Getting Real about Leadership: Sayjon Ariyarathnam

Posted by Rebecca on March 1, 2016

A YU Perspective

Man sitting at a round table, smiling and wearing a York University sweater.
Sayjon Ariyarathnam


In this YU Blog series, we’re breaking down leadership into accessible bites to help you unleash your inner leader. If you like who we’re profiling today, check out our first and second installments for more inspiration!

Sayjon Ariyarathnam is in his fourth year, pursuing an Honours double major in Criminology and Human Rights & Equity Studies. One might call him one of the foremost student leaders on campus, having participated in high-profile competitions such as the 2015’s President for a Day contest, where he switched places with our president, Mamdouh Shoukri. He’s also currently the chair of the Student Council of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (SCOLAPS) and is involved in many other activities on and off campus. Today, we get his perspective on dealing with the tough sides of leadership and how he strives to make the everyday extraordinary.

As is our specialty, we like to get to know our interviewees a little better. We asked him a few rapid-fire questions! Take a look at his answers.

Favourite book: The Firm John Grisham

Coffee or tea: It depends! I’m a tea guy green tea is my favourite. But right before an exam, coffee is the way to go, with three espresso shots in it.

Ideal day: I’d wake up, brush my teeth, do all that stuff and make myself a nice big breakfast. It’s the one thing I don’t have time for because I’m involved in so many different things. So my ideal day would start off sitting at home, making a breakfast and enjoying it. Then, I’d go to work at a law firm, and part of my work would have to do something with volunteering, or have some sort of humanitarian connection to it. I’m a Human Rights major, so I care about all kinds of social justice issues. I usually wake up at 5:30am to go to the gym, so doing that would be part of my day as well, preferably on my lunch break. I also volunteer and tutor in my local community.

Favourite way to unwind: Going to the gym. I recently got in to the kettle bell swing it’s a full-body workout that gets your heart pumping. I love it!

Speaking of hearts pumping, we asked Sayjon some deep questions about leadership and student life at York U.

What is leadership to you? What makes a leader?

One of the traits of a leader is to have a vision. To be a leader, you need to be able to inspire. I think those two things come together. The other piece of the puzzle is convincing people to buy into that vision. You can’t achieve a vision by yourself. The bigger picture is that visions require people to believe in you. That’s what leadership amounts to. It’s also necessary to keep people motivated by your vision that’s what my experience with SCOLAPS has taught me. In May, everyone is pumped, but by the time February hits, things start dying down. You need to be able to keep people on track and make sure they are inspired enough to continue, even continue that vision without you.

A photograph of Sayjon outside his SCOLAPS office.
Sayjon outside his SCOLAPS office.


How do you incorporate your interpretation of leadership into your everyday life?

It goes back to my first days of university. I first got involved in university politics and extra-curriculars in my first week at York, with SCOLAPS. At the first meeting, I met my mentor, Roshan G. Udit, and saw what kind of leadership he had. When I interacted with him, I realized that he was where I wanted to be. I joined as a member and expressed my interest in academic governance and politics, something he was interested in as well. I can confidently say I wouldn’t be the place I am without my mentor. I highly recommend everyone find a one!

I later got more involved as an executive assistant in my first year, advancing to the role of vice-chair in my second and serving as chair for the last two years. Through that development, I started to see different kinds of leadership, and learned from that. My third year is when I started implementing my idea of leadership. I sat down with my executive team, and came up with ideas based on what we want to do, what our values are and what we want our council to represent. That’s what I wanted to inspire in my team. It came to the point where even if I wasn’t directly involved, I knew I could count on them to work together and get the problem solved.

Aside from SCOLAPS, you’ve achieved a lot at York, much of which has been largely profiled. Having all of these successes comes with a lot of pressure to keep the momentum going how do you deal with that?

It’s definitely tough because I not only have pressure from friends and people at school but also from home and community members. I would say that the answer lies in itself for me, when you say you have pressure on you to succeed, that is motivation for me. To know that eyes are on me, to know that people are expecting me to succeed be able to shatter that expectation and go beyond is what motivates me. I have a lot of close friends, and we’re all very similar in that way. We’re all a part of different disciplines, but to see my friends accomplishing their goals encourages me to thrive in doing my own things. I’ve had my deal of failures, but you have to keep confident. If something does not work out the first time, sometimes you need to keep working at it to make it better.

Group of men and women talking in a conference room.
Sayjon attending a roundtable discussion as York U President for a Day. Image Source

Noted! Now, not all of our readers are as involved as you. Some are apprehensive or are simply not sure where to start. What do you say to those people?

I’d like to use an analogy my former dean always used. York is like a buffet. You walk in with your plate, and there are all these different dishes. It’s up to you to see how much you want to stack on to your plate. Of course, you can come to the buffet with an empty plate and go back with one. But have you learned anything? Sure, you have your education but beyond that?
My advice is to come to the campus and experience what York has to offer. We’re so diverse, and it’s one of our strengths. They do not have as many support systems as York, so take advantage of those. For students who feel lost, I would tell them to identify what they’re interested in and try to sample a little from each dish. If it’s not for you, you’re not obligated to stay; you can respectfully step out. I also dabbled into a few clubs that ended up not being for me. One experience does not speak to the entire York experience you could get. Don’t get discouraged!



We’ll keep that in mind! Besides recently being selected as a finalist in the CEO x 1 Day program, which allowed him to shadow Robert Courteau, the executive officer of Altus Group in Toronto, for a day on February 24, 2016, Sayjon had another dream come true in January: he was accepted to the Osgoode-Schulich Juris Doctor/Master of Business Administration program at Osgoode Law School. We’re happy to see him continuing his success at York U! Do you have questions for Sayjon? Let us know in the comments or tweet me @yorkustudents.


Rebecca M. is a third-year English major. She no longer blogs regularly for the YU Blog but may post on occasion as a guest-blogger.

See other posts by Rebecca

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