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Family Ties

By: Sandro Frenguelli

Humans are social creatures. Our beginnings were spent huddled around Promethean fire, keeping each other safe and fed. Our more modern gatherings are spent squeezed on the family sofa, passing around boxes of just-a-touch-too-cold takeout bathed in the warm glow of a Netflix special – keeping each other safe and fed. Our world may look very different to the one the first humans inhabited but visible now, more than ever, is the one strong link, an undying ember, that connects our ancestors to our perch atop the peak of existence. We need each other. Isolation is just as worse a fate as any injury or sabretooth tiger. We really need each other. 

There is something transcendent about gatherings – the buzzing mass of bodies at a concert as the house lights go down, the hushed hand-clenching anticipation felt in the church pews as a couple is joined in matrimony, and the bittersweet adrenaline rush shared by every nervously proud student at a high school graduation. In 2001, Bree Callahan was beginning to discover that when we are together, we experience something greater than ourselves. 

For the Callahans, "Oaklands" became a member of their family when Bree's father attended the school in the early 1960s. Bree followed in his footsteps, as well as those of her older brother, first attending when she was in Grade 7. 

Listening to Outkast and Lauryn Hill, Bree would make the long trek up Farnham Avenue as early as she could in order to hang out in front of the lockers and catch up with friends before class. Bree's family was growing: Leah Gibbons, Kristen Bortolin, Carolyn Brown, Candice Gasparro, Claudia Memme, Carly Clifton, and Pauliina Beretta are just a few of those who would become more than just classmates to Bree.  

The Del girls took classes together, ate lunch together, and grew up together. Inevitably, some of this growing up involved making mistakes.

Bree's adept social skills would sometimes get in the way of learning responsibilities in the classroom, but Ms. Duarte, the Grade 7 core teacher, helped draw the line between downtime and work time. She kept students in line but was kind and fair. Ms. Duarte taught her class to be not only better students but also better family members.

For Bree, her Grade 7 teacher struck the perfect balance between having high expectations and understanding the struggles of being a student. She found that same balance in Mr. Shields, one of De La Salle's accomplished music teachers.

Trust is everything for musicians, and it was everything for Mr. Shields. This is because a music class, and the music that is created within, involves different people playing different instruments coming together to form a whole. Without trust and the understanding that comes with it, an ensemble, much like a family, devolves into a collection of individuals. Mr. Shields sat at the head of Del's musical family and, despite the sometimes chaotic experience of managing a classroom, he made it a point to always treat his students like adults. In turn, music became another addition to Bree's family. At school, Bree's musical interests expanded to include the trumpet, saxophone and percussion. She also loved playing the piano and would sing in a number of choirs. Her love of music would lead her to represent Del at competitions held in Boston and New York. It would also lead her to the stage. Bree performed in musicals mounted at the school, and in 2001, she played the role of Pepper in Annie.

Bree's draw to the ensemble also led her to compete in various team sports while at Del. She played volleyball in Grade 11 as well as basketball. However, a highlight for Bree came during graduation. In 2007, seated in the auditorium, shoulder to shoulder with her classmates and her family, Bree understood what it meant to be a Lasallian. Richard Ashcroft sang, "'Cause it's a bittersweet symphony, that's life." During her own time of bittersweet reflection, amid the tears and signing of each other's blazers, Bree knew that while her time at Del was over, the relationships she had built within the campus gates would last forever. This was not an ending but a beginning.

Bree attended the University of Toronto, studying life sciences. However, she would later pivot from studying Darwinism to Keynesianism as she moved into economics. After finishing her degree, Bree moved to Italy and taught English on the island of Sardinia.  

Upon returning home to Canada, Bree combined her love of music and social networking in her job at the Canadian Opera Company, working in donor relations. After completing the Canadian Securities Course, she then made a move from Queen St. to Bay St., working in the Canadian financial world. Bree again used her social networking skills in client management and portfolio analysis.

Bree then completed the Chartered Financial Analyst program and pivoted once again into the world of real estate investing. She now works for a company that manages and develops commercial real estate. As she says, "[We] buy buildings, put love into them, and make money when we sell them." Bree has found her professional home. She gets to flex her financial muscles while being connected to what keeps her going: the people around her.

"I like buildings … there's no TSX for buildings, so [the industry] is very people-oriented. People in this industry are normally very social." Bree loves the paradoxical nature of her industry. At the same time, she is analyzing sometimes abstract financial models while seeing the impact of those models on very real and tangible objects: the buildings that make up the city's skyline.

"[I] get to know a very physical part of the city, which I absolutely love."

Despite finding success in many fields and countries, Bree has never lost her connection to her high school. The Del girls may have grown up, but they still love to hang out. Del Girls' Night is an annual event organized by Del female alumni for Del female alumni in order to promote female leadership in Toronto. Bree was invited to help out during the first event and has been involved ever since. The attendees span a wide range of graduating classes but share networking as their common drive. "You may not be super in touch with people in different years, but just the fact that you both went to Del is a very strong connection and [that] … can create a very powerful network." The event is held in the school's Heritage House and features food, drinks, and guest speaker talks led by successful businesswomen.

More than number crunching, Bree is in the relationship business. At every stage in her life, based on her first experiences at De La Salle, Bree has brought together passionate, socially engaged people looking to make a difference. Bree's future will involve more family building. Professionally, she plans to stay in the real estate investing industry, aiming at becoming a partner at a firm. Personally, at the time of writing, Bree is three weeks away from expanding her family in a very real and wonderful way – she will soon be able to add "Mom" to her ever-expanding resume.

  • Summer 2021