In conversation with Naomi Lyzun, valedictorian for the Faculty of Arts ‘B’ ceremony

"Studying alongside a cohort of some of the smartest students in the world, the level of academic rigour at McGill is unparalleled... I’m so excited to see what everyone will accomplish going forward!"

McGill’s valedictorians are outstanding students whose strong academic performance, leadership and community involvement has earned the respect of their peers. This year’s cohort is remarkable for its diversity, each having vastly different backgrounds, experiences, passions and goals.

What they do share is ambition, curiosity, and a desire to have a positive impact on the world.

As with most students, McGill’s valedictorians were challenged over the course of their studies. But, with perseverance, dedication, and the support of people around them, they thrived. The University has benefitted just as much for having them as valuable, contributing members of our community.

As part of our Spring 2023 Convocation coverage, the Reporter is conducting a series of Q&A interviews this year’s valedictorians.

In this instalment, we feature Naomi Lyzun, valedictorian for the Faculty of Arts ‘B’ ceremony on Tuesday, June 6, at 3 p.m. Lyzun will earn her BA, Honours Political Science with a minor in World Islamic and Middle East Studies (WIMES).

Naomi Lyzun

Where is your hometown? 

I was born in Kharkiv, Ukraine. After moving from Ukraine shortly after I was born, I’ve lived in Alberta, Nigeria, Jamaica, and Egypt throughout my childhood. Since I was eleven years old, I’ve lived in Toronto, Ontario.

Why did you choose McGill? 

I went to high school in Toronto, and having grown up in a city, I knew that I wanted to go to university in an exciting, bustling city while also exploring something new. Because of McGill’s great academic reputation as the best university in Canada, I looked into McGill further and visited the summer before applying. As soon as I toured campus, I fell in love with McGill and Montreal, and knew this is where I was meant to go.

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

Walking through the Roddick Gates and seeing the trees and benches lining the walk to the Arts Building with Mont Royal in the background, I was in awe at how beautiful and imposing McGill’s campus is. It felt so surreal and exciting that I’d be starting an incredibly important and new chapter of my life here, and that in being a McGill student, I would be part of the life that makes McGill’s campus so amazing.

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

On Activities Night in my first year at McGill, I walked up to the McGill Women in Leadership (MWIL) booth and joined the club. I’ve been part of MWIL since then, and have had the incredible honour of being Co-President of MWIL for the past two years. I’ve met some of my closest friends through the club, and it’s just been so amazing to be so involved in McGill’s extracurricular community and promote women’s empowerment. Proudly, MWIL was awarded SSMU Club of the Year in 2022 and 2023!

Pursuing my minor in Islamic Studies has also been one of my most academically enriching and personally fulfilling experiences at McGill. I got to explore a field that I was unfamiliar with, and I learned so much. Two of my favourite classes in Islamic Studies have been ISLA 330: Islamic Mysticism, which I took in my third year with Professor Khan, and ISLA 305: Women and the Feminine in Sufi Spirituality, which I took in my last semester with Professor Abdel-Latif.

Finally, my favourite memories as a McGill student have been the chats I’ve had with classmates right before a lecture would begin, or running into friends while walking on campus. Meeting so many amazing people and getting to explore Montreal with them are undoubtedly some of the best highlights of my time at McGill.

Three favourite places on campus? 

Lower Field – sitting amongst everyone outside in September after the summer to reunite with friends and, again, in April as the sun emerges from the cold winter months are some of the best experiences on McGill’s campus. (And, of course, honourable mention to OAP on Lower Field!)

Morrice Hall – some of my most intellectually stimulating academic experiences have been in classes I’ve taken inside McGill’s beautiful and renowned Islamic Studies building and department (shoutout to MOR017 – my favourite classroom at McGill!).

The third floor of McLennan Library – I know I’ve spent many hours writing papers sitting in the orange carousel desks by the window with a view of McTavish Street.

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

I’ll be working in policy for the Ontario Government. I’m super excited about the opportunity to work in the field that I’ve been studying over the past four years. In the future, I plan on attending law school.

Tell me about your Faculty and your classmates. How important have they been to your overall McGill experience? 

My professors at McGill have been so incredible, and it’s been so amazing to be taught by such an accomplished and smart Faculty. I’ve grown so much academically and personally from taking classes that have expanded my interests and taught me about the world, and I feel that I’m leaving McGill so much smarter than when I had entered.

Further, studying alongside a cohort of some of the smartest students in the world, the level of academic rigour at McGill is unparalleled. I’ve learned so much from my classmates and they have all been so helpful. I’m so excited to see what everyone will accomplish going forward!

Who or what will you miss most? 

Without a doubt, I’ll miss the amazing friends I’ve made and the people I have gotten to know during my time at McGill. Special shoutout to my McGill Women in Leadership executive team and my McGill Model UN friends.

I’ll also miss Montreal. This city will forever hold a special place in my heart. I’ve grown so much living here over the past few years, and I’ll miss my evening walks around the Plateau.

What advice do you have for new students to McGill? 

The years that you’ll spend at McGill will be some of the most transformative experiences you will go through. My advice: Enjoy all of it and take something out of everything that comes your way. Join a club that you feel connected to, explore the city, and when school gets overwhelming, know that everyone’s going through the same stress.

Do you have friends or family coming for Convocation? 

Yes. My mom, my dad, my sister, Louise, and my best friend, Camilla, will be attending my Convocation. I’m so excited to share this incredible moment with all of them.

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’m really passionate about women’s empowerment, and I think that there’s a lot of work to be done in achieving gender equality. Gender wage gaps, barriers to education and employment, and disparate access to sexual and reproductive health and rights are issues still facing women and girls across the world. Working alongside my team at McGill Women in Leadership makes me really confident that there are passionate, intelligent, and driven people who care about addressing such issues as we embark on our careers.

Do you have anything to add?

Thank you so much to McGill and my professors for making the past four years the best experience ever. To my friends, you are truly what made McGill and Montreal so incredibly amazing.