Photo of Bismah Khalid

2021 U of T Student Leadership Award: Bismah Khalid

The University of Toronto Student Leadership Award recognizes graduating students for their exemplary contributions and significant impact at U of T and on the university experience of their peers. This year, four MScOT students (Class of 2021) received this prestigious award: Congratulations to Bismah Khalid, Meera Premnazeer, Gobika Sithamparanathan,  and Marcus Yu.
Below,  Bismah Khalid shares thoughts on leadership as an occupational therapy student:

What motivates you to take on leadership roles?

My family has been my greatest motivation to pursue leadership roles within the university. As immigrants to Canada, my parents gave up many of their own roles, interests, and education to provide my brother and I with valuable opportunities. I feel beyond grateful to be able to attend a university with endless opportunities and support for any endeavor I choose to take. This alone has been the greatest motivation for me to become involved in meaningful initiatives.

However, the path to feeling comfortable in leadership roles has not been the easiest. I have frequently felt imposter syndrome stepping into these roles and never quite felt like I belong in these spaces. But these feelings have only motivated me further to carve out the space that I need to feel confident and best serve my community.

Tell me about the leadership role(s) you are most proud of, and why.

During my undergrad at UTM, I was involved in the early years of establishing UTM Global Brigades – a non-profit organization that strives to end healthcare and economic disparities through community empowerment. In the summer of 2018, I led our annual medical brigade to Honduras with a group of student volunteers from UTM. It was here that I learned about the value of community care and capacity for creating lasting change. This was a pivotal moment for understanding the “why” behind the work I was doing internationally and locally. I am most proud of my contributions to this organization and the impacts we have made in the communities we serve.

What advice or support can you give to students who would like to be active leaders but are unsure how to get started?

My first piece of advice would be to begin by exploring the spaces that you genuinely want to be in. Looking back, the most impactful leadership opportunities were the ones that I felt the most passion for. For example, I grew up in a family of musicians so music has always been an important part of my identity and self-care. At the beginning of the OT program, Robyn Sirkin and I created an open music group called “The Sagittal Bands” (pun intended) for students to come jam out or just listen. It allowed me to re-connect with my musical roots and foster meaningful relationships in the program.

My second piece of advice is to turn to the university for support. It is important to make your voice heard and advocate for the gaps you want to fill. UofT has a multitude of opportunities, financial support, and mentors that can help students make a meaningful change. But these supports will go unused unless you reach out yourself and ask – and if you don’t ask, the answer is always no.

Do you have any role models who supported and encouraged your leadership capabilities, and if so, what did they do to support you?

In these past two years, I have looked up to many of my peers in the OT program. My cohort has some of the most thoughtful, creative, intelligent, and innovative individuals that I have ever met in my life. I truly have gained momentum and encouragement to pursue university and community initiatives through their courageous and infectious energy.

How did it feel to be nominated for this award, and to be a recipient?

I feel incredibly grateful to be the recipient of this award alongside a few of my peers that I have had the pleasure of working with throughout the program. It gives me a lot of hope and confidence to continue to serve in my community even after graduating from the OT program. This has been an incredible way to conclude my six years at the University of Toronto.

March 4, 2021