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Something for everyone at WAC

The World Affairs Conference’s amazing lineup of speakers was bookended by keynote addresses by Masai Ujiri, president of the Toronto Raptors, and Canadian astronaut Roberta Bondar.
Canada’s oldest and largest student-run conference, WAC is a collaboration between UCC and Branksome Hall where students can hear renowned experts speak about some of the most topical issues of the day. This year’s organizers, Year 12 students Shaya Farahmand and Ray Wu, and Branksome’s Katherine Ma and Jennifer Yang, put together the event’s agenda working with an executive team of about 60 students. On March 6, the day of the event, another 120 volunteers were involved. 

Teachers and WAC club advisers Alvin Jugoon and Suzanne Monir worked with the team to ensure the day unfolded smoothly for the 1,200 attendees from independent and public schools across the GTA.

“It’s nice to reflect on how big and successful WAC was,” says Jugoon. “Previously, we were so focused on getting the day delivered.”

Shaya agrees, noting, “The day looks seamless, but there are so many ups and downs and we’re working until the last moment to make sure everything goes smoothly. Problems cropped up, but we dealt with them.”

In addition to the opening and closing addresses by Ujiri and Bondar, students were able to attend three other sessions, choosing among five plenary options for each time slot. The options were incredibly impressive: among the panellists were Senators Ratna Omidvar and Donna Dasko; Esko Aho, prime minister of Finland from 1991 to 1995; Francisco Sagasti, prime minister of Peru from 2020 to 2021; Alex Cui, founder of GPTZero; Sandra Hawken, president and CEO of Holland-Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital Foundation; Tom Heintzman ’82, managing director and vice-chair, energy transition and sustainability at CIBC; Fares Kady, head of the World Health Organization’s Aleppo Office; and Bruce Kuwabara, a founding architect of the acclaimed Toronto firm KPMB Architects. 

“We placed a lot of emphasis on quality conversations and many of our speakers were at the cutting-edge of issues,” says Ray. “It was very exciting.”

One of the WAC team’s missions this year was to actively publicize the conference to public schools and offer all public-school attendees free admission. And thanks to the organizers, WAC became the first student-run conference in North America to be carbon neutral. The team paired up with Farmers Edge, a carbon-offset organization, to make this possible.

The team also arranged a meeting between Ujiri and UCC’s Black Excellence Society, and a lunch with Bondar for the Lang Scholars. Ujiri took a red-eye flight back to Toronto to be sure he could attend.

Now that WAC 2024 has unfolded successfully, the student organizers are already working on planning next year’s conference.

The faculty advisers were impressed by the students’ hard work in putting on an outstanding conference.

“Every task, from big to small, was addressed and logically dealt with, which was truly impressive,” says Monir. “The whole WAC team gave their heart and soul.”

“We’re so proud of the organizing team and the immense amount of pride they took in running the conference,” Jugoon says. “I’m sure this year’s conference will be remembered for many years to come.”
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