became Head of math and, lo and behold, my job changed because now I was delegating teaching assignments and had to mentor other teachers. But I fared really well, especially when the school started to be seen as a highly academic school RM: What is your proudest achievement? JW: I was the first AP teacher at Crescent and taught AP Calculus. Then other AP courses at the school started to take off. [We began] offering a broad slate of AP credits, which put us in place as a highly academic school, and we were providing an education just as good—or better than —any other school in Canada.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY CAIT LAVOIE
James Wright worked at Crescent for 42 years, making him the longest-serving faculty member in the school’s history. He and his wife now live on a farm in Prince Edward County.
"Educators don’t just teach students, they teach families." —James Wright
RM: One thing I thought you were going to talk about was the food! I know how fond you were of the kitchen staff. JW: You know, the kitchen staff were all part of the team. The maintenance staff were hugely important to the school, and many of them were new Canadians and they were treated just as well as anyone else in the building. The boys were so respectful to the kitchen and maintenance staff. It was about becoming a man of character. RM: You were recognized for your accomplishments upon your retirement. I want you to share with the readers what your award was. JW: The school always likes to recognize the achievements of any retiring teacher, but in my case it was kind of special. They decided to name a classroom in the Upper School hallway after me—it is now called the James Wright classroom—and outside the classroom is an oil painting of me, which is really quite something because they always do oil paintings of headmasters but not regular
teachers. Before COVID, they would invite me back to Prize Day because they named an academic award after me that goes to the Grade 10 student with the highest academic mark that year. RM: I am eager to know, what did Crescent School teach you? JW: This might sound like a wisecrack, but the parents were a very important part of the school. What I learned is that when dealing with them, you have to be careful as they are learning how to be parents themselves. I realized when the time was right, I could lean over my desk and advise them. What I realized is that educators don’t just teach students, they teach families. RM: If you could go back in time and give yourself a piece of advice in those early days in Chris Gordon’s office, what advice would you give? JW: I would say “Don’t drop the ball!” Because it is not about you—it’s about your students. Because it is their education, and how important is that?
Rob Mackett ‘91 is Regional Vice President at Proofpoint, a cybersecurity company. He is also James Wright’s nephew.
40 Past & Present / Winter 2022
PHOTOGRAPHY BY GREG RYERSON
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