In conversation with Zainab Khan, valedictorian for the Faculty of Education

"One of the biggest things that I have learned through my time at McGill is to always carry hope and kindness with me"

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 Zainab Khan, valedictorian for the Faculty of Education ceremony on Thursday, June 1, at 3 p.m. Khan will receive a Bachelor of Education in Kindergarten and Elementary Education.

Zainab Khan

Where is your hometown?

I was born and raised in north-end of Montreal, Quebec, specifically in Carterville.

Why did you choose McGill?

It was always a dream of mine to attend McGill University because it is such a prestigious academic institution. But the fact that the campus does resemble Hogwarts as well also helped my decision as I knew that I would always be surrounded by a beautiful view throughout my studies.

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

Walking through the gates of McGill for the very first time was extremely nerve-wracking but also exciting. I remember feeling happy that I was finally going to pursue my dream of becoming a teacher. I was also excited to meet other students and build new, long-lasting, friendships. In fact, I met one of my best friends on my first day of class!

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

Some of my highlights of my time as a McGill student was honestly meeting new people and growing as an individual. By being on the EdUS council and various committees, and attending different events with friends, it made my experience memorable and shaped who I am today. I have learned a lot from my time at McGill which I will continue to carry with me.

Three favourite places on McGill/Mac campus?

  • The Education Building, especially the newly renovated library.
  • The Lower Field during nice weather and seeing how lively it gets because it makes the campus feel more alive.
  • The Education Basement

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced during your time here and how did you overcome them?

Throughout my time at McGill while pursuing my dream of becoming a passionate and inspiring teacher, there were several challenges that I faced. These challenges included academic stress, finding a work-life balance and contemplating my career choice.

I am someone who values doing well academically. Therefore, I spent a lot of time studying and ensuring that I was doing well on my assignments.

Furthermore, while taking classes as a full-time student, I was also working full-time. This took a toll on my mental health as I was constantly either studying or working, thus not being able to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

I was also doing a lot of extra-curricular activities, which I enjoyed, but it proved to be exceedingly difficult and stressful.

I was not being fair with myself and my mental health, so I took the time to receive support. I attended workshops on time-management and had multiple discussions with a guidance counsellor to learn how to incorporate balance in my life. Over the course of the next few years, I worked on maintaining a better school-work-life balance and learned new skills and strategies to help me cope better with academic stress and my mental health.

As well, during my second year in the program, the Quebec government passed a bill that affected my choice to work in Quebec with my hijab. Bill 21 is a law that prohibits Quebec citizens who work in public services from wearing religious symbols while fulfilling civic duties.

Despite wanting to become a teacher, I was worried that I would not be able to find any employment in Quebec. This law forces one to either move out of Quebec or have to make a difficult decision regarding one’s morals and religious duties.

However, with support from family, friends and especially my amazing students, I decided to complete my degree and not let any barriers stand in my way. This challenge further motivated me to work harder towards my goals. I was able to change my negative experience to a more positive one as I learned how to advocate for my rights and find ways to support those that are affected by the bill as well.

By staying connected to my faith, morals, and beliefs, I was able to get through tough times and learn to be patient along the way.

What is next for you, both short and long term?

I am currently substituting at different schools around the area; however, I am hoping to receive a full-time teaching opportunity for the upcoming school year. I am excited to have my own classroom where I will be able to pass on my passion for teaching and learning in all my students. With a few years of classroom experience up my sleeve, I plan to take my teaching further and complete a master’s degree in Speech Pathology in the future.

Who or what will you miss most?

Surprisingly, what I will miss the most is simply being a student. I will miss attending classes with my friends. I will miss carrying an ice coffee while running up McTavish and being late to class. I will miss the late-night studying sessions over Zoom and submitting a crazy amount of assignments simultaneously. Even though most of my friends will still be in Montreal, I am going to miss seeing them every day as we each carry on with our different careers.

What advice do you have for new students to McGill?

Take the time to get involved in student organizations and committees. I know as you progress in your studies, it can be difficult to find the time to participate in extra-curricular activities, but it will help you meet amazing people, learn about diverse cultures, find new interests, and gain valuable life experiences.

Always take care of yourself and your mental health. Find something that helps you relax and wind down after a long day of classes and studying. It can quickly become overwhelming, so you should surround yourself with a great group of friends that will be supportive throughout tough times.

Lastly, enjoy yourself! No matter which program you choose, the next three to four years of your life will fly by. So, enjoy your time at McGill as much as you can. Explore the city, expand your friend group, and take spontaneous trips around the campus. These are memories and experiences that you will hold on to forever.

Do you have friends or family coming for Convocation?

My family will be attending my convocation and my friends will be walking the stage with me!

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?

Unfortunately, there are so many challenges facing the world today. From racism to mental health to the effects of the global pandemic, there is a lot for us to tackle and learn to resolve. But I believe that with our willingness to grow as learners every day, we will be able to address these challenges.

One of the biggest things that I have learned through my time at McGill is to always carry hope and kindness with me. I genuinely believe that by being hopeful about positive change and bringing kindness into whatever we choose to do, we will be able to make a positive change in the world. We will be able to find solutions for some of these challenges as long as we all work together and strive to make a difference.

Do you have anything to add?

Congratulations to all my fellow graduates. I hope you take the time to celebrate this great achievement with your loved ones. Continue to spread kindness and bring hope to whatever you do. Remember, how far you have come and not how far you have to go. Wishing everyone the best!