Lo hicimos – we did it!

It’s been quite a journey.

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I started my university career back in 2017. An eager, bright-eyed first-year student – excited for everything that my time at the University of Guelph-Humber had in store. I couldn’t wait to intern downtown Toronto, execute my final year capstone project – EMERGE, and finally walk down that stage to collect the degree and diploma I’ve work oh-so-hard for.

Fast forward four years and a lot has changed.

As I prepare for my virtual graduation, I wanted to take this time to reflect on my experiences, and share them with you. But, first let’s take you through a timeline of my, well, interesting university career.

Year one: the Ontario college strike

ontario college professors striking
Image courtesy of the Toronto Star.

My first year, much like the rest of my university career, was… different. Right when I was starting to get situated, got myself into a routine, and made some great friends – the Ontario College Strike happened, affecting over 500,000 college students across Ontario.

Oct. 16, 2017, marked the day that Ontario colleges voted to go on strike. When the strike was first announced, I was both confused and relieved. I was not ready for my Globalization midterm the following day, so it felt like a blessing in disguise at the moment.

I remember thinking: it can’t last that long, can it? Well, the strike ended up lasting until Nov. 21, 2017 – making it the longest strike the college system has ever faced. But, UofGH students were lucky enough to switch over to a virtual format a couple of weeks in.

This was my first online class experience, making the situation so much more confusing. I was unsure of what to expect, but luckily, all my professors were readily available to help make the transition as seamless as possible.

I didn’t know it then, but that experience would help me out a ton years later with our fully virtual school year.

Year two: Student Choice Initiative

Girl protesting and holding sign that reads "Our education is not the place to make cuts"
Image courtesy of the Toronto Star

Ah, the infamous Student Choice Initiative. Though it was eventually deemed unlawful, this was an incredibly difficult time for students and student unions across the province.

As someone who relies on OSAP grants and on-campus services – this put much of my post-secondary career at risk, but through activism from both students and student unions – including IGNITE, we were able to fight to have this initiative struck down in court. From writing and delivering postcards to the premier himself, to taking part in necessary marches and strikes, we were able to show the true power behind our student body.

Through the uncertainty and anxieties, we prospered and grew stronger from it, making me even more appreciative of the services we still have available to us.

Year four: global pandemic

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Probably the event I least expected.

COVID-19 took the world by storm, forcing us to turn to virtual learning for the 2020-2021 school year. It left students with feelings of isolation, uncertainty, and inherent anxiety. It cancelled our grad celebrations, our capstone projects, our study abroad trips, our in-person internships, and our final year of in-person discovery with friends and classmates.

But, for me, it taught me how to cope with the uncertainty that comes along with all aspects of life, how to practice the art of gratitude, it gave me the outlet to spend quality time with my family (and dog!), it taught me lessons I never thought I’d learn firsthand, it made me realize how lucky I truly am.

Plus, I gained a ton of skills that I know will benefit me (and others) in any career.

What I learned

Though these four years have been nothing short of eventful, I surprisingly would not change this experience. Within these four years, I learned so much that I know will be transferable to my future once I enter the workforce. I was taught skills that can’t be learned in the classroom, like how to be adaptable, how to work under pressure, and gained pristine time management skills.

These hurdles made for a group of powerful, resilient graduates, ready to take on any challenge thrown our way.

Here’s a few lessons I’ll take with me while I embark on this next chapter:

  1. Rejection is inevitable, embrace it – I’m sure we’ve all faced some form of rejection before and that’s OKAY. Embrace the rejection and grow stronger from it. A simple thank you email will take you a long way. At the end of the day, a ‘no’ today can be a ‘yes’ tomorrow so don’t burn those bridges! And, most importantly, don’t give up even when it all seems bleak. Better opportunities are out there if you’re open to them.
  2. You don’t have to be okay all the time – these circumstances are difficult. It’s okay to take a break from the go, go, go of everyday life and reserve some time for yourself. You’re allowed to have strong feelings about it and you’re allowed to actually feel them. Talk through your feelings with a counsellor or trusted friend – you’ve got this.
  3. Always say yes to opportunities – it’s always a good idea to add opportunities and experiences to your resume. Whether it’s through volunteer work or taking an unexpected job opportunity, saying yes will not only bulk up your resume but will also give you a positive track record with employers.
  4. Never stop learning – just because you’re graduating, doesn’t mean you have to stop learning. Take the courses. Have informational interviews. Hone your skills. Ask for help. Be eager to do more in any position.
  5. Network, network, and I cannot stress this enough, network – I wish I would have done this sooner. In a virtual world, networking is more important now than ever. And, it’s now even easier to set up a Zoom call or send a connection request on LinkedIn – take advantage of it.

So, class of 2021, pat yourself on the back because against all odds,

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In need of some more guidance? Check out all the advice that 2020 graduates had to share!

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