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Finding himself and making an impact: Cordlyne Nwankwo, HBA ’24

Jun 18, 2024

Cordlyne Nwankwo

In his speech for the Black Culture Celebration earlier this year, Cordlyne Nwankwo, HBA ’24, likened the collective work at Ivey to support Black students’ success to a constellation: individual efforts may light the way, but they shine brighter together.

It was a fitting remark for the event, which Nwankwo and fellow HBA student Ryan Cunningham created in 2023 for Black History Month – and repeated again this year – to cultivate a sense of community and belonging for Black students at Ivey and Western.

“When we entered Ivey, there really wasn’t a Black community per se. There were 10 Black students, but we didn’t really know each other,” said Nwankwo. “We brainstormed the idea of the Black Culture Celebration one night before an exam because it was hard for us to be at an institution that didn’t recognize such an important month (Black History Month).”

Showcasing unity, pride, and diversity

The Black Culture Celebration is now an annual event for the Black Students at Ivey Collective (BSIC), a student club that supports Black students, and plans are underway to make it bigger and better. It’s just one example of how Nwankwo has made an impact at Ivey.

Whether serving as co-president of BSIC this year, along with Cunningham, or opening up to his classmates through poetry, Nwankwo said his Ivey experience helped him to speak up, stand out, and trust his intuition.  

“The program encourages you to be your best self and always put your best self out there. It makes you look within so that you can rely on yourself and your intuition,” he said. “I came into Ivey not really sure of myself. I’m still unsure of myself sometimes, but I know that I trust myself and that’s a key distinction.”

Developing a growth mindset

Nwankwo studied international relations during his first two years at Western and says the small-cohort structure of the Western programming helped him to find his voice for when he entered Ivey in his third year.

“I had a great relationship with my professors and colleagues at Western and got a lot more comfortable with voicing my opinions on a lot of nuanced topics,” he said. “That experience further encouraged me to step into Ivey where the classroom contribution is heavy.”

At Ivey, there was a real emphasis on critical thinking and more opportunities to speak up. Nwankwo said he particularly enjoyed courses such as The Performing Leader, where he did an eight-minute video reflection, and Sales Foundations, which focused on developing a growth mindset. Both taught him to look inward and discover himself.

“Once I looked in and embraced the things I’m good at or can get better at – adopted a growth mindset – that really helped me. I realized I’m capable of doing this,” he said. “Once I stopped putting pressure on myself to fit in and instead took a step back to just experience things, it really made me more at peace with myself.”

Embracing the power of poetry

Writing and performing poetry, a hobby begun in high school after a teacher introduced him to slam poetry through a class assignment, also helped him to find and express himself while at Ivey. Nwankwo presented poetry at the inaugural Black Culture Celebration and during an open-mic session for an Ivey course, and also shared poems publicly via an Instagram account. His familiarity with words was forged at a young age because his mother encouraged him to read the dictionary.

“I lean into poetry during tough times just to get my thoughts out of my head and contextualize them. It has been an outlet for me to become more balanced and express myself creatively,” he said. “But once I started pushing poems out there, people in the program started telling me they could relate to the poem and it helped them. It definitely helped me, but by helping me, it also helped others. To know that words of my experiences can somehow translate to someone else’s experiences definitely reinforced my interest in continuing it.”

The path to resilient leadership

Reflecting on his growth during the program, Nwankwo said it wasn’t always easy, but he appreciates how much the program pushed him to make decisions when faced with conflicting priorities and to focus on more than just getting good grades.

“I came into the program as someone who winced at a grade of 70 per cent on a report card, but the program shows you that you’re more than your grades – there’s something deeper inside that really is who you are. That was the biggest lesson for me,” he said. 

Having entered Ivey as a recipient of the Rise HBA Award in Resilient Leadership for Black Students, which recognizes community leadership and academic achievement, Nwankwo says he now feels he has lived up to that title.

“When I received the award, I didn’t feel like I fit into the mould of resilient leadership, but after what I’ve gone through in the past two years at Ivey, it’s like the award really shaped my experience. It helped  me to see that leadership isn’t something that’s easy or smooth,” he said. “The program helped me to carve my own path and that is resilient leadership.”