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#UofTGrad17: Three things you should know about Reeta Roy

If hundreds of students from sub-Saharan Africa have been able to attend university around the world, it’s largely thanks to Reeta Roy, who is receiving a Doctor of Laws, honoris causa from the University of Toronto today.

The president and CEO of the MasterCard Foundation is being honoured for her “outstanding service for the public good, through her visionary leadership and transformative work to overcome poverty in Africa.” She's one of 16 people being recognized with honorary degrees by U of T in 2017.

U of T News asked each of the honorary graduates to share an iconic Canadian moment – a feeling or experience they wish each of their fellow graduates could share. Below, are three things you should know about Roy, including her Canadian moment.

Reeta Roy received a honorary degree from U of T today (photo by Lisa Sakulensky)

Why does her name sound familiar?

Under Roy's tenure, the MasterCard Foundation – which is based in Toronto and has assets over a billion dollars – established a $700-million scholarship program helping qualified and impoverished students from sub-Saharan Africa the opportunity to attain secondary and higher education. U of T was one of the first Canadian universities to join the program, with McGill University and the University of British Columbia. The first class of MasterCard Foundation scholars at U of T is graduating this month.

Read about graduating MasterCard Foundation scholars at U of T

Roy has also held senior positions at Abbott Laboratories and the Abbott Fund, and Bristol-Myers Squibb.

How she came to study overseas

Roy, who was born in Malaysia, went to high school and university in North Carolina, earning a BA from St. Andrews Presbyterian College (now St. Andrews University) on a scholarship. To pay for her trip to the U.S. and living expenses, her mother mortgaged the family's home, according to a profile of Roy in the Toronto Star

“To me, it was important that my daughter have a proper education so that she could stand on her own two feet,” Roy’s mom Sian Yin Chen told the Star.

Roy went on to complete a master’s in law and diplomacy from Tufts University, where she earned a full scholarship after her first full year.

Her most Canadian moment 

“I was privileged to be a part of a smudging ceremony last year," she told U of T News. “It’s something, I believe, all Canadians should experience in their lifetime. It is an ancient practice that embodies the spirit and the history of Canada’s first peoples. It’s an experience that provides a real connection to where we live.”