Nikhil’s Commencement

Comm1aCommencement is a very special event for the graduating class, teachers, staff and the families of graduating students. The occasion is used to celebrate the achievements of students with many special guests in attendance. It is a formal celebration that has associated with it a high level of maturity and respect for one another’s achievements.

US senator Orrin Hatch aptly said about High School Commencement that there is a good reason they call these ceremonies ‘Commencement’, as graduation is not the end; it is only the beginning.  It is one of the most important moments in a student’s life as it marks a transition from high school to university.  Nikhil’s Grade 12 Commencement of the Woodlands School, Mississauga, was held on August 08, 2015.

The high school graduation ceremony in many ways is considered a rite of passage. It commemorates making it through the early, grueling years of homework and science projects. It marks the beginning of a new educational adventure.


The graduating students and the faculty wore the traditional black robe and the cap was not mandatory. The use of the graduation robe began in the Twelfth century. At this time no sufficient heating systems existed in universities. To ward off the cold, graduates started wearing long robes with hoods to prevent being cold during the long ceremony. Later on in that century, robes were made the official attire of academics.

The robes that students and faculty wear were modeled on priests’ traditional robes. Students once wore their robes to all classes and lectures (like Harry Potter and his friends at Hogwarts). Today robes are reserved for academic occasions, like graduations, but they still reflect particular academic achievements.

The square cap that graduates wear is called a mortarboard as it resembles to a tool used by masons to hold the mortar while applying it on to a wall. The term was first used in English in the 1850s . The caps became popular in the Fourteenth Century, when it was worn by artists and students, to signify superiority and intelligence. In those days the caps were commonly red in color to signify blood and life.

At the end of the graduation ceremony, many students toss their caps high in the air. This tradition was started by the US Naval Academy in 1912. Prior to the graduation of 1912, graduates of the academy were required to serve two years in the fleet as midshipmen before being commissioned as Navy officers, therefore they still needed their hats. The class of 1912 was commissioned from the time of graduation and received their officers hats, thus their hats were no longer needed, leaving the graduates free to toss their caps into the air and not worry about getting them back. The tradition then caught on at other institutions throughout the country. Now the action is regarded as a symbolic gesture of the end of a chapter in a graduate’s life.

The use of a tassel adorning a graduation cap only started in the last 40 to 50 years. The tassel was originally designed to decorate the graduate’s cap during the ceremony but it has come to have symbolism as well.

The gesture of moving the tassel from one side of the cap to the other symbolizes the individual’s movement from candidate to graduate. Prior to the ceremony the tassel is expected to be worn on the right. During the ceremony it should be moved to the left side after students receive their diploma.

Comm1The Commencement ceremony was a reunion for Nikhil and his friends as it was over a month into their university studies. Everyone appeared to be exchanging notes about their universities, classes and new friends. It began at 7 PM with the Academic procession, being lead by the Principal, followed by the two Vice-Principals, Heads of Departments, Ms Andrea Pils and Nikhil, being the valedictorian.

Ms Andrea Pils, Nikhil’s French teacher, was nominated by Nikhl to introduce him prior to his valedictory address. Ms Pils is the only teacher who taught him for all the three high school years and she was the one who recommended Nikhil for the cultural and educational exchange programme in France based on his performance in French. As per Nikhil, one month he spend in Nantes, France with the Le Floch family was very fruitful and memorable. It was not only an important career milestone, but also a personal one for him. It had a telling impact on Nikhil’s outlook and conduct.

The ceremony commenced with the Canadian Anthem followed by the Principal’s address. Then it was the distribution of degrees to the students who marched up the stage as their name was announced. It was a moment of pride for the student as well as the parents, who looked on with a sense of achievement as the first academic degree was conferred on their child. Along with the degrees, various prizes for outstanding achievements were also given to the students.

comm3The high school diplomas were presented to each student as a roll tied with a string. In the earlier days, diplomas were made of sheepskin, hand-written, rolled and tied with a ribbon and from here originated the saying ” hang your sheepskin on the wall”. It was a phrase to represent showing your education. Many academic institutions still continue with this tradition and some have changed to handing over the certificate in a folder.

Click Here to watch Introduction by Ms Andrea Pils

After all the diplomas and awards were presented to the students, Ms Pils introduced Nikhil as the Valedictorian for the graduating class of 2015.

The Valedictorian delivers a speech known as the ‘valediction’ to his fellow classmates on behalf of them. Nikhil’s speech covered the ups and downs they have all gone through, and provided a humorous and youthful insight of a hopeful future. At the end of the speech, there was a standing ovation as a recognition of his outstanding efforts and success in academic life.

Algonquin Park – A Riot of Fall Colours

We along with Stephens went ahead with our plans to camp in the Algonquin Provincial Park and celebrate the Thanks Giving Day of 2015. (Please click here to read more about Thanks Giving Day). The children were excited about the camping and visit to the park to view the fall colours, especially after the good times they had in the summer camp in Northern Ontario.
Algonquin Provincial Park, about 7,600 square kilometres in area, is located between Georgian Bay and the Ottawa River in Central Ontario, Canada. Over 2,400 lakes and 1,200 kilometres of streams and rivers, formed by the retreat of the glaciers during the last ice age, are located within the park. The park is in an area of transition between Northern coniferous forest and Southern deciduous forest. There are over 1,200 campsites in eight designated campgrounds. I booked the Campsite # 45 at Achray Campgrounds in July for the October camping. Most camping sites are booked well in advance as only the early birds will catch the prey. The best time to view the fall colours in the park is during the Thanks Giving long weekend and the traffic on the roads are heavy with campers and tourists. After this weekend, the camp is closed to visitors and campers.
(Image Courtesy Google)
Achray Campground was selected because it was well into the interior of the park with no electricity and cell-phone coverage and also for the view it offered. Achray Campground is located on the East side of Algonquin Provincial Park at the southeast end of Grand Lake. The drive from Toronto took about 7 hours with the last 50 km accessed via a gravel road.
On entering the park, all vehicles and visitors have to register at the main gate and obtain necessary permits and passes. The park staff will brief about the rules to be followed, Do’s and Don’t’s, procedure for garbage disposal, etc. After the registration, we drove about 25 kms on the gravel road to the Achray Campgrounds. The store in the campground, the ‘Stone House’, was part of a railway depot complex that was built in the 1930’s, made with stone quarried on the opposite shore of Grand Lake. The store offers canoe rentals, ice, firewood, chips, chocolate bars, camper’s supplies and park merchandise.
We settled down at our campsite and after a sumptuous lunch, embarked on to the Jack Pine trail, in search of the place where Tom Thompson painted his famous painting ‘The Jack Pine’ which hangs in the National Gallery. Thomson worked as a fire ranger at Achray in 1916. We reached the spot marked with a plaque where the pine was (tree has since died), which inspired the artist.
The walk up to the plaque was mesmerising with the vivid red, yellow and orange colours the leaves of the deciduous trees – maples, birches, poplars, tamarack, etc – had turned into. The coniferous trees with their green needles added variety. The varied colored leaves and the brown pine needles that had fallen on the ground and in the cracks in the rocks provided an interesting view.
The green leaf colour comes from pigments of chlorophyll, used by the trees to make food with the help of sunlight. There are other pigments namely carotenoids and anthocyanins present in the leaves, but are overshadowed by the chlorophyll in the spring and summer. Carotenoids create bright yellows and oranges like in corn, carrots, and bananas. Anthocyanins impart red colour to fruits like cranberries, red apples, cherries, strawberries, etc.
In the fall, trees break down the green pigments and nutrients stored in the leaves. The nutrients are shuttled into the roots for reuse in the spring. Some tree leaves turn mostly brown, indicating that all pigments are gone. Trees respond to the decreasing amount of sunlight by producing less and less chlorophyll and eventually stops producing chlorophyll. Now the carotenoid in the leaves show through and the leaves become a bright cascade of various shades of glowing yellows.
The fall season being characterised by short days and longer and cooler nights. When a number of warm, sunny autumn days and cool but not freezing nights come one after the other, the Maple leaves produce lots of sugar, but the cool night temperatures prevent the sugar sap from flowing through the leaf veins and down into the branches and trunk. The anthocyanins are now produced by the leaves for protection. They allow the plant to move down the nutrients in the leaves to the roots, before they fall off. The nutrients stored in the roots help the trees to sprout out their leaves in the coming spring. During this time, the anthocyanins give leaves their bright, brilliant shades of red, purple and crimson.
In a maple or a birch tree, the tender thin leaves, made up of cells filled with water sap, will freeze in winter. Any plant tissue incapable of living through the winter must be sealed off and shed to ensure the tree’s survival. As sunlight decreases in autumn, the veins that carry sap into and out of a leaf gradually close. A layer of cells, called the separation layer, forms at the base of the leaf stem. When this layer is complete, the leaf is separated from the tissue that connected it to the branch, and it falls. Coniferous trees like pines, spruces, cedars and firs, don’t lose their leaves, or needles, in winter. The needles are covered with a heavy wax coating and the fluids inside the cells contain substances that resist freezing. Evergreen leaves can live for several years before they fall off.
It is easy to track the changing colours on the Ontario Parks’ website with suggestions for the best viewing locations and links to ‘Great Fall Drives’ around each park. There’s also the Ontario Tourism’s fall colour report starting soon at
In the evening, we celebrated the Thanks Giving with a dinner – but not with the traditional Turkey Dinner, but with chicken barbeque.
As per the old military adage, I decided to take a different route on our way back home the next day. The route was mostly through the country roads up to Peterborough. The roads passed through many townships, all dependant on agriculture and diary interspersed with few timber mills to convert the abundantly available wood into lumber. The region was hilly with many streams and small lakes and again a spectacular display of fall colours.

Yogapalooza and Lululemon


Toronto city takes pride in hosting Yogapalooza, a celebration of Yoga, movement, music and meditation. Yoga, dance, martial arts and live music come together for an uplifting community experience. The festival started with Salimah Kassim-Lakha’s vision of bringing people from all walks of life together to share the benefits of the practice.

The first Yogapalooza happened at the Pride Festival in Toronto at Queens Park in 2010. Now Yogapalooza has grown into a multi dimensional festival championed by many. The flagship event takes place at Toronto’s Harbourfront in the third weekend of August. The festival offers free classes for families, those new to yoga, and experienced yogis which all will enjoy.

Many class experiences are on offer over the course of the two-day festival, providing the best opportunity for exploring different levels of Yoga, especially for beginners new to the lifestyle. Different kinds of yoga, including Hatha Yoga, Laughter Yoga and Kundalini Yoga are showcased. Guests can groove to the sounds of the drumming circle, stretch out their stress, and connect to their playful side through yoga, martial arts, dance and music. It includes a kids’ yoga space, wholesome marketplace, community booths, live music and more.

Yogapalooza serves to uplift individuals, families and communities with a mission to inspire connections though consciousness and open hearts. The festival to celebrate the age old Indian traditional Yoga is taking place in Toronto when remote Indian towns (including our town Kottayam) are celebrating opening of a new McDonalds or Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) outlet with mile long queues of the young generation.

Here is a great success story of Lululemon Athletica, a Vancouver (Canada) based company catering for Yoga apparels and equipment. The company generates over a billion dollars in revenue and has over 200 outlets in Canada, US, Australia and New Zealand.After 20 years in the surf, skate and snowboard business, Chip Wilson took the first commercial yoga class offered in Vancouver and found the result exhilarating. The post-yoga feeling was so close to surfing and snowboarding that it seemed obvious to him that yoga was an ideology whose time had come again.

Even though Yoga does not require the Yogis to wear any special clothing or shoes, most Yogis in North America were wearing cotton clothing which seemed completely inappropriate to Chip Wilson, whose passion lay in technical athletic fabrics. From this, a design studio was born that became a yoga studio at night to pay the rent. Clothing was offered for sale and an ‘underground’ yoga clothing movement was born. The success of the clothing was dependent on the feedback from yoga instructors who were asked to wear the products and provide their insights.

Founded in 1998, Lululemon’s first real store opened in the beach area of Vancouver called Kitsilano, in November of 2000. The idea was to have the store be a community hub where people could learn and discuss the physical aspects of healthy living from yoga and diet to running and cycling as well as the mental aspects of living a powerful life of possibilities. Unfortunately for this concept, the store became so busy that it was impossible to help the customer in this way and also sell their products.

So the focus of training shifted solely to the Lululemon educator or staff person. The goal was to train people so well that they could in fact positively influence their families, communities and the people walking into the stores. Although the initial goal was to only have one store, it was soon obvious that there was a huge demand for their products as the Yoga Craze had gripped the entire North America by then.

Lululemon Athletica during that time has gone from complete obscurity to now defining and dominating their category. In the process, they have taken away a significant market share from the brands like Nike, Adidas, Puma and Reebok. Unlike these mega-brands, Lululemon have chosen not to spend millions of dollars to sponsors like a Michael Jordan or David Beckham, instead have wisely opted for a more local approach. They identified 20 most respected yoga teachers, personal trainers and fitness leaders in the area and give them a couple of free shirts and bottoms. Simple enough, but they did not stop there.

They then took professional photos of these influencers and blew them up onto massive canvases to display in their stores. The ‘models’ now appeared as celebrities and this increased their credibility as respected and valued members of the community. Plus, because they contain captions such as, ‘Dana Cope, Owner of Chatswood Yoga’ it is free advertising for the local trainers which helped them to grow their business. The combination of free product, free exposure and the more subtle benefit of appreciation, meant these local identities become fiercely loyal and wear only Lululemon clothes.

As their business grew, more people saw and wanted the gear worn by their trainers, which led to hordes of new people into Lululemon stores. An excellent win-win scenario was born. Even though most of their products are high priced, they are in great demand as their business turnover proves.

Yoga for sure has been exploited by the North Americans in a great way to turn out Yoga teaching centers, apparels and equipment. Now let us watch out for the next Indian item on the agenda, waiting to be exploited by the North Americans.


Four-Year Undergraduate Programme

Education in Canada aims at developing all-rounded personality of a student.  Graduation is the stepping stone to the employment market.   Why does Canada/USA have four year graduation courses? After analysing the curricula our daughter and her friends went through for  graduation in life sciences in Canada, my observations are as given below.


Finances.   The students being over 18 years of age want to be financially independent and do not want to depend on their parents. All of the students I met (including our daughter) had taken student loans to pay for their education. As they were paying for it with their own money, they wanted each and every penny to be counted, resulting in no bunking or whiling away time in the class – every minute had been paid for by them (not by the parents).

Part-Time Work.   Most students undertook part-time work (our daughter taught in the tuition centre for 10 hours a week) to pay for their other expenses that is not met from the student loans. Studies have proven that the students who take up part-time jobs are more dedicated to their studies, better at time management and outperform the students who do not take up part-time jobs.

Every Academic Year is Three Semesters Effectively.   The academic year commences in September with the first semester and the second semesters beginning in January and ending by April. The period between May to August may be called  summer vacation, but is used up to complete any particular requisite course(s) which could not be taken during the two semesters or pursue a course of interest. Students use this time to volunteer both within and outside the country or join a research team, or work for four months to make money and also to gain experience. Many employers like the government, city, private institutions that conduct summer camps, etc, earmark jobs for the university students. They work as swimming instructors, life guards, kids’ camp guides, area cleaners, gardeners,  etc.

Course Content.   I was flabbergasted to see our daughter taking Bollywood Music and Prem Chand Kahaniya as optional subjects in the second and third year as part of a life science course. I am sure no Indian Universities would be offering such subjects. Here the students have a variety of courses to choose from and there are different pre-requisites for post graduation in different universities.

Assignments.   Assignments typically consist of 15- 20 % of the total grade. One cannot  get away by copying assignment from friends.  Plagiarism is very serious and may even result in failing the course. Original works and ideas are well rewarded. Assignments are given every week or at least once every 15 days and are mostly corrected by the Teaching Assistants (TAs) of the professor. TA is generally a research student under that professor and the TA makes some money by assisting the professor.

Tests.   There are anywhere from two to four tests in a semester. The midterm tests range from 25 to 40 % each. The weightage for the tests are about 50 – 80% depending on the professor. The key point is you do not lose all your points if you miss your final. So, if you get sick or have issues with some chapters, you are not penalised for that. The risk is evenly distributed. The catch is, you are forced to study all through the semester because you have tests every 4 to 6 weeks depending on number of tests.  Some tests are comprehensive, but most are only part of the text. It all depends on the professor. The key thing is, Professor who teaches the class dictates the rules of tests and he is a God for the students.

Quizzes:   The quizzes are quite important and are sometimes online and sometime they are pop-quizzes or surprise quizzes in class. The weightage for quizzes can be from 5 – 20 %. So, you have to be prepared every time with previous class material.

Group Projects and Individual Projects.     They can be from 20 – 40% of the grade. The goal is that the professor wants the students to apply what they learned in the class. There are two types of projects. Group projects as name says, will be between 2 – 5 people. Individual projects, you only work on it. In either case, you end up giving final presentation in the class. The presentation skills are developed in the students from high school onward and they are well trained in executing group and individual projects.

Term Papers.   Some classes do not have anything other than writing papers after extensive research. The research paper has to be based on a given format with full citations. One will have to follow the APA or any other similar format as per the university policy (it starts from High School here). For arts and literature classes, there will not be any exams like mid terms and they usually have two or three papers to write during semester.

Class Participation.   There is about 5 – 15 % of marks for class participation. The students have to actively participate in discussions and hence have to be fully prepared for each class. The TAs sitting behind the class do the marking and the professor will award the final marks.

Co-op. This is where the industry and the academic institution come together to offer the students a chance to work in the industry during graduation. In some universities it is mandatory for all students to take up co-op assignments.  This ensures that education remains at par with the developments in the  industry.  The curriculum aims to provide the students exposure of actual industrial and business processes. Students’ projects are mostly related to real problems identified with the industry/ business.

Recommendations.  For applying for any job, even part-time or for a post graduate course, it is mandatory to provide recommendations of two to three professors. In case you are not well known to them, the professor would end up saying that he/she is ‘not comfortable’ giving the recommendations. It is not all that easy to ‘buy’ these recommendations.

The economic progress of a country is strongly linked with the quality of education.  The Canadian education system  from school level onward undertake periodic review of the curriculum and subject content to ensure that they are up to date and not outmoded or obsolete.  They also ensure that the system effectively fulfills the requirements of the country in creating valuable citizens for the future. Norms and standards of education are set up so as to educate the students with appropriate skills suitable for a rapidly changing economic scenario.

We would always get an education system we deserve and not what we desire.

The Longwood Gardens

Visiting Marina’s sister Charm and her husband Cherian at Delaware, USA, every summer for the past decade, we always plan to visit the Longwood Gardens. The visit materialised only in the summer of 2015. The Longwood Gardens, one of the world’s greatest gardens of today, was established by Mr Pierre Du Pont when he purchased Peirce’s Park in 1906 in order to save the trees in the park. The park owner had contracted a lumber mill operator to remove the trees from the park.

Mr Du Pont was born in 1870 in Delaware, USA. He was president of the world famous DuPont Company from 1915 to 1919, and served on its Board of Directors until 1940. He also managed General Motors from 1915-1920, became GM’s president in 1920 and served on GM’s Board of Directors until 1928.

During his early years in Wilmington, Delaware, he was influenced by the area’s natural beauty and by the Du Pont family’s long tradition of gardening. His jobs took him to Europe many a times and he was always exposed to a wide variety of garden settings, fountains, grand architecture and the latest technology.

After buying the Peirce’s Park at the age of 36, Pierre started to create a garden, which today is the Longwood Garden. He built the gardens piecemeal, beginning with the Flower Garden Walk and he followed no grand plan or design. He added an open-air theatre in 1912, inspired by an outdoor theatre near Siena, Italy. He then added the “secret” fountains that drenched the unaware visitors.

Longwood Flowrwalk
As a wedding gift to Alice Belin, whom he married 1915, he added a conservatory – Longwood’s first “winter garden” and planted exotic foliage and created a small marble fountain. In 1921, he opened the Conservatory, a perpetual Eden which used the latest technology of the day to heat, water, and power the complex. All the systems were hidden in tunnels so as not to detract from the grandeur of the glass-covered and surrounding rooms. He then opened the greenhouse to the public.

By the mid-1930s, Longwood had grown from the original 202 acres to over 1000 acres due to Pierre’s purchase of 25 contiguous properties over the years. Today the Longwood Gardens has a yearly budget of nearly $50 million and a staff of 1,300 employees, students, and volunteers. Longwood is continuously evolving to become one of the world’s greatest gardens.  The garden is open to visitors year-round to enjoy exotic plants and horticulture, events and performances, seasonal and themed attractions, educational lectures, courses, and workshops.

The Longwood Gardens consists of 20 outdoor gardens and 20 indoor gardens within 4.5 acres of heated greenhouses, known as conservatories It contains 11,000 different types of plants and trees, as well as fountains. The Gardens also has extensive educational programs including a graduate program, and extensive internships. It hosts 800 horticultural and performing arts events each year, from flower shows, gardening demonstrations, courses, and children’s programs to concerts, organ and carillon recitals, musical theatre, fountain shows, and fireworks displays. It also hosts an extensive Christmas light display during the holiday season.

Longwood Gardens is renowned for its extraordinary fountains. The astonishing shows gather attention from far and wide, and are a favorite among visitors of all ages. Inspired by the success of the Italian water gardens and open air theatre fountains, Mr Du Pont unveiled the Main Fountain Garden in 1931. The goal was to rival the fountains he had seen in Europe. Today, this open air theatre conducts fountain shows featuring 750 jets in changing patterns, this showpiece comes alive with five-minute shows set to music. Since its 1914 Garden Party debut, this Italian-style outdoor theatre has expanded from its simple original fountains to the 750 jets that create the rainbowed curtain of water.

Tucked into a protected courtyard (accessed via the Conservatory), this stunning outdoor garden features aquatic plants from all over the world. The garden is open from late May through mid-October. Peak bloom occurs mid-July through September (depending on weather). The water-lilies and tropical aquatic plants are displayed here in five large pools. The aquatic plants consists of lilies, lotus and incredible Victoria water-platters with leaves measuring up to four feet in diameter. This leaf might have been used to float the infant Lord Krishna, to be discovered by Markandeya. The same leaf could have been used by Kunti to float infant Karna and also may have been used in the case of infant Moses.

Longwood Orchids
The Orchid House displays a fraction of the 7,500 orchids at Longwood Gardens. To ensure a continuous display, the orchid grower hand picks and replaces the plants three times a week with others from the five orchid growing houses. Orchids were a passion of Pierre Du Pont and his wife, Alice. Orchids were one of the first plant collections—started in 1922. In 1948, the collection was greatly enlarged when Pierre  DuPont’s sister-in-law, Mrs. William Du Pont, donated her well-known and respected collection of more than 2,300 orchid plants to Longwood.

Longwood Palms
The Palm House opened on Palm Sunday, 1966 with a landscape of palms in all sizes and shapes from all around the world. Mr Du Pont preferred temperate houses because they were less expensive to heat and only the small conservatory in the Peirce House was warm enough for an occasional palm.

The Silver Garden houses the cacti collections. Through the glass roof the moonlight appear to bounce off the gray and silver-foliaged plants that fill this garden. This mimics the dry and arid landscapes found in Mediterranean and desert regions. Slate, rocky outcroppings, and exotic plants combine to create this multi-textured garden. The gray-blue slate pathway gives the impression of a dry streambed that would be found in a desert. The greenhouse containing this garden was built in 1921 and was originally used to grow peaches and nectarines. Following a major structural renovation, the Silver Garden came into being in 1989.

These are some of the few specialities of the Longwood Garden and must be included in the itinerary of anyone visiting this part of America.