On April 30, the achievements of Black students in McGill’s Class of 2023 were celebrated at the annual Black Grad gala. Organized by the Black Students’ Network of McGill, the sold-out event was held at the Omni Hotel.
The event included speeches from this year’s Black Grad 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.
Julia Ayim is one of this year’s three Black Grad valedictorians. Ayim has completed a Bachelor of Commerce specializing in Strategic Management and Organizational Behaviour.
As part of the Reporter’s Spring 2023 Convocation coverage, we spoke with Ayim.
Where is your hometown?
I was born in Accra, Ghana, but I also grew up in Togo and Tanzania where I went to a French school and learned French and Spanish.
Why did you choose McGill?
I was the first of my siblings to come to Canada. My elder siblings chose to study in the UK, but I did not want to go to a city that was solely Anglophone or solely Francophone. I did some research and found Montreal. It was known for being a bilingual student city, allowing me to keep speaking French.
I chose McGill because of the reputation it had and the opportunities I could obtain through that. During a career fair in my high school in Ghana I met the CEO of L’Oreal, Sekou Coulibaly who is a McGill alumnus. He spoke to me about his experience as a McGill student. I could see myself being a part of McGill and studying in Montreal.
What were some of your impressions when walking onto campus for the first time?
I walked on campus for the first time in August 2021, one year after I started McGill. I was very excited as I had only experienced the Zoom version of McGill through my laptop screen. Seeing the University for the first time was a very special moment for me. It felt like a new beginning.
What are some of the highlights of your time as a McGill student?
- Planning Soul Food Fridays. This is a Black Student’s Network event that gives free food to the community and shares Black culture through gastronomy.
- The Desautels Hot Cities of the World Tour, in my final year. I had the opportunity to help plan the annual trip. This year it was to Accra and Abidjan in Ghana. I met inspiring individuals and explored my hometown, Accra, from a different perspective.
Three favourite places on McGill/Mac campus?
- The Sandiford Lab in the Bronfman Building basement. I worked there as an IT consultant and my friends would often stop by to spend time with me during my breaks which I appreciated a lot!
- The Black students space in Ferrier was one of the only buildings apart from the Desautels bubble (Bronfman and Armstrong) that I spent time in. I will forever remember the Black Students’ Network meetings and hangouts in that space.
- And the McGill lawn. Although most of the year we couldn’t use it because of the weather, seeing how lively it gets really makes me happy. Seeing people have picnics, playing volleyball, etc., makes the campus feel more alive.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced during your time here and how did you overcome them?
Adapting to winter and homesickness were my two biggest challenges. Living in hot cities and then moving to Montreal where it is winter a significant part of the year was an obstacle. I had heard about Montreal winters before but experiencing them was different. I was surprised by how much winter affects one’s mental health and influences their lifestyle. It has made me more grateful for summers and warm weather. To overcome the harsh winters, I tried winter activities such as ice skating, which was a fun experience.
As for homesickness, it really manifested itself during the winter and holiday seasons. At first, I was filled with excitement to leave Ghana after a year of remote learning and to start a new adventure. I felt like I was behind on experiences and had not grown as much as I wanted to.
Therefore, when Christmas and New Year’s came around, I was surprised by how down I felt about the distance between my family and me. Those were two holidays that my family and I cherished.
A solution I found was to travel. During the first break, I visited my family in the U.S., and during the second one, I was able to go back to Accra. Traveling is an investment, but for me, it was one that I was willing to make because of how much joy it brought me to be with my family in those moments.
What’s next for you, both short and long term?
I received an offer for a position at McGill for the Masters of Analytics Program as an Industry Liaison. It is a great opportunity for me to continue to develop my marketing, problem solving, and communications skills. This role will allow me to create opportunities for students through partnerships with different companies.
In the long term I’d like a job that helps me have a positive impact on my community. I’d like to create more opportunities for Black and African students. I see myself living in an African country, helping people build their network, have success in their careers, and achieve personal growth.
Who or what will you miss most?
I will sincerely miss the members of Black Students’ Network and the people I have met in this role. For the past two years I have been actively involved in the social portfolio as a project manager and then a Vice President. Although these roles were challenging, I loved every single aspect of them. I had the opportunity to express my creativity in a manner that created spaces for Black students to connect with likeminded individuals and feel a sense of belonging.
Moreover, connecting with professionals and service providers from various industries was so enriching. I felt the positive impact I was making from hiring Black caterers, Black DJs, etc., for Black people. I will miss that feeling of satisfaction.
What advice do you have for new students to McGill?
Growing up, my father always emphasized the importance of asking and trying, even when the odds seem stacked against you. At the time, my siblings and I would roll our eyes and ask, “Why bother trying if you know you can’t do it?”
But as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to appreciate the wisdom in his words. By following his advice, I’ve been able to unlock doors that once seemed shut and achieve things I never thought possible.
Most of my proudest achievements have come from stepping out of my comfort zone and pushing my boundaries, despite the little voice of self-doubt that often creeps in. I believe that God puts everyone in situations that are in line with His plan for them, and it’s up to us to seize every opportunity that comes our way and make the most of it.
Do you have friends or family coming for Convocation?
My family is still waiting to hear back from immigration for the visas to come here. Fortunately, many of my high school friends study in Montreal and have been my biggest supporters throughout my time at McGill. They will be there to shout when my name is called, and I am crossing the stage to receive my degree.
Anything else to add?
I am excited to see what the future holds for the next generation of members of the Black Students’ Network and for the Class of 2023 graduates. Always remember to spend time celebrating yourself and be kind to yourself and others!