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2024 Encaenia
Kaitlyn MacNeill’s Valedictorian Address

Kaitlyn MacNeill's Valedictorian Address

Delivered May 23, 2024

Good afternoon, fellow graduates, King’s faculty and administration, family, friends, guests… I think I got everybody. Welcome to the 2024 University of King’s College Encaenia Ceremony. My name is Kaitlyn MacNeill, I’ll be receiving a Bachelor of Journalism Honours Degree, and I’m your valedictorian for this afternoon’s events.

Before we begin, I want to thank my family, my mom, dad, sister and brother. I want to thank every professor and faculty member who’s ever helped me throughout my time here. And I want to thank my roommates, Claire, Charlotte and Ha. I wouldn’t be graduating here today if it weren’t for each and every one of you. Sorry, had to get that out of the way, I’m trying to get a really nice dinner tonight.

Full disclosure: I am soooooo terrified. I did NOT think I was gonna get valedictorian, two years ago I wasn’t even sure if GRADUATION was in the cards, but life is full of surprises. If you went back and told first-year Kaitlyn she would be valedictorian, she’d probably, um, projectile vomit all over you, so… I feel like that paints a picture of who you’re dealing with.

When I first came to this school, back in 2020, I had a really hard time. I hadn’t read many classics, had no experience learning about philosophy, barely even knew what philosophy actually was, and it seemed like everyone around me knew all of this stuff by heart. My first year was completely online, so this added to the feelings of isolation I was already experiencing. I’m sure most of the graduates sitting in front of me today would have completed, or survived, the Foundation Year Program. Most students probably remember what FYP is, but for parents, remember when your kid had to buy like 200 books? And some of those books were the size of a mini fridge? And maybe one or two were the size of an actual fridge, I’m looking at you Divine Comedy. You could kill a small rodent with that thing, or a small child if you tried harder. I think we all deserve a cease and desist from Canada Post for how many large books we had to order.

But yes, FYP was a lot of texts, a lot of words, but mostly, a lot of lessons. I remember one of the first lessons we ever learned was Plato’s allegory of the cave. The ancient Greek philosopher describes a scenario in which prisoners are chained to a wall in a cave, with the light from a fire behind them projecting shadows onto the wall in front of them. The prisoners are restricted to seeing only the shadows, mere outlines of the world outside the cave.

Because this is all they know, they’re led to believe that any noises they hear come from the shadows, the only fragment of existence they’re limited to. And Socrates, let’s call him Plato’s older friend, believed that the work of a philosopher is to be freed from the cave and make sense of the world outside, where these shadows came from.

Now, I paid about 8 grand to learn this lesson, and I just distributed it to you all seemingly for free, so I will be taking commissions after the ceremony if you wanna come find me. Thank you. Gotta start paying off these student loans somehow.

Anyway, this allegory was something I had such a hard time grasping. I mean, the first time I saw it I was like “oh my godd, what’s an allegoryyy??? Isn’t that just an elitist way to say metaphor??? Which is an elitist way to say ‘thing that is like another thing’??? Just say that???” The language of the text was very inaccessible to me, and philosophy was never something I had tried to understand before, so you can imagine my intense difficulty.

Although this happened near the beginning of the FYP program, it’s the time I was really questioning my place at this school. Was I good enough for King’s? Would I ever be good enough if I was already struggling this hard at stage 1? Should I just throw in the towel now and save myself the embarrassment? I mean, the way some of my classmates talked about the texts was like they were born with this knowledge built in, like this was just a rehashing of old news for them, while it was like learning a new language for me.

Eventually, however, I came to a realization that changed my perspective. After Plato’s cave allegory, we started learning about Socrates, who famously said “all I know, is that I know nothing.” We went on to learn about Rene Descartes, who basically wrote an entire book trying to figure out if he was real or not. Almost every philosopher we learned about seemed to be starting from scratch with their ideas, chained to the wall of a cave which they had to emerge from. I came to the realization that the greatest thinkers in all of history, truly knew NOTHING. They came into a world that was incomplete, and made something of it. For this, they have been remembered and celebrated for centuries. Their words are published in countless languages, their ideas are taught over and over again to audiences across the world. People travel miles and miles just to admire statues, paintings of these people. And at one point in their lives, they felt like they knew nothing.

There’s a really great book called House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. Now, I know this is a big JUMP from what I was just talking about but bear with me, SEGWAYS aren’t my strong suit, ok? I’m not a mall cop. In the novel House of Leaves, a family moves into a new house, where the basic rules of logic and reality in our world start to bend. The inside of the house measures longer than the outside, new doors leading to dark tunnels start sporadically appearing and disappearing. I hate to spoil such a great work of fiction, but towards the end of the book, one of the people hired to explore the tunnels trips and falls off of an unseeable edge. He keeps falling, and falling and falling into nothingness, until time and space become obsolete, nothingness is all he knows, and he can’t even tell if he is falling or floating. This part of the book terrified me, because this is often how I feel about the future.

Graduation is such an interesting time, because despite having just dedicated four, five, maybe even 6 years of our lives to the art of learning, we are constantly asked, “what’s next?” and are expected to have an answer. Today’s fast-paced culture tells us that we need to keep pushing, always be working, never be comfortable. But this notion relies on logic, in an illogical world. It assumes that effort = reward, which is not always true. Our generation lives in a time where we see everything. Everyday I’m reminded that our planet is ruined, there are no homes left to live in, war is breaking out everywhere, education is scarce, people are dying, but you need to find career, get you life together, eat healthy, why are you sad, why are you angry, you should be grateful, life is good, no it’s not, the world is miserable, there are no jobs, but get a job for Christ’s sake, do your laundry, fold it properly, oh, another war!!! how illogical is that????? Everyday I’m faced with a new fallacy, and the unseeable edge seems to be creeping closer and closer. It’s terrifying.

But it’s ok to be terrified. In fact, you should be. It’s your human right to be. If I wasn’t up here talking to over 300 people, I wouldn’t be terrified. But if I wasn’t terrified, I wouldn’t be up here talking to over 300 people, and I certainly wouldn’t have my valedictorian bragging rights.

I keep hearing that in order to be successful, you should never be comfortable, and you can disagree with me here, but I don’t think that’s true. I don’t think a fulfilling life is one where you feel like you’re constantly being chased. I think we become fulfilled once we learn how to be comfortable with the discomfort.

When you can look at an uncertain future, an empty calendar, a dark abyss, with a smile on your face and hope in your heart, if you can look at the bleak state of our world with faith that things will improve, and courage to keep trying to better things, THAT is a true measure of success. So when people ask you, what’s next? What are you going to do with your life? Tell them you are going to live it.

Another thing I want to remind you is to feel the things you need to feel.

A lot of people, including yourself, will try to control your emotions, put them in a box and throw them away. Feelings scare people. We live in a world where contentment is the norm, and anything outside that needs to be fixed. But I believe that if you’re sad, you should be sad. If you’re angry, let yourself be that way. If your friend is scared, be scared with them, don’t dismiss them. Emotions are a good indicator that you’re still human.

So get comfortable with the discomfort. You’re going to be feeling a lot of it. But always remember that what feels like falling, might also be floating.

King’s is a really special school, I think we all know that. I mean, one of the first things they have you do is recite some kind of Latin incantation that probably puts a curse on a nearby town, maybe Wolfville or something, I dunno.

It’s special for these niche traditions, but it’s also really special because its students have so much heart, and take pride in what they do. You can tell when someone goes to King’s, and I think that’s such a beautiful thing. King’s students truly care. We care about each other, we care about ourselves and our interests, and most importantly, we care about the world around us, and we’re critical of it because we want to see it get better.

Although a lot of us are moving on, and leaving our years as King’s students behind, I want us to never stop caring. Ever. This world will beat you down, tell you you’re unimportant, that everything you believe is meaningless. It’ll try to make you believe there’s no use, that concern is pointless and we should give up. But the spirit that exists at this school proves that hope still exists, that there’s life worth living, and that caring matters. We all cared about our education, believed we could make something of ourselves and change the world for the better, and that is why we are all here today. So never stop caring, feel what you need to feel, get comfortable with the discomfort, and if you feel like you know nothing, remember that hey, Socrates is right there with ya. Thank you.


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