Outstanding achievement awards for Thomas H.B. Symons '47, Thomas A. Szaky '01 and Russell Higgins '81

The 2021 Old Boy of Distinction, Young Old Boy of Distinction, and John D. Stevenson awards honour alumni who exemplify UCC's values and have made a resoundingly positive impact on the world.
Thomas H.B. Symons, ’47, Old Boy of Distinction Award

The late Thomas H.B. Symons was a great Canadian educator and innovator who thrived on civic responsibility. He was teaching at the University of Toronto when a committee of Peterborough, Ont. citizens approached him about creating a university there. Symons became the founding president and vice-chancellor of Trent University and remained at the university until his retirement in 1994. At Trent, Symons began Canada's first university Indigenous studies program, created a Canadian Studies program and founded the groundbreaking Journal of Canadian Studies.

In addition to his dedication to Trent, Symons had a strong commitment to Canada and served the country, the province and its communities well. He was chair of the Ontario Human Rights Commission from 1975–78; chair of the board for the United World Colleges from 1980–86; and president of the Ontario Heritage Trust from 2010–2017. He helped establish a landmark Ontario-Quebec Educational Exchange Program that continues today and led the "Symons Commissions,' which laid the basis for French-language education in Ontario. 

Symons gave his time to innumerable volunteer organizations over the years, including the Red Cross, Sir Sandford Fleming College, the Ontario Arts Council and the Mayor's Committee in Peterborough.

His contributions to the country were recognized by his appointment as a Companion of the Order of Canada, with 13 honorary degrees and appointment to the Order of Ontario, among other honours. He also received the Queen's Silver, Golden, and Diamond Jubilee Medals and the Canadian Centennial Medal. 

From 1979 to 1983, Symons served on the UCC Board of Governors, and his family legacy at the College includes sons Ryerson '85 and Jeffrey '88, and grandson Wilson '19. It’s with great pride that we continue to steward the longstanding Symons Prize in Canadian Studies, awarded to a student in Year 7 who demonstrates a love of the subject. 

Symons passed away earlier this year.

Thomas A. Szaky, ’01, Young Old Boy of Distinction Award

Szaky is the founder and chief executive officer of TerraCycle, a global leader in the collection and repurposing of hard-to-recycle waste. TerraCycle operates in 21 countries, working with some of the world's largest brands, retailers, cities and manufacturers to create national platforms to recycle products and packaging that currently go to landfill or incineration. 

He’s also the author of four books, including The Future of Packaging: From Linear to Circular, and Revolution in a Bottle, which focuses on how to eliminate the idea of waste and change perceptions about what is recyclable. He currently serves on the board of directors for the Product Stewardship Institute, D'Addario Foundation, World Economic Forum (Future of Consumption board) and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (CE100 board).

In addition to his pioneering work in sustainability, Szaky has made a difference at UCC, speaking at Assembly and the Green School Committee, and helping establish a program from 2013–2015 that allowed students to do summer internships at TerraCycle. 

Szaky is no stranger to awards for his global contributions. He and TerraCycle have received hundreds of social, environmental and business awards and nods from a range of organizations including the United Nations, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Fortune and Time magazines, World Economic Forum, and the Schwab Foundation. Achievements and recognition started early for Szaky: as a UCC student, he earned a place on the Principal’s List; the Bruce Hicks Award for Public Service; a General Proficiency Award; and the John Howard Prize in Arts. 

Russell Higgins, '81, John D. Stevenson Award for volunteer service to the College

Honouree Higgins was chair of UCC’s Board of Governors from 2016–2020.

“Ever since he ran a booth at A-Day almost 20 years ago, he has touched every part of school life through his unparalleled volunteerism and uncommon good nature,” wrote nominator Rodger Wright ’70. “Everyone who has worked with him on many endeavours would attest to his wisdom and his patience.”

The time he dedicates to UCC comes in addition to his busy position as a principal of MacPherson Builders Limited, a builder of subdivisions throughout southern Ontario.

An integral contributor to the life and future vision of the College and parent to Simon '16, Higgins chaired the Norval Long Range Planning Committee, the Property Committee and the Principal’s Search Committee, which selected Sam McKinney as the school’s 19th principal. Prior to his appointment leading the Board of Governors, Higgins was a member of the Association Council and chair of the Council of 1829. 

He has tirelessly lent his talents as chair of the A-Day Committee and a member of the UCC Foundation's Board of Directors. He has also participated in a number of subcommittees including Advancement, Old Boy Annual Giving and, most recently, Campus Master Planning. Additionally, he's a charter member of Our Third Century legacy giving society, and a generous supporter of the school’s financial assistance program. 

Classmate Peter Dotsikas noted, "I have seen the great work Russ has done over the years for UCC. He has given so much of his time and energy. Most importantly, he’s maintained his unique sense of humour."
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