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‘The Vari Scholarship has paved the way’: Sights and sounds at this year’s Vari Scholars luncheon

By Perry King

February 21, 2020  

Vari Scholars come together to celebrate their achievements and reflect on life-changing George and Helen Vari Scholarships (all photos by Perry King). 

On Jan. 30, past and present winners of the George and Helen Vari Scholarships came together to celebrate their achievements – and each other.

For over 20 years, the scholarships have worked to change the lives of students at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) and Victoria University. Valued up to $50,000 – $10,000 per year for three years of undergraduate study and two years in a program leading to the teacher certification – the scholarships represent the largest single award available to teacher candidates and has supported over 100 students.

Victoria University offers an award to a student entering second year – who plans to pursue a career in teaching at the primary or secondary level in Ontario. At OISE, it is awarded to students in OISE’s Master of Teaching and the Master of Arts in Child Study and Education programs. They are awarded based on financial need, academic merit and the potential to contribute to the teaching profession.

The scholarship has made it possible for students to achieve their dreams and honour the legacy of Dr. George Vari. Arriving in Canada in 1956 following the Hungarian Revolution, he was a firm believer that education should be the foundation of society. Alongside his wife Helen, he dedicated much of his life – through the George and Helen Vari Foundation – to supporting many educational institutions and initiatives.

OISE News wanted to capture the sights and sounds of the luncheon. Here is what some speakers had to say about the scholarships – and the Vari family.  


Jean Kim
Vari Scholar, 2020
Undergraduate student, Victoria University

“[With this scholarship] I can seek out experiences like studying abroad – to meet diverse people with different experiences from my own allows me to meet people that I can learn from like other Vari Scholars and those here today definitely who’ll continually grow what my understanding of teaching and learning education really is.

“It motivates me to think about how I will give back – how I will use this blessing and privilege and investment and turn it into something worthwhile. The Varis believe in the importance of education, and invest in people like me to support its future generations. I realized that this is also a part of the impact that I hope to make in teaching – so that students can feel at home and feel welcome to contribute to others in learning and the expansion of education.”

Mariam Abeid
Vari Scholar, 2020
MA-CSE student, OISE

“Here I am today, studying and learning more about research-informed strategies and teaching – a child centered approach in various learning experiences have taught me to appreciate how to incorporate research into practice. The Vari Foundation has alleviated financial concerns by allowing me to concentrate more on my studies and worry less about the day-to-day hustle of providing for my children while being a full-time student.

“My children are now teenagers – 17, 16 and 14 years old, respectively. The scholarship has granted me the luxury of improving my performance by studying and gaining more knowledge while enhancing my skills – rather than focusing on a part-time job. I believe the Vari Scholarship has paved the way for me to be successful in both the pursuit and completion of higher learning.”

From left to right: William Robbins, President of Victoria University; Jean Kim, Vari Scholar; Dr. Helen Vari; Mariam Abeid, Vari Scholar; and Glen A. Jones, Dean of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. 

Rija Saleem
Vari Scholar, 2014
Master of Teaching student, OISE

“I have been fortunate enough to be a Vari scholar for the last six years. And I can say I’ve been lucky enough to be a student at Vic college. I’m lucky to be a student at OISE right now. But consistently, I was lucky enough to be a student of Dr. Vari’s, through the scholarship and the foundation.

“We talk a lot about how education has the power to change lives, and they just want to acknowledge that my life has completely changed with the education that I did receive at the University of Toronto. I’ve been so fortunate with the intensive courses that I’ve had on campus, but also my opportunities that I had to go abroad.

“And while my life has changed from the education that I received, it’s also changed because of you [Dr. Helen Vari] and it wouldn’t have been possible without your support. I am so fortunate to be in the education field and to know that I will be working with the future of tomorrow and working with students and just the generosity that comes with Education. I think more than anything, when I am teaching my students, I will always just be thinking of you and the kindness that you showed me.”

Glen A. Jones
Dean, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education
Professor, department of Leadership, Higher and Adult Education

“Congratulations to the Vari Scholars. I mean, this is really about you and your success. The fact that you have done so much in your particular programs, demonstrate your excellence. And we’re so proud of you as students at the University of Toronto. Thank you to my colleague, William Robbins, and the tremendous work that’s taking place in Victoria University and the continuing partnership. And of course, thank you to Helen Vari and the George and Helen Vari Foundation who made this all possible and whose donation has made such a huge difference to so many people.”

William Robbins
President, Victoria University
Associate Professor, English and Medieval Studies

“They say it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a lot of people coming together to keep a program like this working. It is all about the students and it’s wonderful to see you here today. It’s, I think, a very lovely opportunity for the staff and students to come together with the Vari family to recognize how important it is to have these groups – where we’re not flying solo and people have your back. And we all are coming together from very different experiences, very different backgrounds with a very different perspectives in order to make great things happen.

Of course, that’s what you all will be doing in your careers as educators. You’re making sure that difficult conversations happen, making sure that people from different backgrounds, different cultures can come together and really learn from each other.”

Helen Vari
Founder, George and Helen Vari Foundation

“My beloved husband said that only education can save the world. And our work is getting a little bit complicated. So education is getting even more and more important.

“The OISE program is very special and I am very proud of it. Very proud of the students – who will become better teachers, who will become better Canadians and better citizens of the world.”


More OISE news

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OISE announces new Doctor of Education program in child study and education