Hailing from around the world, McGill’s valedictorians are a diverse, multitalented group. When they came to the University, they brought with them their unique backgrounds, passions and ambitions. While they all praise the education they received at McGill, one thing is certain, the University has benefitted just as much for having them as valuable, contributing members of our community.
These outstanding students have earned the respect of the peers who they represent through their strong academic performance, leadership and commitment to making the University – and the world – a better place.
While COVID-19 made it impossible for them to deliver their respective addresses in in-person ceremonies, they still have important messages to deliver. The Reporter has conducted a series of interviews with this year’s valedictorians.
In this, this instalment, we feature Lina Dieudonné, one of the valedictorians for the Faculty of Arts. Dieudonné graduated with a Double Major in Economics and International Development, Minor in Social Entrepreneurship.
What is your hometown?
Why did you choose McGill?
I chose McGill for three main reasons. First, it is obviously a well-ranked university internationally but most importantly, Quebec is a nice mix of European and Canadian culture. Coming from France, that was something appealing to me. I could both improve my English while still feeling at home.
Secondly, the French graduate system does not offer a lot of flexibility. You have to choose one subject to study and that’s it. At McGill, I had the opportunity to mix different subjects, take electives, etc.
Finally, there are a lot more opportunities for extra-curricular involvement in the North-American system. I would have never been part of so many clubs and completed so many internships if it wasn’t for McGill. Coming to Montreal for university was honestly one of the best decisions I ever made.
What were some of your impressions when walking onto campus for the first time?
I was genuinely impressed with all the historical buildings and the beauty of the campus, especially compared to French universities. The campus experience is not really something you can get in France. I remember exploring the gym with my parents and being in complete awe of all the athletic facilities that were available to me! The world seemed full of possibilities.
What are some of the highlights of your time as a McGill student?
Definitely my first year in residence at Solin Hall. I met most of my best friends there. I lived on the third floor and one of my friends had this apartment in the corner with this big living room. My whole group of friends used to hang out there in the evening. I’ll always remember nachos nights, two-bite brownies and that time we all ate a birthday cake out of the box with forks!
Some other great memories include the three-hour lectures on Wednesday nights for Social Entrepreneurship & Innovation during the Fall Semester of my second year. It is by far the best class I took at McGill.
What are your three favourite places on McGill/Mac campus?
The Geographic Information Centre on Burnside 5th floor; Birks Reading Room; and Frostbite in McConnell Engineering.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced during your time here and how did you overcome them?
I have had anxiety since I was young and definitely struggled with it over my time at McGill. Some classes were quite challenging; it was my first time studying in English and I put a lot of pressure on myself. I also missed home quite a lot at some points and felt kind of lonely.
I think what really helped me overcome these feelings was to recognize that I couldn’t always handle everything on my own. I was never shy to ask for help, may it be from my friends, family or from professional sources.
What’s next for you?
In September, I will move to Geneva to work as an Analyst for Dalberg, a global international development consulting firm. Their mission is to “build a more inclusive and sustainable world where all people, everywhere, can reach their fullest potential.” It was my dream job so I’m really excited about it!
Who will you miss the most?
The person I will miss the most is, without a doubt, Anita Nowak. She was my professor for the class I previously mentioned, Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and became an incredible mentor and friend over the years. I will also miss dearly my amazing group of friends!
What are your long-term goals and plans?
I am thinking of doing a Masters of Public Policy in a few years. In the long-term, my goal is to be a bridge between marginalized communities and people in positions of power. I would like to support such communities to create policy proposals that work for them and to lobby to get such proposals passed. I deeply believe that people who have experienced a certain problem are the best placed to solve it. Too often, marginalized communities’ insights get overlooked in the policy-making process, when they’re actually crucial to build a fairer system that works for everyone.
What advice do you have for new students starting at McGill this fall?
Do not put too much pressure on yourself, get involved in different things and remember to explore the city.
Sometimes we get so caught up in our day-to-day stress that we forget to enjoy our precious years at university. There are so many great on and off-campus opportunities to get involved (clubs, sports, volunteering, etc.) – don’t miss out on them. And please do not stay confined to the “McGill Ghetto.” Montreal is a beautiful city with so much more to offer. Get out of your comfort zone, buy a STM or Bixi pass and go out there!
What was your experience with the pandemic?
I spent my lockdown in Montreal so I did not have to travel to get home. It was definitely hard not seeing my friends and being confined at home but I can’t complain. I was extremely privileged not to have to worry about financial security or having a health precondition.
I volunteered a couple of times with Santropol Roulant to deliver meals to people at risk. I am now working part-time with a McGill professor for the summer and studying for the GRE [graduate school entrance exam]. I am also involved with the impact investment fund I co-founded with other students last year: the Montreal Social Value Fund; and a campaign for tax justice run by Resource Movement.
What was your experience with remote learning, and having to finish your semester (and degree) from a distance?
I have to admit it was very weird at first but, like all things, you do get used to it after some time. I definitely missed seeing my professors and classmates but the upside was that I could attend class from the comfort of my home. I also found it much less stressful to take my exams at home than in the Fieldhouse (plus they were open book!).
What helped me with “remote” study was to keep having a routine. I would still try to get dressed in the morning and follow a “to-do list” for the day. I found myself cooking more and eating healthier meals. I’d also recommend exercising or just walking outside, it does wonders!