Conversations with valedictorians: Jennifer Chan, Faculty of Arts

"Don’t take classes you don’t like, you will always do better on classes that you care about."

McGill’s valedictorians are outstanding undergraduate students whose strong academic performance, leadership and community involvement has earned the respect of their peers. This year’s cohort, while coming from vastly different backgrounds, share enthusiasm, ambition and a well-rounded philosophy of life.

As part of our Spring 2019 Convocation coverage, the Reporter is conducting a series of Q&A interviews with some of our valedictorians.

Today, we feature Jennifer Chan, who is graduating with a Bachelor of Arts, Honours in Political Science, Minors in German Language and International Development Studies and will deliver her address on Monday, June 3, in the Arts afternoon ceremony.

“I’m honoured to represent the Arts faculty,” says Jennifer Chan. “There’s so much diverse research coming from our faculty and this is reflected in the student body… I’m excited to see where our passions take us.”

What program are you graduating from?
Honours in Political Science, Minors in German Language and International Development Studies

Calgary, Alberta

Why did you choose McGill?
I knew that university would be an opportunity to experience something new and have a change in scenery, having lived in Calgary all my life Montreal definitely seemed like just that.

One of my favourite high school teachers went to McGill and talked so fondly of his time here and of Montreal that it became my goal to get in, in high school. I had no idea what program I wanted to study but I truly believed that once I got into McGill, I could discover myself and grow into who I want to be.

What do you remember when you walked onto campus for the first time?
The first time I walked onto campus was after I got my ID at Service Point and I was so upset with the way my photo turned out. I got over it once I walked down the Y intersection and took in the campus for the first time.

I really remember and cherish this moment because it was the only time I think there was absolutely no construction on campus during my four years at McGill. A campus without scaffolding – what a concept.

What are some of the highlights of your time as a McGill student?
Every Open Air Pub for sure.

Some of my good friends and I were on the editorial boards for undergraduate journals or were published in them, so I loved going to journal launches.

I’m also proud of all the work that I’ve done in student government and in residence, like writing the AUS’ employment equity policy and welcoming three years of first year students into residences.

They’re also highlights because I’ve met and became friends with such strong, passionate and hardworking people through the student government and floor fellowing communities.

Three favourite places on McGill/Mac campus?

  1. Carrefour Sherbrooke: my home for three of my four years at McGill. Some things can be said about the cafeteria but I think the community is one of a kind.
  2. Schu6: This sounds sad, but I wrote my best papers there.
  3. Snax: The engine of Leacock, I can’t wait for them to get a chip reader for debit/credit.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced during your time here and how did you overcome them?
Academic stress, burnout, imposter syndrome and balancing my academics with extra curriculars and floor fellowing. These were my main challenges during my time at McGill and I truly believe that I wold not have been able to overcome them without my support network. I’m really thankful for the professors who made me feel listened to and understood, my mentors in residence and most importantly my friends who have seen and supported me through the absolute worst.

Other than that, SSMU meetings that lasted past midnight were rough.

What/who will you miss the most?
My friends and the relatively affordable cost of living.

What is next for you?
Working in Toronto.

Any long-term goals and plans?
I don’t quite have long-term goals right now because I still haven’t decided if I want to take the grad school path. But that’s fine because I have the time to figure that out now. I do have small goals for the summer like learning a couple new languages and reading for leisure.

Tell us about your Faculty and your classmates. What does it mean for you to be representing them as valedictorian?
I’m honoured to represent the Arts faculty. There’s so much diverse research coming from our faculty and this is reflected in the student body. The interdisciplinary nature of our faculty means that you can always learn something new from your peers. I’m excited to see where our passions take us.

Without giving away too much, what will be the message of your address?
Giving thanks to our support networks and recognizing the labour that builds our campus community.

What advice do you have for new students starting at McGill this fall?
Don’t take classes you don’t like, you will always do better on classes that you care about.

Talk to your professors and make those connections. I recognize that this is easy to say and difficult to do. Up until third year, I was convinced that I was wasting my professors’ time if I went to ask them for help or for feedback. This is frustrating because there are others who will feel entitled to their professors’ time while you’re sweating over sending a simple email. Finding a professor who supports and understands you can change the way you approach academics. I acknowledge that this will be more difficult for folks coming from marginalized backgrounds or those with research interests that are related to personal identities. It’s emotionally draining to do research on systemic oppression, especially when it means recognizing and learning more about personal inherited trauma.

Lastly, learn to use the library and research resources. After I started checking out books and resources from the library I found that my papers and research quality went up. Also learn to use the citation platform Zotero, it truly is a game changer.