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Black and white photo portrait of Chris Ellens

Soaring Seventies Valedictorians

As part of our 60th anniversary celebrations during the 2022-23 we share stories from valedictorians across the years.  In this blog post you’ll hear from some of the valedictorians during the soaring seventies!   

Photo portrait of Alice Steggerda

Alice Steggerda (72) 

 During my four years at TDChristian my biggest dream was to become a teacher. I learned skills and developed abilities which helped me to achieve my goal. More importantly I was taught to look at the world through the lens of a Biblical world and life view, a perspective which never left me during my years at York University and later at the University of Toronto.   

After four years of teaching in a regular grade five classroom my focus shifted to an interest in special education. I spent two more years in university preparing myself. My aim was to assist a Christian school in meeting the needs of the wide range of abilities presented by children within its community.  I worked on this objective throughout my career in various Christian Schools in Ontario, Saskatchewan, BC, and Australia. Now that I am retired I have the privilege of volunteering in the library of a Christian school. It has been a joy to be involved in Christian education both as a student and as a teacher. 

Portrait of Joni Knibbe

Joanne (Ellens) Knibbe (73)  

“Looking back I can see how God was preparing me for the work I now do at TDChristian. Participating in events at the school is what mostly comes to mind. In May of 1970, I participated in the 30-mile Walkathon which was, we thought, a great way to raise funds for the first extension on the nearly-new building. Gary Hoekstra even wrote a song to inspire us. I remember putting talcum powder in my shoes, and even after the 10 hours that it took us to walk that distance, there were no blisters to contend with. Another event that stands out is that September day in 1972, when all the students were allowed to watch the Canada-Russia hockey game instead of going to class. There was so much tension in the room as we watched the black and white TV that was set up on top of a filing cabinet, until Paul Henderson scored that iconic goal, and the cheers exploded! I went on to the University of Waterloo and U of T, obtaining degrees in History and Education. While married and mom to six, TD was always a part of my life. The Rummage Sales, the Arts and Crafts show, volunteering as a chaperone on TD school trips, and much more. I am immensely grateful to my husband Norman who encouraged me to do some supply teaching once my children were all in school. Neither of us knew how important a move this was, as the Lord took him too soon. Since that time, I have been blessed to be able to join the staff at TD; every day it gives me so much joy to be working and serving with students and staff here at TDChristian.” 

Family portrait

Bernice (Koning) English (74) 

“I was the eldest in a family of six children, first generation of Dutch immigrants. Now as an adult, I see how that influenced many of my perceptions of myself. I was shy, introverted, and insecure in who I was as a person. Until through a friend, I came to understand that I could have a personal relationship with Jesus. This made a night and day difference in my life; I experienced His amazing love for ME, just exactly as I was! Since that day, I have grown in that love, through good times and hard times, always finding that He is faithful, and He is good! I grew in confidence knowing He was with me. When my classmates voted me to be their Valedictorian, I was mad at them, I was so nervous to have to make a speech. However, I believed that God had placed me there, so in prayer I went to Him for help. My speech was just hand-written on a lined piece of paper. I saw my classmates and myself, planted in a large garden, we were all unique and different plants/flowers. In our graduating, it was as if, we were being transplanted elsewhere – many in gardens then unknown. The Scripture in Ephesians 3:15 – 19, came to me, as a prayer for my classmates: “I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and earth. I pray that from His glorious, unlimited resources He will empower you with inner strength through His Spirit. … Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.” NLT” May this prayer bless all alumni and current students! Pictured: Bernice (in red) with her family and friends.  

Portrait of Gwen Veenstra

Gwen (Venema) Veenstra (76) 

 “In 1976, I chosen as the Valedictorian. It was an unexpected honour to represent the class of ’76 that gave me the chance to reflect over the four years we spent together. Memories from long bus rides in from Brampton, giggling at an embarrassed teacher who was trying to teach sex education to a bunch of squirrely grade nine girls, school wide assemblies, jogging the course behind the school, past the ‘hidden’ smoking area, cramming for exams… they all came flooding into my brain. Many good times, but High school was not always an easy place to be for a shy girl from Brampton. Thankfully in Grade 9 I joined the drama club and successfully auditioned for a part in the school play. Each year the highlight of the year would be the 1 Act Play competition with other Christian High Schools in Ontario or the annual School play. Through drama I began to develop confidence and skills that I continue to use to this day. After graduating from TD, I went on to get my BA and BEd at York University and immediately was hired as a Special Education Teacher for the Peel Board of Education. A few years down the road I met my husband Henry and over the next number of years our family grew with 3 sons (Wayne, Simon and Brian) and 1 daughter (Tina), all of whom were able to go to TDCH when their time came. God is good and has blessed us richly with these opportunities. TDCH provided a safe and strong Christian base for my voyage into public education as a post-secondary student and later as a teacher. It provided a wonderful place for our children to prepare for life beyond high school. It is our prayer that Toronto District Christian High School will continue to provide affordable faith-based education for many young students for many years to come.” 

Black and white photo portrait of Chris Ellens

Chris Ellens (78) 

Even in 1978 TDChristian was ahead of the technological curve. Valedictorian Chris Ellens shares memories from his time at TDChristian. “When I was in grade 10, whenever there was an upcoming Math test someone would inevitably ask the question “Will we be allowed to use a calculator?”. The teacher (Mr. Van Dyke, if I remember correctly) had a standard response: “Well are you going to be carrying a calculator around in your pocket every day for the rest of your life?”. With 45 years of foresight my witty response could have been: “No sir, not in my pocket, but on my wrist, and it will have built-in satellite-based navigation, instant communication with anyone else in the world, and searchable access to the compendium of human knowledge, not to mention a continuously expanding selection of frivolous umm… movies”. (None of us would have understood the word ‘video’ in that pre-VHS era). TDCH was actually ahead of the technology curve in the ’70s, with regard to teaching computer science. Of course back then computers were rare and inaccessible beasts that filled entire rooms. Colleagues of mine who attended public high schools back then have told me stories about doing their computer assignments by mail but TDCH was much more advanced. Thanks to arrangements made by Mr. Wieringa, our class had access to a real computer — an IBM Series 1400 (google it) at the U of T Faculty of Education. On our initial visit our teacher accompanied us and introduced us to the people who would help us operate the equipment, but after that we were on our own. That year we made several unsupervised trips to downtown Toronto via the TTC, elated at missing an entire day of classes. While getting hands-on experience with keypunch machines, card readers, and tractor-feed printers we also learned the importance of teamwork in completing assignments ahead of schedule! Chris Ellens resides in Ottawa where he gets paid to rearrange the 1s and 0s inside computers. He and his wife Saskia have raised three children to politely chuckle at Dad jokes, and yes, they did make a detour during one family vacation to visit Stockbridge, Massachusetts for a selfie in front of Alice’s Restaurant.”