skip to main content


Yorkville’s Ontario Convocation Celebrates Achievements of 400+ BBA, BCA, BID & IDD Graduates 

The powers of persistence and resilience were on full display at Yorkville University’s recent convocation ceremony in Ontario.

More than 200 of this year’s 400+ Bachelor of Business AdministrationBachelor of Creative ArtsBachelor of Interior Design, and Interior Decorating Associate Diploma grads were on hand in Toronto on Thursday, May 2 for the celebrations, which were presided over by Yorkville University President and Vice Chancellor Dr. Julia Christensen Hughes and Provost and Executive Vice President Dr. Allyson Lowe.

President’s Comments

In her remarks to graduates, Christensen Hughes lauded all those present – both in person, and those tuning in to the livestream from around the world – for all the tireless hard work they put in to reaching this, their graduation day.  

“Each one of you has worked tirelessly to reach this moment, and you have learned so much along the way,” she told the assembled grads before they walked across the stage at Meridian Hall in downtown Toronto. 

“Today is a testament to the transformative power of a Yorkville education. You embarked on a journey of growth and learning, and you are now emerging as graduates equipped with the knowledge, skills, experiences and values that will propel you forward in your careers and in your personal lives.”

Distinguished Convocation Speaker Ashley Dafel

Joining Christensen Hughes in her congratulations of Yorkville’s graduates was Ashley Dafel, Yorkville University’s CEO, who attended the event this year as the ceremony’s Distinguished Convocation Speaker. 

The lessons imparted during Dafel’s inspiring speech to grads were threefold, with all three representing the lessons he learned on his own, barrier-filled journey to success – from being abandoned by his parents at the age of 7 in his native Zimbabwe, to fighting to get an education by any means necessary, to ultimately earning his MBA and going on to a successful career in education, despite having never read a book until he was in high school. 

“As you can imagine, (my childhood) marked a pretty dark side of my life – but it was on that dark side that I learned so many lessons that have helped me get to where I am today,” he said. 

“I knew from at the age of seven that education was my way to survive, which was pretty ironic, because I was not in school at the time, but I just knew I had to get back.”

And so, he did – ultimately completing his elementary schooling at nine different primary schools, in two different countries and in two different languages, while also working to support himself from the age of 13.

Given the crumbling state of his foundational education building blocks going into high school, Dafel was initially placed in a class amongst those with the lowest grade point averages in his school. But with a lot of hard work and determination – plus the extra lessons in English, math and science he worked hard to afford – he ended up graduating amongst the top of his class, earning himself acceptance into the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, where he earned bis Bachelor of Commerce degree. 

“Which brings me to my first life lesson to share: Graduates, as you leave here and you create a future for yourself, there will be barriers – and what you’ve got to decide is what you’re going to do with those barriers,” Dafel advised. 

“You can climb over them, you can break them down, you can get around them, or you can accept them. The choice is yours. I ask that you don’t accept them but take the opportunity to break them down.”

Dafel’s second lesson was to encourage graduates to ‘embrace unconventional paths’, just as he did when, after earning his BComm, he chose not to immediately pursue his MBA (which he ultimately earned from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University), but to focus on building his family, while also carefully selecting work opportunities that “expanded on my formal studies, allowing me to develop graduate-type skills learned through the ‘school of life.’” 

“Although I couldn’t get the formal education at first, I got it by doing. I got it by trying different things and moving around – and I was often criticized for it by people who looked at my resume and said, ‘You haven’t stuck to one industry or one function. You’re too scattered and all over the place. You need to get focused,’” he recalled. 

“But I never listened to any of that…So I would encourage you all to embrace unconventional avenues. It may not be a straight line; there’s bends and curves and twists, but those who dare to explore will get the reward.”

Last but not least, Dafel urged graduates to ‘stay ahead of the curve’, noting his strong belief that every person should have at least two to three careers in their life. 

“I don’t need to tell you the world evolves rapidly. To thrive, you need learn continuously, adapt quickly, fail early and embrace the ambiguity of change,” he urged. 

Student Graduation Speaker Kevin De Silva

Dafel’s story of resilience resonated strongly with Kevin De Silva, who himself overcame a rocky start to his studies at Yorkville University to not only graduate with distinction from the Bachelor of Business Administration program, but to also be named this year’s Student Graduation Speaker. 

“Most of you don’t know this, but I actually failed university initially. My first semester was a total flop… Then I thought to myself, is this who I really want to be? Am I leaving my country, leaving my family and sacrificing everything for two Fs and a D?,” he asked. 

“That’s when I decided I wanted to be who I am today; that’s when I decided I wanted to be the best of the best – and through persistence, determination, and resilience alone, I achieved it.”

Like him, De Silva told his fellow graduates that they, too, will fail at certain points in their lives, and urged them to be ready for it. 

“Make the best of your failures. Try again. Fail better,” he said. “Failing teaches you far more than winning does.”

Crediting his persistence and determination for getting him through, De Silva also encouraged his fellow graduates to remember that education and talent alone are often not enough to achieve success.

“The question is, how hungry are you to get what you want? Whatever your goal is – be it becoming a billionaire by 40, helping to end world poverty, or even retiring your parents – whatever it may be, do not stop!” he said. 

“Whenever you feel like giving up, remember…to keep going. That is how you win in life.”

Closing Remarks

In their closing remarks, both Lowe and Christensen Hughes applauded Dafel and De Silva for the resilience they demonstrated in their respective addresses to the assembled graduates. 

“It’s really clear that you both are a tribute to the power of persistence and showing how to overcome obstacles as you move forward in your personal and professional journeys. Thank you for sharing your personal stories us,” Lowe said. 

Added Christensen Hughes: “It’s important for each one of us to recognize that life is not always fair, life can present dark moments, life can present doubt, but personal perseverance – as we know each one of you has demonstrated to be here, to be in our programs, to learn what we’ve learned, and earn your degrees – is key,” she advised graduates.

“It is through that perseverance, through that belief in yourself, through overcoming the barriers that you undoubtedly encountered to be here today…that you can continue to excel – and I know such an incredible, exciting future awaits you all.” 

Program Awards:

Bachelor of Creative Arts | Creative Leadership Award

Olayimika Jinmi-Ahisu

Bachelor of Interior Design | Award of Excellence

Lisa Jeans

Bachelor of Business Administration – Project Management | Award of Excellence

Jennifer Winkler

Hartley Nichol Award

Cindy Torreiro

President’s Awards

Bachelor of Creative Arts

Kay Josephine

Gabrielle Levesque

Bachelor of Interior Design

Alexandra Murphy

Cindy Torreiro

Interior Decorating Associate Diploma

Kristin Newman

Katie Widmann

Bachelor of Business Administration – Project Management

Kevin De Silva

Request Info Apply