Conversations with valedictorians: Charlotte Scott-Frater, Faculty of Arts

"I am consistently inspired by Arts students ability and willingness to challenge oppressive systems, and their ferocious desire to make a better university and world"

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, our fourth instalment, we feature Charlotte Scott-Frater, one of the valedictorians for the Faculty of Arts. Charlotte graduated with a BA in honours History, with a minor in Geography (Urban Systems).

Charlotte Scott-Frater, one of the valedictorians for the Faculty of Arts, graduated with a BA in honours History, with a minor in Geography (Urban Systems)

What is your hometown?

Why did you choose McGill?
I was impressed by the academics, and I really wanted to live in Montreal.

What were some of your impressions when walking onto campus for the first time?
I thought it was absolutely gorgeous – I loved the mix of architectural styles and how cohesive and contained the campus felt. However, what really impressed me was Milton Parc – walking through the neighbourhood after touring campus really made me envision what it would be like to be a student, and it made me really excited about the possibility of coming here.

What are some of the highlights of your time as a McGill student?
There are so many – I loved many aspects of my time here. My work with the McGill History Students’ Association is a particular highlight – I loved being able to connect and engage with the students in my department. Other highlights included classes that I loved, in particular HIST 431 (Civil War Memory) with Prof. Moore, HIST 437 (History of McGill) with Prof. Morton, HIST 440 (Fiction and History) with Prof. Partner, and GEOG 417 (Urban Geography) with Prof. Forest. These courses were really formative in my intellectual practice, and enriched my academic experience immensely.

Three favourite places on McGill/Mac campus?
Hands down, my favourite place is Leacock 629, the McGill History Students’ Association office. It’s a tiny, windowless concrete room that literally used to be a broom closet. I’ve spent so many hours there, hanging out and doing work, so it occupies a very well-upholstered spot in my heart. It’s the place I most visibly left a mark on McGill’s campus, because I built the shelving unit in there.

My other two favourites are the Dispatch Coffee in McConnell Engineering and the Vinh’s in the basement of the music building (with an honorary mention for Snax in the Leacock lobby). They provide a major public service.

What’s next for you?
I’m pursuing an MA in Urban Planning at the University of Waterloo.

Who will you miss the most?
I’ll miss my friends and my student community. They were what made the experience a positive one – it was such a thrill to always be around peers who were so curious, dedicated and engaged.

What are your long-term goals and plans?
Ideally, I’d like to be able to work with municipal governments to transform systems for providing affordable housing in major urban centres, moving away from a market-based model that privileges real estate developers. In the long(er) term, I plan to run for office at the municipal level, to represent constituents concerns and advocate for a more equitable city from a different venue. If that doesn’t work out, I hear that international art crime is a lot of fun.

Tell me about your Faculty and your classmates. What does it mean for you to be representing them as valedictorian?
It is an incredible privilege to be able to represent students in the Faculty of Arts. I am consistently inspired by Arts students ability and willingness to challenge oppressive systems, and their ferocious desire to make a better university and world. I hope that I can represent them to my fullest capacity.

What advice do you have for new students starting at McGill this fall?
I would say get involved, but everyone says that (you should still do it though). So instead I would say once you have the chance, live further away from the university. Living outside of the ‘McGill bubble’ opens you up to new experiences, and helps you feel like your whole life isn’t tied up in school. Also, you can get a nicer apartment for less rent. Get yourself a monthly transit pass and take advantage of the fact that Montreal is an amazing place to live, and that it extends outside of a five-block radius around the downtown campus.

What was your experience with the pandemic?
I spent the early lockdown in Montreal with one of my roommates, but I moved back to my parents’ house when my lease ran out. In terms of travel, I was pretty lucky – Ottawa is only two hours from Montreal, so my mom was able to drive down to move all of my things out and to bring me home. Since then, I’ve been working remotely on a project for the SSMU and knitting and baking in my spare time.

Given that the winter semester’s on-campus activities came to an abrupt end, do you have any special “last” memories (last lecture, last study session, last hang-out with friends, etc.)?
During reading week, my roommates and I went to the New York City. I met them during frosh and we’d lived together ever since moving out of residence, so we had wanted to do something really special. I’m so glad we were able to go on this trip together, right before everything came off the rails. There were a lot of other nice ‘lasts’ in the next couple of weeks – last time writing an assignment in my favourite café is a big one. I feel so lucky that I was able to build a community at McGill that made those last few weeks more wonderful than miserable.

Were you able to say goodbye to your classmates and professors, or maintain contact?
I was able to say goodbye to some of my classmates and profs in person, or at least through email and Zoom. I’ve been really trying to maintain those connections though – I’ve actually had a couple of Zoom reunions from some of my seminars, and that has been one of my favourite things about the lockdown.

What was your experience with remote learning, and having to finish your semester (and degree) from a distance?
I didn’t like remote learning, mostly because I really missed the experience of seminars – it’s much harder to engage in substantial debate over a Zoom call. That being said, the best tip I received was to treat all remote learning like I treated my classes – block off specific times for it and maintain a schedule. It really helped me maintain a sense of normalcy, and to feel less unmoored by the whole situation.