John Joseph Honasan, York U summa cum laude: Raring to Make a Difference
By Beatrice Paez
TORONTO – Seven years later, with two bachelor degrees and the highest honour a young graduate can achieve under his belt, John Joseph Honasan has no plans of setting himself free to join the rat race any time soon.
Honasan, 26, named summa cum laude at York University, is running his own marathon. A speed talker, with a laundry list of goals, he is poised to carve out an interesting trajectory for himself.
Initially gunning for a career as a criminal lawyer, he switched tracks to pursue his flirtation with activism. Not veering too far from what he learned in his first degree in Political Science, Honasan earned his latest degree in Human Rights and Equity studies.
A trip to the Philippines in the wake of his father’s death transformed his perspective on life. Haunted by the image of a little girl living in squalor, he wants to dedicate the next stage of his life to giving back.
“I realized that I wanted to travel and that I love to help people…it stems from my faith and who I am as a person,” said Honasan.
His father, Romeo V. Honasan died of brain aneurysm just days after Christmas in 2001. The passing of his father spurred his visit to the Philippines, where he witnessed poverty for the first time.
“I didn’t know the magnitude of it all, but I found my passion at the same time,” said Honasan.
A staunch advocate in the fight against human trafficking, he has built an extensive portfolio of work devoted to curbing the illicit trade, particularly during sporting events.
Though debate about the link between an increase in sex trafficking and major sporting events like the Olympics and the World Cup rage on, he has worked with Free-Them, a non-profit organization, to put the issue on the city’s agenda ahead of the 2015 Pan-Am games in Toronto.
Having migrated to Canada from Saudi Arabia at two, he continues to build bridges between his adopted and ancestral homes in the Philippines. He worked alongside his uncle, Philippine Senator Gringo Honasan’s colleagues, doing philanthropic work for orphanages.
He has traveled to the Philippines four times in the last five years. His volunteer work also extended to working in squatters and local churches, where he handed out food to the poor.
School is out for the summer but Honasan isn’t scheduling any major breaks for himself. In the coming months, he hopes to launch his own non-governmental organization that will fuse all his interests – education, art, and human rights, together.
The scope and mandate has yet to be fully defined and narrowed, but he is in the early stages of filing the paperwork. His initiatives will be concentrated in the Philippines first and then expand to other countries where he has built networks.
He has yet to settle on a name for the organization but he plans to launch initiatives to build schools and create art programs for children in impoverished communities in both rural and urban centres across the Philippines.
This fall, he hopes to land a spot at Ryerson University to pursue a Master’s in Public Policy and Administration. Honasan isn’t immune from the piling student debt that many post-secondary students incur to get ahead; he has had to work 30-hour shifts as a specialist at the Apple store to minimize his debt load.
But Honasan isn’t worried about his student loans. “It’s good debt,” he said.
He credits his mom, Carmen Honasan for instilling his work ethic and for helping him chug along through what he describes was a challenging process to achieve his latest honour. His mother, a pastor and a nurse, is single-handedly raising three boys, while juggling two jobs.
Even with a mountain of obligations, Honasan said that he makes sure to schedule in some down time with friends, going out to eat and spending time on his own to pause and reflect. “To maximize my time, I schedule everything.”
The endgame for Honasan is to shape policies from his seat with a view of Parliament Hill.
His passion for human rights seems to have no limits but one of the things he would like to focus on is securing better access to clean water for First Nations communities living on reserves.
Though it was not customary at his university to address his fellow graduates, he has four words of advice to them: “Give your whole heart.”