Meagan Campbell's Valedictory Address

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Delivered May 23, 2019

Thank you everyone for making the trip and making the time to be here. Classmates, congratulations.

I hope it’s alright if I actually do this as a poem. I want to talk about a question – the question – of what we’ll do after university. This question is causing a lot of anxiety, and I know because my mother actually wrote her doctoral thesis on this very topic.

But this all gets a bit intense for a celebratory time.
So I’ll try to over-compensate by making it all rhyme.

Families, guests, faculty
If I can offer you a task,
There’s one simple question
You should try not to ask.

You know that the future
Gives us trepidation,
But it seems the go-to question
In every conversation.

Ask anything profound,
Our answers won’t be frugal,
Universities exist
For questions we can’t Google

But approaching graduation,
All good questions fade,
Goodbye, epistemology
Just one question remains.

It’s nine little words
That punch above their weight,
It’s, “What are you going to do
when you graduate?”

I think what you’re asking,
Is what we’ll do for work,
If we’re no longer in school,
It’s, “get to work. Get to work.”

Well, “get to work” starts to sound
Like “go party” to me,
“Get to work, to work, t’work,
T’werk, twerk.” See?

We’re in a gig economy
That’s out of our control,
And changes in technology
Could compromise our goals.

“What are you going to do
when you graduate?”
When an older person asks,
They should think about their own fate.

I’ll say, “I’m not sure,
It’s not fully in my hands.”
“What are you going to do
when you die? Any plans?”

Your question, it implies,
That a normal path should be:
High school, university,
Career. One, two, three.

In 2019,
We must change this expectation,
Almost nobody will go
Right into a vocation.

I know this to be true
That we don’t go one, two, three,
Because this was the topic
Of my mother’s PhD.

She did 100 interviews
Studied for six years,
To learn how young Canadians
Navigate careers.

She found that we meander
From school to work and back,
Try French, then economics,
Then yet another track

70 per cent of us
Will pursue a next degree,
But a master’s and a doctorate
Are still no guarantee.

University-level jobs
Are a bit overrun,
There are 4.7 people
Competing for each one.

Many people in the research,
Did build good careers,
Just not what they had planned,
And it took about five years.

Some said work, it paid the bills,
So they could help at home and help next door,
And if that’s not as good as a good career,
I’m not sure what we’re living for.

I hope it can be helpful
For us to talk this through,
Remember our reality,
When you ask us what we’ll do.

The stress around that question
Cannot be ignored,
We might jump into a job we hate
Or degrees we can’t afford.

And if you’re happy with our answer
You should start to pry
Consider if we’ve made that choice
Just to give you a reply.

You have a right to ask the question
Even if we hate it,
You want to know our plans
But perhaps you could reframe it.

Maybe you could ask,
“Can we help you navigate?”
Or, “What are you exploring
When you don’t know what awaits?”

If you start to ask the question,
It might not be too late,
“What are you going to do
When you gradua — I mean, grad … ually get some work experience in a field that might not relate?”

Ask us any questions
On ethics, art or liberty,
That’s why we went to King’s
But used all of Dal’s facilities.

Yes, we got the benefit
Of the school with larger specs,
Although if anyone conflates us,
We get touchy. Like Quebec.

Or ask about our slang,
What is “awesome sauce?”
Ask us, if you’ve seen us dance,
To teach you how to “floss.”

Ask us how we’ll vote
An election’s in the mix,
Ask what keeps us up at night,
And what we want to fix.

We’ve got a president to handle
A climate to repair,
Maybe one day Trump addresses
The “orzo” layer.

The “orzo” layer?
Is the sky made of pasta?
He might have this impression
So we better act fasta’.

We’re updating our standards
On language, love and race,
We’re questioning what beauty means,
We’re all about that bass.

Yet somehow on careers,
An old idea pervades,
We expect a simple path,
And some interns still aren’t paid!

I think we’ll change our standards
But I hope, in the meantime,
We won’t panic; this is normal,
And let’s think hard about our screen time.

Social media gets loud
The buzz can seem unstoppable,
Somewhere along the way
We forgot that it was optional.

Professors, thanks for putting us
On a learning spree,
We framed a hundred arguments
To frame this one degree.

Our other type of teacher
Holds just as many merits,
But your tenure never ends
That’s why we call you parents.

Sorry if we criticize you
On a daily basis
We take issue with most things you do,
And say so, to your faces.

Thanks for teaching us to get along
With friends, sisters, brothers,
Without you, we would not be here,
Or we’d be here, hitting each other.

Apologies again
For giving you such flak
You often hug your children,
And we should always hug you back.

We thank the staff on campus,
And the librarian, within it,
She’d come around each night to say,
“We close in 15 minutes.”

We’re closing now, I hoped somehow
I’d get a chance to say,
Our careers might not be linear,
And that’s okay.

To all of the grads
Who have no idea what’s next,
Know that this is normal
In an era so complex.

And to our families and the faculty,
When we return these gowns,
Just give us time to find our way,
We will not let you down.