Passport to education: Meet Cherie Novecosky, U of T Mississauga's valedictorian

Photo of Cherie Novecosky
"My experiences abroad were absolutely incredible,” says Cherie Novecosky. “I learned so much about myself, the direction of my career and where I wanted my school career to take me."

Cherie Novecosky’s road to graduation has taken her around the globe and back. The Calgary artist who lives by the motto, “Travel is the only thing you can buy that will make you richer,” opted for a backpack and plane tickets at the end of high school and travelled for six years before discovering the path that ultimately led her to the University of Toronto.

Novecosky will graduate in June with an undergraduate degree in art and art history, earned through the joint program offered by U of T Missisauga's department of visual studies and Sheridan College.

“This program is what brought me to UTM,” Novecosky says. “I wanted the academics, but I’m also an artist, through and through. The joint program offered me a really good balance and allowed me to study art and also attend academic lectures. I didn’t consider any other program after that.”

It was during her first year that Novecosky also realized her calling to become an art therapist. “Art therapy uses art as a medium for people to communicate and helps to get their feelings across," she says. "I originally wanted to go into social work, but I’ve always loved art. I use my own art to filter through what is going on. I realized that this was what I wanted to do.”

As a student, Novecosky threw herself into studio work, creating work with screen and mono print media and digital media. She also discovered a love of baroque art history through a course with Evonne Levy, a professor in the department of visual studies.

“I like the drama,” she says, joking that she doesn’t like drama in her life. “I also like the chiaroscuro technique and the drama between light and dark.”

Novecosky managed to add a few more stamps to her passport as part of her education. In 2015, she was awarded a travel scholarship through U of T Mississauga's International Education Centre to spend a semester abroad at New Zealand’s University of Aukland, where she studied Maori culture art history. That experience was followed by a summer abroad in 2017 to study modern art at the University of Siena in Italy.

"My experiences abroad were absolutely incredible,” she says. “I learned so much about myself, the direction of my career and where I wanted my school career to take me. It solidified everything – the lifestyle I wanted, how much I want to do art therapy and what kind of community I want to build.”

Novecosky’s busy schedule included volunteering, part-time work and campus activities. She served as vice-president of the student dance club and as the department of visual studies student society art and art history program liaison, and volunteered as a facilitator with an art therapy workshop at U of T. She worked as a gallery attendant with the Blackwood Gallery and as a studio technician in the art studios at Sheridan College, and volunteered as a program ambassador at student recruitment events.

“I'm happy to talk about this program because I love it so much,” she says. In her final year, Novecosky was recognized with a Gordon Cressy Student Leadership Award and was selected to be the class valedictorian.

As with any journey, Novecosky experienced setbacks, including the challenges that came with building a community far from her home in Calgary, and struggles with her mental health. Novecosky says she found support through Peel Crisis helpline and U of T Mississauga's Health & Counselling Centre, as well as with her student colleagues in the art program.

“Spending late nights in studios and preparing for early morning critiques forged fast friendships,” she say. “We shared in successes, and sharing the art we created helped to create a community.”

Her personal struggles informed her upcoming solo art show, which will be exhibited in June at the Faculty Club on U of T’s downtown Toronto campus. The show will feature work from Novecosky’s “BED SERIES,” which touches on the #MeToo movement and invites the viewer into an intimate space through watercolour images of empty, unmade beds (see artwork below).

“I focus on what the sheets say,” she says of her work. “When I was struggling my own mental health, my bed was both my best and also worst place, because I could stay in there for days.”

Novecosky’s address to the 2018 graduating class carries a message about sharing stories and about finding one’s voice. “During my time at UTM, I learned to develop my critical thinking and I’m now able to solidify my voice more and express my opinions and thoughts clearly,” she says. “My time here included struggles, but it was finding my voice and who I was that made me who I am. I’m grateful for the community who supported me.”

With her convocation ceremony on the horizon, Novecosky is on the move again. This time, she’s headed to the other side of the country to begin a master's program in psychology to support her future work in art therapy. While the next step in her journey will take her far from U of T Mississauga, Novecosky hopes to continue her connection with the campus, and plans to found a community of alumni in Victoria.

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