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Hilton Beach parade singer eyes career in sustainable business

Audrey Vair has come a long way from serenading parade-goers to Rotman Commerce at the University of Toronto's School of Business
Audrey Vair during a recent trip to Greece with her mother.

SooToday first spotted Audrey Vair at a community day parade at Hilton Beach on St. Joseph Island singing her heart out at the tender age of four years old.

Since then, Vair has used her voice in various venues and with multiple goals in mind.

The Superior Heights graduate wowed audiences with her voice in roles in school productions of musical theatre including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Beauty and the Beast and Mama Mia as well as a production of the Wizard of Oz when she was a student at Rosedale Public School.

"I always enjoyed singing and theatrical pursuits of any kind, being on a stage and being in front of people," Vair told SooToday.

She also participated in the Concours et Festival d’art oratoire (Canada's French Public Speaking Contest) in 2014, representing Rosedale in the grade 4 to 6 category after competing in her classroom and then winning at the school level for her grade category.

"That was one way in which I enjoyed being in front of people and sharing what I had to say," she said. "In other ways, it was sharing the emotions, the song or the message that I wanted to convey. That was first through dance, I did dance lessons for a very long time, and then it was through musical theatre. Doing plays and musicals." 

Vair graduated from Superior Heights in 2021 on a positive note, despite the complications of the COVID pandemic.

"Unfortunately, COVID took away the chance to do a musical in my grade 12 year," she said. "But, I was still able to leave high school on a positive note and able to speak to all of my peers one last time because I was voted valedictorian. I got to do a final speech, a final goodbye and there were a lot of important things that I wanted to say to everyone in the grade as we left for university or college or into the workforce or back for grade 13, or where ever we were going." 

As the valedictorian of her class, she gave her speech to an almost-empty football field, which she said was kind of surreal and she was filmed. Her speech was broadcast to her classmates, friends and family during the virtual graduation ceremony. 

"It was wonderful being able to watch it with my mom and grandparents when it was broadcast during graduation," she added.

Also in her last year of high school, Vair created and executed a project to serve people in need in her community.

"I wanted to make some sort of impact before I left for university," she said.

So she found a grant program and applied for funding to design and have masks produced for children who might not otherwise be able to afford them. She created several gender-neutral designs to print on the masks with the goal of making them fun and attractive to students.

Vair submitted her proposal to the Taking it Global Group, which was funded by the federal government to run the #RisingYouth program. She was granted funding to design and distribute face masks to young people in the community.

"I knew that the next school year was coming, that some kids might not want to wear masks in school. Or maybe there'd be kids coming to school with those blue disposable masks that might want to wear fun ones," she said. "I wanted to encourage kids to wear masks and make sure no one was left out of having some fun ones to wear to school."

She decided not to release her designs in public because she didn't want to stigmatize students who might have received them from a local social agency and be wearing them to school.

"We were all little kids once and we had a lot of exploring and learning about ourselves to do," Vair said. "That doesn't need to be made more difficult by being made to feel ostracized in any way."

After graduation from Superior Heights, she successfully applied to the University of Toronto's Rotman Commerce degree program.

"What I'm interested in right now is focusing on international business and doing a certificate in sustainability," Vair said.

She followed her passion for sustainability to the Rotman Commerce sustainability group in her first year at the University of Toronto lending her talents to the cause as a corporate relations intern in her first year and will continue next year in the role of corporate relations associate. 

"Joining that and finding a voice in sustainability, finding ways to advocate for the future, has been very important to me," she added. 

She also uses social media to share her thoughts about causes and projects she believes are important, especially in the areas of sustainability and social justice. 

Vair said it's important to share information that you've thoroughly vetted and comes from reliable sources but, with that caveat, social media can be an effective means of sharing what's important with the connected world -- a platform that facilitates her use of her voice to share what's important.

"Something I've learned from my parents is (the importance of) using your voice in the right way and advocating for things that are important to you."

Vair's mother, Nadine Robinson, is, among other things, a columnist for the Sault Star and her father, Tom Vair, is the deputy CAO of the City of Sault Ste. Marie in community development and enterprise services. She said both her parents demonstrate the importance of using reliable sources and aiming for the betterment of their communities in their work and personal lives.

"(They taught me) our word means something, our voice means something. The messages we convey mean something to someone whether that's on a stage, or through social media or through a valedictorian speech," she said.

She currently works with the University of Toronto Chapter of the Global Research and Consulting Group and is serving as the Vice President of Operations this year.

Last year, her time with the group was mainly spent consulting for not-for-profit organizations and this year she will be occupied with hiring, training, tech and finances.

"It really is a fun way to give back because it's giving us practice in a field of interest plus a chance to give back as well," she said. "This chapter has done consulting projects in health care, police department youth programs, and Indigenous education group -- with all sorts of non-profits in all kinds of sectors. We were all really excited to help make the community better through our work."

Rotman has a lot of different focuses for business degrees, Vair said. These are grouped into three main categories -- accounting, finance and economics and management. 

Her interest is in the management focus which offers a wide range of subsections for her to explore as she considers what direction she would like to take her career after graduation.

"I'm happy because I made decisions for myself," Vair said.

She said she's lucky to have a really supportive family that gave her the opportunity to come to the University of Toronto and broaden her horizons the way she has so far. 

"But, intrinsically there was a lot of work done to continue to be the little girl who was willing to get up on the stage and sing," she added. 

She attributes a measure of her success to her willingness to make choices that would take her toward her long-term goals, sometimes at the expense of short-term happiness. She said it's important to focus on what will make you happy in the long term, not just the short term.

"There were lots of times this past year where I would rather have done anything else but study. But, there's a reason that I'm here. I'm paying enough for this degree that I deserve to make the most out of it for myself." 

She emphasized the need to balance relationships, personal growth and a vision of what you want to be in the future and she credited her experiences travelling with her family as having done a lot to build her character and improve her perspective, teaching her to be humble and also see how things could be done better.

"I want to see more after seeing some and I want to understand more and to be better and to have even more perspective," she said. "You get a taste of who you could be and then you think, 'Oh my gosh, I've got so much more to do and so much more to see'."

The beauty of Northern Ontario is her motivation and this will always be her home, Vair said, but there is some sort of problem everywhere in the world with a solution to it to be found there. She wants to travel the world and discover those problems and the solutions to them and use her voice to share them.

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Carol Martin

About the Author: Carol Martin

Carol has over 18-years experience in journalism, was raised in Sault Ste. Marie, and has also lived and worked in Constance Lake First Nation, Sudbury, and Kingston before returning to her hometown to join the SooToday team in 2004.
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