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2017 Encaenia
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Maggie O’Riordan-Ross’ Valedictory Address

Maggie O'Riordan-Ross' Valedictory Address

Delivered May 25, 2017.

Welcome: fellow graduates, and everyone who is here today to support us and celebrate our accomplishments. Thank you for asking me to speak on our behalf.

As a graduating class, we are unique. Most universities separate students into convocation ceremonies by faculty. At King’s College, we all graduate together, a mixed group from many different faculties at King’s and Dalhousie. The courses we took, and the places we frequented on campus all differ.

Despite these differences, there is a way to bridge the gaps between our formal educations, and argue that we do belong together as a graduating class. It depends on how you define education. One definition states that education is a process of receiving systematic instruction.  I scrapped this definition, because it reminds me of events of anguish, like building IKEA desks, or following the MLA style guide for writing essays. Luckily for us, another definition is far more optimistic. Education is the process of becoming enlightened.

The past four years have taught me that an undergraduate degree at King’s College and Dalhousie is about more than what happens in a classroom. Becoming enlightened here is about exploring who we are, and how we want to interact with the world we live in. Our education represents a stepping stone into adulthood, and this is what I will speak about today. Together, we have matured, developed new interests, and learned how to trust ourselves and reflect our values in our actions.

It feels appropriate to link my first theme, maturity, with our experiences in first year. This is when many of us faced the steepest learning curve, being fresh out of high school. I expected university to be like a long stint at summer camp. This impression was initially confirmed by orientation week. Preparing for events like cyber night, maritime night, and 80s night, I spent my first week at Value Village hunting for costumes, instead of starting my readings. Once classes started, I realized that first year would be more like boot camp. We sprinted through everything we did, from writing our bi-weekly essays, usually the morning they were due, to frantically securing roommates for second year. Eight months later, a lot had changed. We went from relying on Judith and Céline as our surrogate Prince Hall mothers, to only occasionally eating dinner with Mr. Noodle. We went from living on-campus, to signing leases—an impressive feat, even if our current housing doesn’t compare to the nicest student residence of King’s College, the Lord Nelson Hotel.

Maturity can mean learning how to make informed decisions. In first year, King’s provided the conditions for us to mature, without forcing it on us. This is the Foundation Year Programme. First year students have commitment issues, and don’t want to choose a major right away. As such, King’s developed a program that would expose students to many different schools of thought in their first year. FYP is like the beer sampler that I order downtown at Stillwell’s when I can’t decide what to drink—it’s a taste of everything, so I can make a more informed decision for the second round.

Maturity can also mean learning how to fit in. Many of us who travelled from out of province learned how to be true Haligonians in our first year away. Initially, our inexperience showed. On my first day in Halifax, I wanted to get off campus and explore. How do you get around in a city? You take public transportation. I asked an upper year student where the subway was. She pointed me to the corner of Robie and Spring Garden, where there is a subway. Restaurant. Now, many of us have 902 phone numbers, eat garlic fingers, and are proud to call Nova Scotia home.

But maturity isn’t the only lesson we learn outside of a classroom. A second part of education is developing new interests and branching out. I was always told that university would be a big place, and that I would be exposed to many new experiences. Then I got to King’s College, and realized it was smaller than my high school, and worse, most of the students had followed me from Toronto anyway.

But there are many benefits to attending this small school. Nerdy philosophy students can be recruited for varsity sports teams, and our professors here know us by name. I won’t get into the downsides of living in a community as small as King’s. But I’m sure that President Lahey can comment on the disadvantages of living in a house that is attached to a first-year student residence.

One of the biggest advantages of our size is that there are many opportunities for students to find their place within King’s College, and stand out. We find our place within a larger world through the activities that we do. Many of us led double-lives. At King’s, a student can study political science by day, and direct avant-garde plays by night. Or be a history student Monday through Friday, and a dance choreographer on Saturday and Sunday. Some of us held down multiple jobs while studying full time. I think Jon Brown Gilbert holds the record for working the most campus jobs in King’s history. I counted five? Other students have been on sports teams, representing the Blue Devils through the second EMSP program that King’s offers: Early Morning Sports Practice.

For me, education is not about systematic instruction, or following other people’s orders. Our education has been learning the conditions for free thinking. Because we have learned maturity, and developed and expanded our interests, we now know how to engage with the world with confidence. This is the formula of an undergraduate degree, regardless of what faculty one belongs to.

King’s College has taught us to be confident that our values matter, and to actively promote what we believe in. If we want our principles to survive, we’ll have to become players, rather than spectators. Judging by the past year, many of us are already there. Some students put together a fashion show that donated its proceeds to a local charity in Halifax—combining their passion for art with generosity. Other students organized an entire conference to promote curricula that extended beyond the scope of their courses. They prove that if you want something done, you should begin to do it yourself.

Thanks to King’s College and Dalhousie, we are more prepared to engage with the world with maturity and confidence. I hope that we continue to break the rules sometimes, and pursue careers and lifestyles that reflect the things in which we believe.

Today marks the end of this process of education. But I’ve learned that the end of one phase always means the beginning of another. Our next phases include anything from attending grad school, to beginning work, or going travelling overseas. But before we go, we have a few people to thank.

First, thank you to our friends and family who are here to celebrate with us today. Your support means a lot to us.

We would also like to thank everyone who helps King’s function from behind the scenes, from the facilities staff, to Sodexo, and everyone who works in the A&A building and the link. Many of us interacted frequently with the Registrar’s office. Thank you for guaranteeing that we graduated, despite our keen desires to take electives that had nothing to do with our degrees.

The King’s Library deserves our gratitude for providing a beautiful and supportive environment for us to learn in. I’m grateful that Patricia and Jen didn’t start charging rent to many of us who practically lived in the library for four years.

We would also like to recognize our professors. You were first introduced to us four years ago, in our Foundation Year tutorials. To us, our discussions were evidence of our intellectual breakthroughs! To you, they may have seemed like conspiracy theories thought up by teenagers. Thank you for your patience. Luckily, an undergrad degree teaches students how much knowledge they lack. Now thanks to you, we know in part.

Last, I’d like to thank my fellow graduates. A university is incomplete without students. King’s came alive because of our enthusiasm and desire to learn. Class of 2017, thank you for many conversations, usually shared over pitchers of Garrison, or samosas from the Galley. Thank you for being open to new ideas, and for being fun to grow up with! You are an unforgettable and inspiring group of friends.

Thank you