Hailing from as far away as Hong Kong and Romania and as close as Ormstown, Que., McGill’s six Valedictorians are nothing if not a diverse group. The McGill Reporter asked these six standout students a handful of questions regarding their time here and it is interesting to see where the answers differ and where they reach common ground.
They are: Emma Meghan Jones (EMJ), Bachelor of Nursing; Stéphanie Duchesneau (SD), Bachelor of Arts; Mike Conrad (MC), Bachelor of Commerce; Brendan Shannahan (BS), Bachelor of Arts; Alex Dobrota (AD), BCL/LLB; and Lorraine Wong (LW), Nutritional Sciences.
Q: What is the single-most important lesson you learned in a McGill classroom?
EMJ: Knowing when to choose your battles.
SD: To take risks and be ambitious when writing.
MC: The importance of unintended consequences.
BS: The best discussions invariably happen when people disagree but are allowed to disagree and discuss their views in a totally open and respectful manner.
AD: I learned how to read a text (whether legal, philosophical or other), how to attend to it extremely closely without losing sight of the larger context, and how to have fun doing so, remaining open to the novelty of the experience.
LW: To develop effective nutrition intervention and improve food security, it is important to scratch the surface to understand the community, and to step out of our comfort zone.
Q: And what about lessons outside the classroom?
EMJ: That we are lifelong students.
SD: I learned that as capable as you may be, it’s always better to accept help and advice from others as well as to share it. You’ll miss out on a lot of important lessons if you’re unwilling to work with your classmates and to listen.
MC: The value of my peers and my network.
BS: How much I value my friendships, how important they are to my own wellbeing and how important a balanced life is to being a good student and a happy person.
LW: I learned to organize and prioritize my life with respect to the three S’s – school, social life and sleep.
Q: Fondest memories of McGill?
EMJ: Springtime and fall on lower campus.
SD: The first and last couple of weeks of the semester when the weather is warm and the whole student body congregates on lower field in between classes.
BS: I think of the friends I made in residence who made sure that I put my books down every now and then. I also think of the professors at McGill who spent hours and hours helping me during my graduate school application process.
LW: Living with people from six continents and the smell of hard-working farmers at Laird Hall Residence.
Q: Funniest thing you saw/experienced while at McGill?
EMJ: Two young men and a woman running through campus stark naked, sporting animal facemasks, and this, just moments after I walked out of a final exam in my second semester.
MC: A student walked into one of my evening classes during a quiz, dressed in a Superman costume, and declared that he needed our help to save the world from sobriety. He then promptly turned around and walked out.
AD: Tradition at the Faculty of Law allots some of the most accomplished alumni a commemorative photograph on the walls of the classrooms. The counter-tradition, started a few years ago, has some mischievous young alumni strike very serious poses on black and white photographs that somehow find their way on to those very same classroom walls, next to those very revered jurists. The sight of one such photograph stopped one of our professors dead in his tracks in the middle of one of his most impassioned lectures on law and justice. Enraged
at seeing the smirking face of one of his former students on such a high place of honour, the professor exclaimed “I know this man! He didn’t do anything worthy to be on that wall!” And at
that, he tore the frame off the wall, much to the amusement of the class.
Q: What’s your favourite corner of the University?
EMJ: The path that leads up to Mount Royal in front of the McIntyre Medical Building.
SD: The Islamic Studies Library.
MC: The Bronfman Concourse.
BS: A quiet desk at the beautiful Islamic Studies Library.
AD: The fifth floor of the Nahum Gelber Law Library.
LW: The Ceilidh, which is Mac’s equivalent to Gerts. However, the Ceilidh is more than a student bar. It is the place where the freshmen orientation begins, it is where I ‘chilled’ with my
TA and professors during happy hour, and danced my night away doing the two-step with the farmers.
Q: What are your long-term career goals?
EMJ: McGill has given me insight into the challenges we – the freshly minted Health Care graduates of 2011 – face today, and will continue to face in the future if we don’t take action to change Quebec’s health care system.
MC: To become the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. I’d like to contribute to ensuring businesses around the world become completely sustainable.
BS: I’ve been inspired by many professors here and I hope to become a history professor. I love teaching and have taught summer classes before, but I have learned that I also love to do research and to add my own thoughts to existing scholarship.
AD: Building a legal practice that may contribute, albeit indirectly, to the development of commercial law and to the efficiency of economic transactions in the marketplace.
LW: I want to work in food security in developing countries, and to improve health and nutrition status of people through implementing public health programs. McGill has equipped me with the technical, organizational and leadership skills that help identify areas for intervention and allow me to implement appropriate measures to instigate positive change.
Q: How has your perception of McGill changed since you first arrived here?
SD: Initially I resented the independence that is expected of McGill students, but I’ve come to view it as one of the University’s strengths. It has helped me grow and to become self-
MC: When I first arrived, I thought the world revolved around academics. But over the course of my four years here, I realized that McGill, and its student organizations, have so much more to offer. My extracurricular experiences have contributed as much (or more) to my development as the material I learned in the classroom.
BS: I came from a town of 4,000 people, and I was worried I would be totally lost in a massive swell of people here. But I found my niches, and though I can’t say that I had the privilege to meet every student here, I have found a sense of community at McGill at both large- and small-scale levels – from the University itself, to the History Department to my own group of friends.
Q: What did you accomplish at McGill that makes you most proud?
SD: In my last year I started and managed a service to provide students with drop-in proofreading and writing advice. I am proud to have not only filled a leadership role but to have initiated the development of a service that I consider important, which will last beyond my time at McGill.
MC: Changing the organizational structure of the Management Undergraduate Society in 2011.
Q: Any advice for undergrads?
EMJ: Know your limits, be good to yourselves, and remember that within a few years all this will be a distant memory… one you’ll be happy to reminisce about.
SD: Be yourself from Day One. All of your experiences, relationships, and successes will be sweeter if you stay true to who you are.
MC: Don’t limit yourself to the classroom; there is so much more to experience and learn outside of it. Get involved; you won’t
AD: Remain open to the enchantment of university studies, both inside and outside the classroom, and to regard this experience more as an adventurous journey and less as a necessary step on a mapped-out career path.
LW: Take it easy. If you pull the string too hard, it will snap. If it snaps, it won’t play. Live your life to the fullest while maintaining a work-life balance.