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Mary Kelly

Inclusive awards recognize diverse student achievements

“I like the idea of thinking about things that really matter to you in your life, and celebrating that in students,” says Mary Kelly, professor of Finance and Chair in Insurance at the Lazaridis School of Business and Economics, and creator of Laurier's Varietas Scholarship for students on the autism spectrum.

To be eligible for the Varietas Scholarship, students must self-identity as being on the spectrum, be registered through the Accessible Learning Centre and have high grades.

While many merit-based scholarships also require students to be active leaders or volunteers in the community, the Varietas Scholarship focuses only on academic achievement. That’s not because less is expected of the hard-working, talented students who are awarded the scholarship, but to recognize the different, yet equally valuable, capacities and achievements of students with autism.

“My eldest son has high-functioning autism,” says Kelly. “He’s not a community leader. He has a small group of friends. He’ll do one or two activities, but he wouldn’t be eligible for many of these awards because of his disability.”

Kelly is a long-time Our Laurier campaign donor. For many years, she provided general support for scholarships but when she was made aware that she was giving at the level of a directed scholarship (one in which she could name and determine the criteria for eligibility) Kelly started thinking about her son.

“It got me thinking,” she says. “You know, there’s an awful lot of students like my son on the autism spectrum who also look at these awards and think, no I can’t volunteer at these large and crowded and noisy events. They’re automatically cut out of so many scholarship opportunities. So that was when I thought, I want to create an award for students with autism.”

Kelly hopes students who are awarded this scholarship will feel recognized for their achievements. She wants her support to relieve some of their financial pressures and give them more space to engage with clubs or activities that fits with their passion and abilities. She also believes that having an award on their resumes may help with getting a job in the future.

Alex is a second-year Political Science student who is going to England this fall to start a Bachelor of Laws degree as part of Laurier’s partnership with Sussex University. After graduation, Alex plans to be an environmental or criminal lawyer, and make a difference in people’s lives through the justice system.

“Receiving the Varietas Scholarship showed me that my hard work and dedication to learning was recognized by Laurier, thus further motivating me in my pursuit of knowledge,” says Alex. “I would like to give my sincere thanks to Prof. Kelly for supporting this award.”

Kelly is excited about being an Our Laurier donor and about the power of scholarships to change students' lives – and how easy it is to do! “It’s actually really not that expensive to support one. Staff and faculty can even get together and set one up for something that they’re really passionate about,” she says.

To learn more about directed or general support for student awards, please contact Sabrina Yorke, Development Officer at

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