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Philosophy student finds his place in the world

"How are you going to profit from philosophy?" For everyone who's ever announced they were going to study philosophy, it's a common question. Most people equate the study of "universal knowledge" with certain destiny behind the wheel of a cab or flipping burgers over a hot grille.
University of Toronto co-op student Shazam Mohammed has returned to Centennial College to tutor students, some of whom are in the same General Arts and Science program he graduated from three years ago.

Then there's Shazam Mohammed. Ask him about his passion for philosophy and Mohammed will talk your ear off, his energy and enthusiasm barely contained enough to keep him seated.

"The time you spend not knowing what to do with your life is one of the worst times of your life," Mohammed says. "High school was a difficult time for me. I was a slacker, I skipped a lot of classes." In his final year there -- at 21, the school board forced him out by law -- he hunkered down and took nine courses to prepare himself for college.

Mohammed told his guidance counsellor that he had an interest in psychology. He was advised to take early childhood education, the closest college program the counsellor could find related to psychology. Mohammed spent two weeks in an ECE class at Centennial College before he realized the advice was way off base.

But a chance discussion in the college registrar's office put him in touch with student liaison Sheila Draycott, who introduced Mohammed to Centennial's General Arts and Science program. She explained that the program was designed for students looking for a good foundation in college studies that can open doors to other programs at both the college and university level.

"I went to my first class, Concepts in Humanities, and knew I was on the right track. The teacher was very passionate about the subject; it

inspired me," recalls Mohammed. He took the University Prep option and spent the next two years at Centennial, immersed in philosophy, sociology and psychology.

"The program gave me insights into human behaviour. It helped me with my interactions with family, friends, even strangers," Mohammed says. As the son of hard-working immigrant parents from Trinidad, he found comfort and reason in the courses, which he could apply to the family dynamic at home.
  • Centennial's General Arts and Science program offers different options, ranging from one semester to two years, to fulfill a variety of student needs.
  • The program provides entry into Centennial's career-oriented programs, or qualified graduates may apply for academic credit to partner universities.
  • For more information, visit the website at

  • Mohammed graduated from Centennial in 2001 and enrolled at York University to study English and philosophy. But he found the long commute from Scarborough taxing, and soon transferred to the University of Toronto at Scarborough (UTSC). It was there that Mohammed's career objective began to gel.

    "I asked myself: what have I done fairly well and fairly consistently?" Reflecting on his extensive tutoring work at university, the notion of teaching struck him like a thunderbolt. And not just any teaching, but teaching philosophy. "When you discover what you want to do with your life, it's an epiphany," he says, beaming.

    "I want to be like John Artibello, the best philosophy teacher I've ever met," says Mohammed, referring to the Centennial professor who literally changed his life. "We used to sit on the hill at Ashtonbee Campus, eating pizza and discussing Socrates. It doesn't get any better than that."

    As a student in UTSC's humanities co-op program, Mohammed has come back to Centennial to work as an English tutor during the first of two co-op work terms. He finds tutoring enormously rewarding when he gets the lesson across to his student. "You can actually see the idea form in a person's eyes and face -- it's a visceral experience."

    Mohammed's career goal is still a long way off. He needs two more years to complete his undergraduate degree, then he's off to teacher's college. Eventually, Mohammed wants to pursue a Ph.D. But somewhere in between, he hopes to secure a teaching position back at Centennial.

    "My career goal is to teach philosophy and humanities at Centennial, because of the extraordinary transformation I underwent there myself. It really did save my life."

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