When Virak Mao moved to the Jane-Finch neighbourhood from Cambodia six-and-a-half years ago, he was an excited and nervous 12-year-old looking forward to his new life in Canada but fearful he wouldn’t make friends, especially since he didn’t speak English.
What an impressive list of accomplishments he has achieved since then.
First of all, he got over those early jitters and made friends.
He helps his mother care for his three younger siblings.
Mao not only mastered English but won the Grade 9 French award at C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute.
At school, where he maintained a B average, he played sports at lunch and helped organize school events.
He made the soccer team in Grade 10, and in Grade 12 he was on the baseball team, bringing in the team’s most runs batted in (RBIs).
Mao also volunteered at school, such as pitching in at the library and assisting at parents nights.
He served as campaign manager for a fellow student who successfully ran for vice-president on the student council and another who was elected a student representative.
Mao originally wanted to be an engineer but after struggling with chemistry, discovered a new passion for business.
“I told myself I have to get good grades to get in (to post-secondary education) to pursue my dreams,” he said.
“It (education) means, basically, the world to me. It means to have a bright future. I will be able to have a good job and support my siblings.”
At his Buddhist temple, Mao is a youth leader and encourages newcomers to Canada.
He also participates in cultural dancing with other temple members, donating any money they raise back to the temple.
If all that wasn’t enough, since the summer of 2011, he has held down a job at an Aeropostale clothing store to help financially support his family.
In June, Mao graduated from C.W. Jefferys and is now in the business management program at Ryerson University.
He is also the first winner of a new scholarship created by the Graduate Business Council of York University’s Schulich School of Business. The council represents students in the masters of business administration, masters of public administration and international masters of business administration programs.
Awarded the scholarship in June, Mao spoke briefly about the significance of the award at the council’s alumni conference in early November.
The council set up the scholarship to give back in a meaningful way to the community in which Schulich is located, choosing C.W. Jefferys as the closest high school, said Suzanne Pragg, who was the council’s community and alumni relations director in 2011/2012 when the scholarship was established.
It is open to any graduating C.W. Jefferys student going on to post-secondary studies, regardless of the institution or program they are pursuing.
The applicants also have to demonstrate community involvement.
Interestingly, being a top academic achiever isn’t a requirement.
Straight A students are already on the right track and can take advantage of other scholarships, said Pragg, now a researcher in the dean’s office at Schulich.
The council wanted to help a student with potential, who is committed to improving their community and who is in financial need who would normally be overlooked, she said.
While the original goal was to offer a $500 scholarship, students raised $1,300, including $600 raised through a Valentine’s Day candygram fundraiser.
The $1,300 was awarded to Mao, whom Pragg said has “an inspirational story.”
Mao is thrilled to have been awarded the scholarship,
“I was so excited. I was blown away. It was a huge relief for me,” he said, adding he bought textbooks and school supplies with the award.
“I am really thankful they raised this money to award me the scholarship. I just have no words.”