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Learning, dreaming, and aiming for a better life: a WAEC alumnus gives back

July 8, 2022
Dr. Maria Sabaye Moghaddam presents her inaugural humanities award to WAEC graduate Jaime Rose Reimer.

Since 1960, the Winnipeg Adult Education Centre has embodied the concept that we are all life-long learners—and it is never too late to achieve your academic goals.

“We provide some of the most inclusive programming out there,” said Principal Aaron Benarroch. “We provide opportunities to be a part of the Truth and Reconciliation process in our community. We provide opportunities for newcomers to have a great start in Canada. Some of our students come to us because their first round through school life was not all that positive and they didn’t get that opportunity to graduate when they were 17 or 18. Some of our students come to us from parts of the world where their traditional path to education was interrupted, whether it was because of war or social circumstances beyond their control.”

WAEC is comprised of its main Vaughan Street campus, the Adolescent Parent Centre, Kaakiyow li moond ikol (located at the Turtle Island Neighbourhood Centre), The Adult Learning Centre (located at the River Osborne Community Centre), T.E.R.F. (Transition, Education, and Resources for Females), Taking Charge! Of Academics (programs for single parents working toward economic independence) and adult English-as-an-additional language programs.

“Some of our graduates move on to post-secondary institutions, some move on to enter the workforce, and some are still figuring it out, and we are always here for them to help with that process,” Mr. Benarroch said.

The highlight of the school year for WAEC students and staff is the annual convocation ceremonies, where students from many unique paths receive their diplomas.

At this year’s Class of 2022 ceremony was alumnus Dr. Maria Sabaye Moghaddam. The Ontario-based writer, dancer and storyteller came to Canada from Iran in the late-80s and attended WAEC to pursue her academic goals.

Dr. Sabaye Moghaddam returned to Winnipeg to present two new awards for WAEC graduates. The Dr. Maria Sabaye Moghaddam Award will be presented annually to a graduating student who has achieved high academic standing in English or Humanities while overcoming challenging circumstances. The Dr. Jafar Farya Shaker Award, sponsored by Dr. Sabaye Moghaddam’s husband, is presented annually to a graduating student who has achieved high academic standing in Mathematics while overcoming challenging circumstances.

We had the opportunity to connect with Dr. Sabaye Moghaddam prior to her return to Winnipeg to present both awards at the WAEC graduation.


Where are you from originally, and what led to you enrolling at Winnipeg Adult Education Centre?

I was born and raised in Tehran, Iran. When I came to Canada, I was told that in order to enter university, I had to take some Grade 12 courses such as mathematics, science, and English. A friend of mine, who had taken courses at the Winnipeg Adult Education Centre suggested I register there. 

Looking back at your time at WAEC, any fond memories? What was your overall impression of the school? And how did your time there help you personally?

Nothing but fond memories. The first time I came to school was to ask about admission requirements and fees. Mr. MacKay, the counsellor, asked me where I lived. The question startled me: what does that have to do with anything? I thought but gave him my address. He said something about my being in some school district and therefore having to pay a different fee. I lost all hope at that moment because I assumed I had to pay more than the regular fee of $600, which was already impossible for me. But he said that I had to pay only $150 and that in two installments. I couldn’t believe what I had heard. I repeated at least three times: “You mean I only pay $150? Not $600?” 

Mr. MacKay was so patient with me. Each time, he smiled, nodded, and confirmed the reduced fee. I remember hoping all the way to my apartment, feeling I was the most fortunate person on the planet. 

WAEC was an amazing place – a window to the country, who had in a way adopted me. Having left my homeland after revolution and during a war, I desperately needed a second chance to make something of my life. So did many of my classmates, as I learned gradually. In my classes there were people who were equally eager to make it: a single mother who had returned to high school after a long delay, a rehabilitated alcoholic who sought a new life, a woman forced by poverty to quit school when she was a young girl and now wanted a second chance. Everyone had a story, a story of courage and endurance. We sat side-by-side, learning, dreaming, and aiming for a better life. 

I learned about the best aspects of Canada in WAEC: an open, kind, tolerant, and fair environment; a place where students were valued, where their dreams, hard work, and perseverance were appreciated and rewarded.  

Can you tell us about your life post-graduation from WAEC? 

I graduated with a PhD in Theoretical Chemistry from the University of Toronto and continued my postdoctoral work at the University of California in Santa Barbara at first and later at the Department of Medical Sciences and Genetics at the University of Toronto. 

I left science and engaged in literature, dance, storytelling, and arts organization and arts education. 

What made you decide to reconnect with WAEC and create these two awards for WAEC graduates?

My husband (Dr. Jafar Shaker) and I offered two prizes in humanities and social sciences. This has been a long-time dream of mine. I will never forget the moment when I received five calls from WAEC about winning five Book Awards (4.5 actually, because the award in biology was divided between myself and another student). Since then, I have wanted to share that moment by giving back to another student. The mention of the awards in my university application was very helpful to me and later on when applying for scholarships.

Also, I applied for the University of Winnipeg Alumni Scholarship. Mr. MacKay, the counsellor, was the kindest, most supportive. I think Dina Granove, my math teacher, also wrote on my behalf. These experiences instilled in me a sense of responsibility and obligation to foster that spirit of caring and giving. 

How do you feel about this upcoming opportunity to visit your old school?

I can’t wait. I am ecstatic. To meet my very kind, supportive teachers, and the counsellor who were kind beyond words. They wanted the best for their students, and they didn’t care where the student was from or how long she/he had been in Canada. I have only two words for them: Thank You! 

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