August 8, 2020

By ERIC MCKENZIE

It was a night to recognize dreams coming true at the 15th annual Conestoga Alumni Awards of Distinction ceremony on Nov. 9.

Eight different graduates of Conestoga College were honoured for their contributions to their fields, and over $11,000 was given away to current students at the Waterloo Region Museum.

“Conestoga alumni do make a difference. These are the people who shape our community and many of them got their start right here,” said Wally Vogel, president of the Alumni Association.

The awards reception was an elegantly decorated suit-and-tie affair catered by Bingemans and Conestoga’s hospitality program, which is headed by Chef Philippe Saraiva, who also created a centrepiece for the event by carving a large brick of ice into a lifelike gazelle.

Daniel Henderson, a former pupil of Saraiva’s, was nominated and won in the hospitality category for his work as executive chef at Bento Sushi in Mississauga and Ottawa and for his work in other sushi restaurants across the country. Henderson, who graduated about 10 years ago, was surprised by his nomination.

“I didn’t even know about the awards to be honest with you. It’s a great honour just to be in the room tonight,” he said.

In his acceptance speech he thanked Saraiva and Conestoga for helping him achieve his dream of working in the food and beverage industry.

“Chef Philippe is one of the main reasons I’m here. He taught me three simple words, ‘mise en place,’ which translates roughly to everything in its place,” said Henderson.

Other winners of the night were CEO of Symcor Inc. Chameli Naraine for business, Waterloo’s assistant deputy fire chief Richard Hepditch for community service, CEO of Magnitude Partners Mark Kershey for engineering and information technology, founder and chief career strategist for The Wright Career Solution Daisy Wright for health and life sciences, CBC sports commentator Brenda Irving for media and design, and vice-president of FLO Components Ltd. Mike Deckert for trades and apprenticeships.

Conestoga president John Tibbits spoke at the awards ceremony about how the college benefits from the individual achievements of this year’s award winners.

“Your individual success here is, I think, helping us build our reputation,” he said.

Three of the award recipients were formerly immigrants to Canada and each spoke about how Conestoga truly made their dreams come to fruition.

Babar Tahirkhedi, newswriter and lineup producer for OMNI TV Alberta, won the recent graduate award and said “being an immigrant working in Canadian news and journalism was my dream and Conestoga helped me achieve that.”

Tahirkhedi ended his acceptance speech on an earnest and positive note causing the crowd to laugh in approval.

“You rock Conestoga. You changed my life,” he said.

The Alumni Association provides special services to all 83,000 graduates called Affinity programs, such as discounts on car, home or life insurance from longtime partner of Conestoga Johnson Insurance. Smaller perks are also offered, such as ticket discounts to many attractions, including Canada’s Wonderland and Bingemans.

Conestoga alumni also have access to www.conestoga. intravel.ca, a travel website where they can book travel and accommodation at a discounted rate.

“Our Alumni Association works to build connections with Conestoga’s graduates worldwide. We value and promote a strong network for the college alumni, current students and faculty,” said Vogel.

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