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Duke of Edinburgh’s Award tradition continues at UCC

Upper Canada College has a long history of connection to the Duke of Edinburgh Awards. Five boys from UCC were among the first 18 students to receive Duke of Edinburgh’s Gold Awards in Canada — presented in person by the Duke, Prince Philip, at a March 22, 1966 ceremony in Ottawa.

More recently, Peter Coxford (see photo), Faraz Fadavi Akhavan Bonab, Andrew Patel, Matthew Patel, Sidney Poon and Cijian (George) Ren became the latest UCC students to earn this award, part of a program that was founded by Prince Philip in the United Kingdom in 1956 and launched in Canada in 1963.

UCC students John Albert and Nicholas Elder received Silver Awards while Harris Lechtzier received a Bronze Award this year.

The Duke of Edinburgh’s program began as a means to help people between the ages of 14 and 24 develop a sense of responsibility to themselves and their communities by encouraging personal discovery, growth, self-reliance, physical fitness and perseverance in a non-competitive format.

“The Duke of Edinburgh program fit in well with the activities that I already did as a member of my community,” says Fadavi Akhavan Bonab. “The program allowed me to track the work that I already do, and even push myself further to explore things that I otherwise would not.”

Participants can expect to spend at least six months completing the bronze level, 12 months on silver an 18 months on gold. They must accomplish personal goals in the areas of service, skills, physical recreation, an adventurous journey and, for the gold level only, a residential project. These components may be completed simultaneously or one at a time.

“I learned how to be organized, as you have to be organized in your tracking and documentation of the record book,” says Coxford. “But more importantly, I learned of the importance of being balanced and an active participant in society. There is much to learn from the award.”

The service section is intended to develop a sense of community and social responsibility. The adventurous journey aims to cultivate a spirit of adventure and discovery and an understanding of the environment. Cultural, vocational and practical skills are developed in the skills section, while the physical recreation component encourages improved performance and fitness. The residential project aims to broaden horizons through a worthwhile residential experience.

“My largest challenge was the outdoor adventure camping section, as I am more of a ‘city’ person, or so I thought,” says Andrew Patel. “I ended up really enjoying the camping trip and managed just fine, but getting over the initial thought of having to go camping was challenging.”

Award achievers receive a pin and certificate to mark their achievements. Gold Award ceremonies are only presided over by the governor-general of Canada or a member of the British royal family. Princess Anne presented this year’s Gold Awards on Feb. 19 at Montreal’s Lower Canada College.

“It means a lot that our accomplishments have been recognized in something as prestigious as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Gold Award,” says Matthew Patel. “We have worked hard and have enjoyed the process, so it is a nice perk to have something objective to measure our activities.”

The Duke of Edinburgh’s program perhaps resonates most deeply at UCC since Prince Philip has served as the school’s official “Visitor” since 1955. He visited the College on Oct. 21, 1969 to present Gold Awards to nine boys at a ceremony in the quad. More than 200 UCC students have earned Gold, Silver and Bronze Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards over the years.

An estimated 500,000 young Canadians have participated in the program since its inception, and more than 44,000 are currently involved. The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award operates in 140 countries and eight million young people have challenged themselves in the program.

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