I never worked harder on anything in my life – 16 minutes of spotlight. Thousands of people were watching – over 400 of them my high school classmates. My Valedictorian speech is one of my most successful moments, one that I will remember forever. However, looking back now, after completing my first year at University, I realize there are some things I wish I would have said up on that stage. Some things I wish I could have told my classmates. So here I am now, with an apology to my graduating class.

I told them high school had prepared us for who we would become throughout post-secondary or wherever we were headed. What I didn’t tell them was that there was a chance we’d lose ourselves in the process. I didn’t tell them that this exciting new-found freedom would potentially be so overwhelming that we’d wake up one morning and not recognize who stared back at us in the mirror. I didn’t tell them this because I had no idea. I had been warned that friends might change, the people are different, and that those going away would mature and grow fast. I had no clue that in the process of this was countless breakdowns, upsetting calls home, and the largest identity crisis of my life. 

I told them we would find ourselves in these years, but I never told them to hold on tightly to what they had.

I told them we were ready for whatever was ahead and that we were prepared. The truth was, we weren’t. Nothing could have prepared us for what was to come. At least, nothing could have prepared me.

I was one of the most qualified, most ready for University. I was top of the honour roll, Valedictorian, involved in countless teams and clubs, and the recipient of numerous awards and a prestigious scholarship. I was the one no one had to worry about because, in their eyes, I was ready. My parents and teachers thought I was going to excel, no matter what. So even amidst warning my classmates that the transition would be tough, I truly thought it would be less so for me. Long story short, I was not ready. The beginning of my post-secondary experience was nothing that I expected, and my parents became extremely concerned for me. It was difficult. It really was. And the problem is that I never saw it coming. I didn’t take my own advice because I thought I didn’t need it – so, this is also an apology to my former self. I wish I could have warned you, prepared you for what’s ahead, but most importantly, reassured you that everything would work out. 

Another point I wish I could go back and touch upon during my speech is that time is truly everything. And everything takes time. I had a rough few months but things did get better, and everything did work out. Who knows how many people went through what I did: the difficult transition and the feeling of complete hopelessness and loneliness? I wish I could go back and prepare them for moments such as these. Who knows how many people sitting in that crowd dropped out, failed, or became something they never thought they would?

My dad wrote me a note and left it in my room when he helped move me into my dorm. It said don’t forget who you are. And I can honestly say I did forget. I got so caught up in this new life that I ventured far away from my old one. I could feel that I had changed, but the problem was I was not convinced it was for the better. I told my graduating class that at the end of the day, all you have is who you are. The first few months here at Queen’s really drove that message home for me. There came a moment when I stopped and realized that this is not the me I want to be left at the end of the day. 

I’ve spent every moment since not going back but moving forward. I understand that I will not gain back parts of myself, but I also understand that this is all part of the journey of life. You win some, and you lose some. You change, then change again, and then change again. We are constantly evolving and reconstructing, and everything we do – or don’t do – is part of our journey and personal growth.

After all this time, I am still trying to prove to myself that I am enough at the end of the day. At that moment during my speech, I was so sure of it. However, after the past year, I can’t help but look at all the mistakes I made, the things I regret, and the things that have gone wrong. Reflecting on the embarrassing moments, the hurtful moments, and the plain stupid moments brought me to a new place. A place where I wondered if what I am left with at the end of the day is even good at all. I was at a very low point going into quarantine, but I am happy to say that, at this moment, at the turn of the new year, I have regained my sense of self back. I have grown and am thankful that I am in a much better place with myself. Only recently have I started thinking that maybe what is left is good. It is going to take more work and more growth, but I am on the right track. And I wouldn’t be if it was not for the people around me who stuck by me through it all (and my former self, which I know is rooting for me from that stage).

To my graduating class, I am sorry I couldn’t prepare all of you for what was to come. I am sorry I couldn’t prepare myself. I guess that’s just life: you live, and you learn… and boy I have learned a lot.




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