“We’ve never met, but our souls met in 2016 – and it was awesome.”
Those were the words of praise that greeted Yorkville University’s Sebastian Bustamante when he stepped into a room at the Delta Fredericton on June 20 to a special surprise meeting with Zainab Abdel-Gawad.
“Words cannot express my gratitude towards your professional approach, your generosity, your hard work. You made my dream come true – tomorrow I’ll graduate from Yorkville University,” Abdel-Gawad told Bustamante, the Yorkville admissions advisor she credits with “virtually” encouraging her to pursue her online Masters of Education in Adult Education.
“I could not have done it without you. Even though we had a virtual connection, to tell you the truth, Seb, I felt like I was in your office with you putting together our application. You were awesome. I cannot express my gratitude.”
Armed with a bouquet of flowers, Abdel-Gawad said it was Bustamante who made her believe in herself and in her ability to pursue her passion for higher education – a passion she’d previously postponed for so long due to the full-time commitments of motherhood and working life.
A long-time ESL instructor with the Thames Valley District School Board in London, Ontario at the time, Abdel-Gawad said it was Bustamante who took her under his wing back in 2016 and urged her along her path towards career advancement.
“He talked a lot about Yorkville University and he encouraged me to join the educational institution and he was right, because Yorkville University has taught me a lot,” she said, praising Yorkville’s high-calibre professors.
“Even though it was online, I felt as if they were there in the classroom helping out. I’ve learned a lot about critical thinking, and that really added a lot to my career…being a student at Yorkville University gave me the opportunity to get my new role.”
Still with Thames Valley school board, Abdel-Gawad said earning her Masters through Yorkville helped her land a new job an ESL lead, overseeing English as a Second Language programming at three different sites.
“Throughout my 21 years with the school board, I had developed the practical part of delving into adult education, but when I took the (Masters) program, they helped me with the critical thinking, with the theories behind doing what I have done for many, many years,” she said.
“We learned a lot about diversity, about the principles of adult education, and how to put together a program, which was very, very rewarding for me – and it really helped me with my new role.”
Listening to Abdel-Gawad’s success story, Bustamante said he felt like a “proud parent.”
“It’s nice to see the fruits of all my efforts. When you work in an online environment, you don’t always get a chance to build this kind of rapport (with students),” Bustamante said of the supportive connection he was able to forge with Abdel-Gawad.
“I am really happy today…because I put a lot of feeling into what I do. I really care about my students.”
Bustamante was also grateful for the opportunity to be able to thank Abdel-Gawad in person for the token of appreciation she sent him two years ago – a keychain he’s carried with him every day since.
“I cannot believe the person who gave me this two years ago, who I helped two years ago, is now graduating,” he said, pulling from his pocket the keychain Abdel-Gawad had engraved with his name.
“The reason why I like helping people is because sometimes we can’t generate the motivation we need within ourselves – and I love being that person. I love being the person that encourages them, that presents them the opportunity, and if they pursue it, I want to be part of that story.”