Conversations with Black Grad valedictorians: Yvan Kammelu

“The people at McGill are really what makes it special. I will miss the moments that brought us together, whether it's OAP or a 9 am exam at the Fieldhouse.”

Yesterday’s Black Grad event, featured a pair of valedictorians – outstanding students who 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.

Yvan Kammelu has earned a Bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology and a minor in Economics

Introducing Yvan Kammelu at yesterday’s event, MC Heleena De Oliveira praised his many talents – including those on the dance floor. “He’s one of those people who put the rest of us to shame. Having no shortage of talent Yvan is graduating at [from the Faculty of Education] with a Bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology and a minor in Economics,” she said. “And, as if that wasn’t enough, he’s also an athlete, a model, an artist and apparently a smooth Afrobeat dancer.”

As part of the Reporter’s Spring 2021 Convocation coverage, we spoke with Kammelu.

What is your hometown?

I spent equal amounts of time in both Abuja, Nigeria and Halifax, Nova Scotia, here in Canada. So, I would call either one my hometown.

Why did you choose McGill?

I initially considered applying to McGill because of my Dad. He had done a stage in Montreal back in the late 80s and early 90s and loved it. He wanted me to go to McGill so he’d have a reason to visit. I remember him threatening not to visit me at any other school except McGill. I researched and found that McGill was top three in Canada, so I decided to apply. You could say I had no choice, but I ended up enjoying it, so it worked out!

What’s next for you, both short and long term?

I know that I’ll be going back to school for a master’s program later on, but first, I want to gain experience outside of a school environment. So, I will be taking a gap year during which I aim to learn more about health care systems, particularly how they can be optimized.

Also, I will be preparing for the admissions exams I will need to apply for graduate programs.

I am interested in the cross-section between health and business, so I’m strongly considering a Master of Public Health and a Master of Business Administration (MPH/MBA). In the long term, I predict that I will be working in the space of health policy and/or promotion. Right now, I’m in the process of applying for jobs and internships.

What were some of your impressions when walking onto campus for the first time?

I visited McGill the July before my first year and was impressed with how it was immersed in downtown city life. It’s still one of my favourite things about the campus. I remember thinking the campus was so big that I would never get to lectures on time, but I quickly adjusted.

What are some of the highlights of your time as a McGill student?

I have so many! In my second year, I initially had difficulties balancing the new responsibilities of living in an apartment, keeping up with schoolwork, working and doing extracurriculars while maintaining a social life! So, finishing that year in the spring of 2019 was a great relief.

I vividly remember the last night of OAP. All my friends had finished exams, and for the first time in a long time, we could all be together – dancing and laughing – without the looming fear of a semester’s workload weighing us down. The music that night was exhilarating, and we quite literally partied the night away.

I often think back to this moment because it was one of the last times, I gathered with all my friends. I am very grateful to have this memory, and I hope to recreate it soon. One thing about my friends and I, we leave everything on the dance floor.

Three favourite places on McGill/Mac campus?

I like the McConnell cafeteria for a quick bite between lectures. The tranquility zone on the 6th floor of McLennan to reset, and the Ferrier building for when I need to get work done. I have only driven past the Mac campus; I hear it’s nice.

What was your experience with the pandemic?

Like most, I had my fair share of ups and downs! At first, I was thrilled at the idea of school/work from home, but as time went by, I missed having physical lectures or events to attend. It did get a little lonely around late fall. Just as it got warmer, my mood and motivation came up.

Have you been on campus at all?

Yes actually! I spent a bit of time towards the end of the winter semester studying at the library. It was nice to have the option to study on campus. I didn’t think it would be something I would miss that much but studying at Redpath was really grounding and helped me through my last exam season.

Who or what will you miss most?

The people at McGill are really what makes it special. So, I will miss the people I’ve met along the way. I will also miss the moments that brought us together, whether it’s OAP or a 9 am exam at the Fieldhouse.

What advice do you have for new students to McGill?

Put effort into meeting people and forming a community while you’re here! It doesn’t matter if you feel antisocial at first or as though you don’t fit in, trust me, everyone is nervous at first. There’s a community for everyone; you just have to locate your people. My group of friends have been my support no matter what, and I don’t think I would have made it through McGill without them. TL;DR Please don’t isolate yourself and try to find a balance between studies and fun!

What are your plans for virtual convocation?

I will be watching the ceremony virtually with my friends and family on the phone as we celebrate this big accomplishment!

What are some of the biggest challenges facing the world today? How confident are you that we can address these challenges and make a difference?

I believe a general trend for some of the world’s biggest challenges is inequality of access; what certain people or countries have in excess and dispose of, other countries and their people seriously lack. Moreover, there is an inequality of access that exists in the health field. If we consider vaccination rollouts globally, we would observe disparities in the type/quality of vaccinations made available between countries. This is an example of some of the accessibility issues that exist in the health field.

Based on the recent shocks to the health care system caused by COVID-19, I believe health professionals and policymakers have started identifying the inefficiencies that exist in our current system. There is still a long way to go but, I am optimistic that the solutions we develop can work to improve health systems globally.

A particular area that I am interested in is health promotions and in improving health literacy, which is an important and often overlooked component of improving access to health services. I like to think that my efforts in this field will help address these challenges somehow.