International student graduates head of the class at Niagara College

This article was published on: June 20th, 2022

a student with long black hair wearing a striped sweater smiles at the camera

Jonhel Ampil to receive Governor General Academic Medal on June 24

She moved to Canada from Philippines to pursue studies that would help enhance her career, but when she walks across the stage to accept her diploma, Jonhel Ampil will have achieved much more as the top student in Niagara College’s Class of 2022.

The Niagara Falls resident, who completed her studies in Recreation Therapy with a 98.046% average, will be presented with the illustrious Governor General’s Academic Medal at her convocation ceremony on the morning of June 24 – the final ceremony to conclude NC’s five-day convocation week.

Awarded to just one student at each postsecondary institution each year, the Governor General’s Academic Medal is the most prestigious award a Canadian student can receive in recognition of academic excellence.

“It means so much to me. Being an international student and away from home, it made me feel that all my struggles and hard work have paid off,” Ampil said. “Moreover, it gave me the confidence that I can do great things if I just put my mind and heart into it.

“It also felt like I brought honour to my family and nation with this award.”

School of Community Services Associate Dean Carol Phillips said that Ampil embraced her studies and every new opportunity with enthusiasm and grace. Phillips applauded Ampil’s compassionate care for persons with dementia and other vulnerable populations, and for the collaborative spirit she demonstrated through countless group projects, which resulted in outstanding work and acknowledgement from her peers.

“Jonhel is a model example of a community services professional, whose heart is deeply rooted in caring for others,” Phillips said. “Jonhel always brought a joyful presence when working with her peers and participants at placement as she approached all of her work with enthusiasm and a bright smile.”

In her hometown of Quezon City, Philippines, Ampil spent four years establishing herself as an occupational therapist. Then she set her sights on attending NC to expand her skills and enhance her career. At the time, she was simply drawn to the idea of studying recreation therapy to apply the many benefits of combining leisure activities with rehabilitation.

Four months after starting her studies online, she moved to Canada with her partner Ryan Lacson to continue learning in Niagara. They will graduate together from the Recreation Therapy program on June 24.

Even before finishing her program, Ampil’s new career took off. Since March, she has been working as an assistant activity coordinator at Chapel Heights retirement home in Niagara Falls. There she provides opportunities for residents with dementia to engage in meaningful programming that increases their overall well-being.

It’s a job she loves doing because it gives her a chance to use recreation as an effective rehabilitation tool and grow her skills as a recreation therapist.

She also plans to get her occupational therapy licence so she can practice in Canada.

“[I’ve been] a registered OT in the Philippines since 2015 and gained work experiences in both the hospital and pediatric settings,” she said. “I believe that having both OT and recreation [backgrounds] would really help in my advocacy for a better quality of life for my clients.”

For nearly 150 years, Governor General’s Academic Medals have recognized the outstanding scholastic achievements of students in Canada. They are awarded to the student graduating with the highest average from a high school, as well as from approved college or university programs.

Niagara College kicks off its Spring Convocation June 20 and ceremonies will continue until June 24 to celebrate more than 3,600 graduating students from its Class of 2022. Eight ceremonies are being held for graduates to attend in-person at the Welland Campus – for the first time since 2019 – or to view via livestream for graduates and their guests who choose to celebrate virtually.

For full details regarding NC Convocation, or to view the schedule and livestreamed ceremonies, visit

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