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the diary of an almost-university graduate: finding your place

March is arguably the worst month of the Canadian winter, held up only by St. Patrick’s day celebrations and the occasional warm, sunny days that remind you better days are ahead.


I had a jam-packed month, which is why I haven’t written in a while. I love to write, but my love for the stage always triumphs. Well I finally found some time to write while in California (when I was avoiding that lovely March weather). I'm really looking forward to sharing my trip around California with you, but in the meantime, please enjoy this account of March at home.


At the end of this post, I'm sharing a speech I recently wrote and gave at my university program's celebration of excellence dinner. It was pretty excellent, if I do say so myself.


 

if you're here looking for just my speech and not the rest of the diary, you can click here to skip there

 

coffee house and brief trip to boston

March was a month of performing. The first was at a coffee house hosted at my university program society. These coffee houses are a lovely tradition – nights when the old wood-paneled mansion that hosts our courses becomes full of music and light and art and it’s usually a little too warm in there for comfort. I sang three songs with two of my best friends, Taylor and Ellie. Our voices blend in a way I never get tired of.


Three women sit on chairs in a wood panelled room, singing. The one in the middle plays a guitar and the one on the right holds a tambourine.
Ellie, Taylor and I sang Northern Attitude by Noah Kahan and Afraid of Heights by boygenius

 

The next day, I hopped in the car with my friend Sarah to drive to Boston and perform at a swishy bar’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Our friend Aquila invited us to dance, and we were happy to drive the 6 hours there and back just to dance a 15 minute set on a Wednesday afternoon. Adventures and all that. It was an audience of mostly finance bros in their Patagonia vests, but they seemed to enjoy the dancing all the same.

 

Of course my 24 hours in Boston included a bit of misfortune, as always happens when I’m present (see: cursed travel diaries). Luckily, this time, the chaos wasn’t completely my fault. We were already late to get on the train to get us downtown when Aquila realized she forgot her dance shoes. Unfortunately, as these are just about the most important thing you need to bring to a dance show, she had to turn and sprint back to her apartment for them.

 

We continued speed walking to the train station with Aquila’s boyfriend, and managed to make the train. We soon realized that our luck catching the train was in fact not due to luck, but because the train was stopped for maintenance. It was delayed for long enough that Aquila managed to make it to her apartment and back. We sat impatiently, put on our kilts on the train, and it eventually started moving. We were now officially late for our set.

 

As soon as the doors opened at our stop, we were running. When we got out onto the street and heard bagpipes, we started RUNNING. We managed to make it and all was well, but they had to cut one of the dances in our set. I was the unlucky person who ended up doing a duet, a solo, and then a trio all in a row. I thought I might have a heart and/or asthma attack, but I managed to dance well. We spent the rest of the evening having great food, long gossip sessions, lovely drinks, and so much people watching. Although, in classic me-fashion, I left my wallet at Aquila’s apartment, and we had to go back for it. You can watch a vlog of this adventure here!



 

third annual charity dance show

My next performance was at a St. Patrick’s Day ceilidh that I’ve now organized for three years running. It started as a chance for the dance performance group I am a member of, Shanachie Dancers, to organize our own show and dance under our terms. It became a charity show, which raises money for a different local cause each year. Year one was the Learning Disabilities Association of New Brunswick, year two was the local Youth In Transition shelter, and this year was Fredericton Community Kitchens.


Three women in black dresses with white belts smile and dance
Julia (left), Sarah (middle), and I (right) performing at this year's Ceilidh for a Cause

 

Going in this year, I wanted to raise more money than ever before – that meant finding a bigger venue, doing more outreach, and incorporating some games to drum up donations. We danced three sets, had three band sets, a mini golf contest, and my personal favourite, a “battle of the Atlantic provinces”. The idea, reminiscent of The Amazing Race, was from our friend Cindy (a recurring character here - see: Cursed travel diaries Calgary).


One audience volunteer from each province would learn a step from the basic highland dance, the Highland Fling, and then would perform it and try to get “votes” in support of their province (donations for the charity). The volunteer from New Brunswick was someone I didn’t know, but the volunteers from Nova Scotia and Newfoundland were two of my close friends, and the volunteer from Prince Edward Island was my father. When I was on the mic trying to get the game going and my dad volunteered to dance, I knew it was going to be fun.




A man in a black vest and blue jeans has one arm and one leg raised as he dances. Behind him, a woman laughs and claps.
Please enjoy this very low-quality photo of my dad dancing the Highland Fling and me laughing my ass off behind him


Even after three sets of dancing, we all went in for some group ceilidh dancing at the end. This is always my favourite part – no one knows what’s going on, the dance floor is half occupied by tipsy adults, the other half is over-tired children. Someone yells calls into the mic, and we spin and spin in circles and laugh our heads off and hold sweaty hands with strangers. You can watch a vlog that includes coverage of this awesome night here!

 

I finished the night at my friend’s house where we housed a party-sized garlic fingers. Perfect East Coast St. Patrick’s Day celebration.



 

celebration dinner (more like The Kate Show)

My final performance(s) of March were at the Renaissance College Celebration of Excellence Dinner. This end-of-term formal dinner brings together the faculty, staff, and students of my program, as well as their loved ones for performances, speeches, and general celebrations (it is called the celebration dinner, after all).

 

I chose to give the people what they want and perform a new dance solo at the dinner. I had been thinking for a few months about choreographing a new solo, as it had been a few years since the last one. When I had the idea to do it at the celebration dinner, it was decided: I would finally use the music I’ve wanted to dance to for YEARS. One of the most beautiful Celtic songs I’ve ever heard: Decade by Rura.

 

Last year at this dinner, I performed a duet with my friend and classmate, Callum. Midway through the dance, the fire alarm went off. My classmates still joke about the fact that we kept dancing even with the alarm blaring, but we are performers; the show must go on!!! All of the dinner attendees filed outside, waited 20 minutes (me and Callum shivering in our kilts) and then went back in. Callum and I started over and managed to finish the dance.

 

This year, while doing my solo, I managed to get through without interruptions on the first try. No fire alarms here. I got to wear my new baby blue dance costume, which makes me feel prettier than any costume I’ve ever had. It’s gauzy and gathered in the right places, and the asymmetrical skirt moves beautifully with me. It suits the music and the choreography perfectly.


A girl in a short blue dress stretches her arm to the ceiling. There are tables of people watching her on the left side
Yet another poor quality photo of me performing my solo.

 

My second performance at the dinner with the unofficial Renaissance College choir, run by my friend Taylor (another recurring character! see: Fall getaway to Mount Carleton Provincial Park). This choir began last year, when a group of us students got together to sing at the dinner. With a refreshed group and setlist this year, we continued the tradition.

 

This year’s songs were You’re Gonna Go Far by Noah Kahan featuring Brandi Carlisle, Landslide by Fleetwood Mac (in the style of The Chicks) and The Long Way Around by The Chicks. We're pretty much a The Chicks cover band, as we did Wide Open Spaces last year.

 

We rehearsed weekly for a few months leading up to the dinner, and everything came together beautifully. We sounded great, if I do say so myself. I sang and played the tambourine (fun fact: one of my hidden talents is playing the tambourine. Something I learned from the Youtube school of life).

 

As we neared the final lines in our third song, I did get misty eyed. As I’m graduating this year and this is my final dinner, it was bittersweet to sing the final few notes. I’m a choir girl at heart, and singing with my classmates is a memory I’ll forever treasure.


Four white people hug each other
L-R: Taylor, me, Taylor, Ellie
 

speech: leaving university behind

 

And finally, my third performance at the dinner. This year, my classmates honoured me by choosing me as upper year speaker. One student to give a speech on behalf of the graduating student body. I tried to write a speech that not only summed up the past four years, but also pointed our minds to the future.


I think I managed to achieve the best case scenario for a speech: I made everyone in the room cry except for myself. I did cry a fair bit while writing it but managed to hold it together on the podium!


I'm proud of what I wrote, and that’s why I sat down to write today: to memorialize my speech forever on the internet. Please find it copy and pasted below. Ignore any weird punctuation – it was written to be read aloud.


 

“You are the sum total of everything that has happened to you.” Dolly Alderton wrote that. It’s impossible for me to sum up everything that has happened to me over the past four years in a short speech, but I’d like to start by acknowledging the people who happened to me.

 

First, thanks to my parents for letting me mooch off of you for four years. Thanks to the staff and faculty at RC who made my experience what it was. Thank you to my classmates, who chose me to speak today. It’s an honour to be given that vote of confidence, but it feels particularly special given the occasion.

 

Academic recognition is always great, but the celebration dinner is, to put it quite simply, a celebration of all the beautiful things that come out of RC. It’s a celebration of our achievements in and outside of academics; of music, of events, projects, fundraisers; and it’s a celebration of community.

 

The word community is thrown around a lot at RC. It’s a large part of our curriculum. Things like our community problem solving course have taught me a lot. How to channel the passion we all share for making the world a better place into practical work. How to think globally and act locally. How to work with others, even when it feels a bit like pulling teeth – because no one can deny that we are more powerful in collaboration.

 

But that’s not the sense of community that I want to focus on today – what I want to focus on is the social connection fostered at RC. Sure, we all chose RC in part because we were drawn to the cohort model and group dynamics that come with that. But when a community initially begins to form, it’s subtle. You don’t notice how your life and work and learning have become so intertwined with those of a group, until your step back to appreciate the magic of the social learning that RC hosts.

 

All of the sudden, it becomes very hard to picture yourself without that social net.

It’s difficult to come to terms with the fact that whether it’s this year or a few years down the line, we won’t always be surrounded by these same people we’ve come to know so well throughout our time at RC. All of the sudden, it’s very difficult to imagine my life not living in the same city as the friends I’ve made here. But it is equally impossible for me to imagine what my life would be right now if I had never known these people at all.

 

The big decisions – the ones we stress about - like what program to take in university, shape our lives in obvious, monumental ways. But small decisions, like who to sit with on the first day, shape our lives in incremental, but equally monumental ways.

 

To my four cohort mates who were beside me for the whole four years: I’m eternally grateful that I experienced this phase of my life with you all; and that we got to learn with, and from each other.

 

People say that university is the best years of your life. There have been times that I’ve thought – God. That can’t be true; or if it is, that’s depressing. But there have also been times when I thought – they might be right.

 

I’ve spent countless hours writing, sitting in the library, fidgeting at my desk, reading some of the best and worst texts I’ve ever encountered, and sat through lectures both mind-blowing and mind-numbing.

 

I’ve spoken at conferences, written papers I’m genuinely happy with, failed tests, learned from the land, and cried in exams.

 

I’ve shovelled gravel, shucked corn, walked through knee-high bog muck, been covered in fake blood, built towers out of empty shot glasses, lost my wallet, sung around the campfire, cried in airports, and slept outside in -30 degree weather.

 

I planted thousands of trees, slept on many couches and various floors, almost thrown up from laughing so hard, done candlelight rituals, climbed ancient volcanoes, danced my feet off, and rolled my eyes so hard I thought they might get stuck.

 

I’ve sat with the soul-eating weight of the issues facing our world today.

 

I’ve wanted to shrivel up in shame, wanted to ring peoples’ necks, thought I might explode from the love filling my heart, thought I should just run away into the woods, and known I’ve met people who will walk beside me for the rest of my life.

 

I have never thought that I should have just gone into something more practical than philosophy.

 

One of the biggest learning curves in your first year at RC is that for all these big questions we ask of each other and ourselves, there are no answers. Let alone easy answers. There is no one right, one wrong, one past, one present consequence, one future solution.

 

Even with a lifetime to try and explain the mysteries of life and society, I think we would find something still missing in our explanations of things like friendship, effective collaboration, and connection to a physical place. A something; a force that underlies everything we experience and can’t ever be put into words. Sometimes we almost put our finger on it – that inexplicable force which keeps the rhythms of nature in motion and keeps our minds seeking.

 

One such moment of clarity in the face of such mystique that sticks out to me   happened just over a year ago. At Killarney Lake, a group of us students stood in the woods - in total darkness except for the light of the stars and moon, and total silence except for our breath in the air and snowshoes on the ground.


I know I wasn’t alone in the feeling, when things went supernaturally still. Like the unstoppable motion of the cosmos was paused, for just a few minutes, as we stood there like the trees.

 

It’s difficult to put the atmosphere of that moment into words – we were all left completely open to the world. We let our emotions hang in the air around us.

 

It's that force, the one I don’t think I was alone in feeling that night in the woods, that binds us together. It’s the inexplicable draw that exists between people who share in experiences that shape lives. it’s the undeniable connection you feel to those whose lives have become intertwined with yours. Whether it’s through the magic of the forest, or just regular RC bonding.

 

It’s an unfortunate reality that some of us in this room will lose touch. Maybe this is the last, if not the only, time we will all share the same space. As we inevitably leave this room, or this program, or this city, and split off onto what i imagine will be varied and always interesting lives; we won’t have the same relationships of proximity that we’ve enjoyed, or at least endured, throughout these years.

 

The people we will be tomorrow, the people we will become in a year, in three years, in 10, 20, 60 years... They’ve all been here. They’ve all seen through these eyes and felt with this same heart.

 

A fragment of me of me will always be left sitting in MJC. Another fragment will be running at full speed toward the roaring Atlantic ocean; another eating soup in the panel room, and eating spin dip at the Cellar, and meeting my best friends for the first time, and so on.

 

As that incomprehensible cosmic force turns us from “who we were” into “who we are”, I hope we cherish who we’ve been through these years. I hope we keep the ferocity of the wildest version of ourselves, nurture the tenderness of the softest version of ourselves, and cling to the nerve of the bravest version of ourselves. I hope we’re all the people we want to be, and not who we think we’re doomed to be. I hope we have the courage to be those people tomorrow, and not blindly trust that we’ll become those people a few years from now.

 

I hope that we find a way to worry less about “what we want to do with our lives” and focus more on what we want or need to be doing with THIS moment of our life.

 

I know I’m not the only one here who doesn’t know what they’ll be doing a year from now, let alone five years. I originally chose RC, in part, because I had no idea what career I wanted to go into and wanted would keep my options open. I always assumed, or at least blindly hoped, that at some point during these 4 years, I would figure it out. that at some point, I would have an experience that inspired me to pursue some specific end.

 

I would graduate and have a job or graduate program lined up and everything would be wonderfully civil and stable and comfortable. But here I am, at the very end.  Still not knowing. I got what I wanted. My options: Open.

 

RC doesn’t put us on a specific path. It doesn’t provide us with a step by step of what to do next, how to get what we want, how to find happiness or contentment or even financial security.

 

A black and white circular patch that reads "Set no path - Never lose your way"

Here, I return to the motto written on a patch I purchased in 8th grade: “Set no path, never lose your way”. When I was a teenager, it signified free spiritedness. the urge to never close myself into a box of conventionality. I still hold onto this sentiment, but it took on a whole new meaning while writing my learning portfolio last spring.

 

Set no path - There isn’t a set curriculum for us to memorize, and there aren’t set steps for us to follow when we finish the program.

 

Never lose your way – if we can continue to act upon the perspective we’ve developed throughout our time at RC – and allow it to continue to evolve with time, we can never lose our way.


The way I see it, RC prepares us to take on the world by building and refining our personal principles, and priming us to spend a lifetime reflecting and seeking new experiences. How can you lose your way when you’ve built a curious mind, and have a solid foundation of self-knowledge leading the way?

 

When it comes to career paths, I don’t believe in fate. There is no “path”. There’s a lot the world expects of us, but the idea that we should all come out of school with a plan that we will follow to a tee is a fairy tale. And not even a fun one. It’s terrifying – not having an instruction manual for what comes next. Especially when paired with the sad fact that we won’t be spending every day in the same old house that has been our home, and with people we’ve grown to love. 

 

But it’s freeing. It’s liberation from the fear of stepping off some imaginary pre-destined path - becoming truly lost in life isn’t something you have to worry about when you live with the acceptance that there is no path. That that perfect dream life you’ve been measuring your real life against – it doesn’t and has never existed. The path we end up walking in life is only blazed by us. It is by our actions; not our wishes or regrets that we move throughout the world.

 

I don’t fear not having a plan for 5 years in the future, because I have never had a plan for 5 years in the future, and look where my life lacking a 5 year career plan has gotten me – in front of a room of my peers who I respect and who respect me; feeling like I’ve learned and experienced so much, and feeling hopeful for the future.

 

As we leave this room, and make the decisions - big and small - that will draw our life paths, I hope we keep learning, keep experiencing, keep reflecting, and keep the memories of our time together held dear.


 

If you enjoyed that, please be sure to keep an eye out for my upcoming blog on my internship a few years ago in Iceland. For that post, I'm pulling from the same assignments that I pulled from when writing that speech! Thanks for reading, my friends <3

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