When she first learned she was nominated for valedictorian at King’s 230th Encaenia on May 23, 2019, Meagan Campbell was caught off guard. She couldn’t think of who would have put her name forward.
“I felt it would be a case of that scene from ‘Mean Girls,’ ” Campbell joked, alluding to the 2004 teen comedy. “A girl gets up on stage and starts talking about her problems and people in the crowd [yell], ‘She doesn’t even go here!’”
The journalism graduate did in fact study at King’s (and also played for the UKC Blue Devils basketball and soccer teams). Campbell, born and raised in P.E.I., began her Bachelor of Journalism (Honours) degree in 2012, but a summer position at Maclean’s magazine in Toronto after her third year turned into a full-time opportunity and put school on hold. “They offered me a job for a year, and I thought given the turbulence of the industry right now it’d be almost crazy not to take.”
It was a good fit for Campbell and for the magazine. She excelled at both the Toronto and Ottawa bureaus, writing stories on politics, health and heartbreaking tragedy, taking her to the centre of the country and back. A one-year contract evolved into a permanent position.
After three years of making her mark in the real world, the blossoming professional faced a tough decision. Campbell’s university credits were going to expire. Coupled with a growing instability throughout the industry, she chose to return to King’s. “I was keen to have that fourth-year experience,” she said. “Because they say in journalism—that’s the high point.”
It was a luxury being back in the classroom, according to Campbell. Newsrooms are busy and sometimes short-staffed. King’s offered her close mentorship and space to continue to improve her skills through the extensive fourth-year journalism workshops. “It’s a place where you’re almost expected to make mistakes and it’s not seen as a blemish or embarrassment.” Nonetheless, the journalist picked up right where she left off.
Outside the journalism program, King’s renowned Foundation Year Program and popular honours courses also played a role in shaping Campbell as a professional. “There are some thinkers [who] have hugely influenced my beliefs in what journalism should be, and how we should cover, say, the #MeToo movement, or how we should cover Islamic terrorism.”
Once I started getting going on writing, I realized I had a lot to say.
It was the beginning of April when Campbell found out she would be the one delivering the valedictory address at Encaenia. She was finishing up an audio documentary and setting her sights on an internship at The Globe and Mail in Toronto. The opportunity gave her pause for reflection. She had no idea what she wanted to say to a room full of her classmates, professors, family and friends but forced herself to put pen to paper.
“Once I started getting going on writing, I realized I had a lot to say,” Campbell said. It was a message she had heard since she was 12 years old and one appropriate for her own path.
Campbell’s mother did her PhD dissertation on people’s career transitions in the decade after they graduated from high school. The research showed most people carried this expectation, exacerbated by societal pressures, to go from high school to university to starting a career. “What she found is that this expectation is actually about 50 years out of date,” Campbell said. Nowadays, it’s completely normal to leave school for a bit, work for a while, change majors, and make pivots and detours in life, according to the valedictorian.
“The most common scenario is one of a lot of uncertainty,” Campbell said. “I think just by recognizing how regular this is, people might have a sense of relief. So, I guess what I’m going for is to provide maybe a breath of relief for people going forward.”
Encaenia happens May 23 at King’s.