Valedictorian Speech

Note: this post was retroactively created on April 22/2019, after I noticed a transcript of my speech for our class valedictorian election back in mid-March. Re-reading the speech, I realized it make a fun topic for a blog post. You can skip directly to the speech transcript here.

Why make a bid to become the valedictorian?

I frequently skipped classes, vented about poor lecture quality, and my friends joked that my catchphrase was “the university doesn’t care about us”. Was this proper behaviour for a valedictorian? Definitely not. The real goal of participating in a valedictorian election wasn’t so much to get elected (though that would have been a nice side effect), it was to stretch myself outside of my comfort zone.

Public speaking can be scary. Back in 1A and 2A, to become elected as one of our class’ Engineering Endowment Foundation representatives, I gave speeches. During those speeches, my body was literally shaking. It wasn’t noticeable from afar, but I felt really nervous, scared, and panicky. It’s been four years and I’ve since gotten a lot better at staying calm during stressful situations and speaking in public. I wanted to challenge myself to give a final speech without feeling afraid or too nervous. Instead of being stuck-up and up-tight, I wanted to try to have fun and deliver a smooth elegant oration…kind of like how Obama presented his speeches. A bid to become the valedictorian offered the perfect challenge.

In addition, I’m inspired that throughout human history, heroes chose to fight for what they believed in despite knowing they would probably lose anyways. Overcoming the fear of other people’s judgement and doing what you wanted to do must have been an empowering feeling. It’s one of the few things politicians are good at. I wanted to challenge myself to develop the courage to overcome the fear of public failure (eg, not being elected) and to faithfully work on a project that I knew would likely fail. Entering into a valedictorian election offered a great opportunity, especially since it was a relatively public event and most of the other candidates were friends of the active voting base 😛 On the other hand, losing the election wouldn’t have left any serious repercussions so it was a safe environment to learn to handle public failure.

The theory behind the speech

In total, the speech took around 6 hours to write and ~7 hours to practice, including memorizing the content, changing intonations, and making minor edits. Most of the speech was centered the around the following ideas:

  • Reflect on the journey we took to get to graduation. Joke about common memories and pain points (eg, WatPD, 8:30 classes, WaterlooWorks)
  • Thank the relevant people for supporting us (eg, professors, TAs, family, friends)
  • Be inclusive and mindful that a valedictorian speech should not be about it me, it should be about all of us. (eg, acknowledging the challenges international students had to overcome, or that some students took more than 5 years to complete their degrees)
  • Point towards the future (eg, “the best times of our lives do not reside in the past; they live in the future”)
  • Don’t offer cliched motivational advice or personal life lessons. People aren’t interested to hear advice from a 23-year old, and it’s sort of pretentious to do it in a valedictorian speech
  • Have some fun and don’t take it too seriously (eg, mr goose. If I actually became nominated, I would have taken out some of the jokes)

In the end, I wasn’t elected, but did have a fun time. Unlike my speeches in 1A and 2A, I didn’t feel too nervous, and actually enjoyed the process, sometimes even going off-script to throw in a couple jokes! In that respect, my goals were accomplished.

My biggest mistake was not accounting for the time limit. The actual valedictorian speech at convocation would last 7-10mins, which my speech catered towards. However, our class elections had a time limit of 5:30mins. As a result, I rushed the oration and made it go too fast. In any case, participating in the valedictorian election was a good experience that cause me to step outside of my comfort zone.

Valedictorian Speech Transcript

Mr. Chancellor, Mr. President, Mr. Goose; family members, friends, faculty staff, guests of convocation, and fellow students – fellow Engineers:

We are gathered here today to celebrate the end of a journey. We are here to commemorate the passage of our time at this university. Today, we will graduate and in a short while, each of us will transition from being undergraduate students to becoming alumni of the University of Waterloo. Realistically, what this means is that you’ll start receiving phone calls asking for donations.

Most of us have been studying at this University for 4, 5, or 6 years. Some of us, even longer. Some of us grew up in this city of Waterloo, so attending the University of Waterloo was the natural next step; for others, we took a leap of faith to fly over continents and overcome language barriers to gain an education in Canada. Some of us came to this university for entrepreneurial pursuits; some came to participate in the co-op program; and some came because our parents made us come here. Regardless of our diverse background, regardless of where we came here or where we came from, it may be fair to say that coming to UW was the start of an interesting journey.

That journey began with uncertainty. When we first here, we didn’t know many people; we didn’t know our classmates; we weren’t familiar with the city; and we weren’t sure what to expect over the next couple years. It was the first time many of us lived alone or the first time we lived with strangers. We also studied a lot and over the years, we gained not just academic knowledge, but also general life skills.

Such as, learning how to cook proper meals without relying on a microwave; learning to be productive members of the workforce; learning to play office politics; and with such a diverse group of Engineers, we also learned about different cultures. We learned to become resilient against failure, to laugh in the face of defeat, to persevere against seemingly insurmountable odds, and to climb over a wall… of obstacles. Our time here at waterloo is defined not just by test scores or grades on a transcript, or whether we Cali’ed or Busted; our time here is defined by our unique life experiences.

Before closing this chapter of our lives, let us take a moment to reflect on the fond memories we made here. There’s a lot we’re going to miss about Waterloo.

We’re going to miss those 8:30 classes and 8:30 tutorials, and how in first year we rarely skipped them but by 4th year, it’s rare not to skip them.

We’ll going to miss the joy of cramming for midterms, cramming for finals, cramming to finish our assignments on time, and cramming to complete our FYDPs the day before the symposium.

We’ll surely miss the wonderful memories of using WW and receiving emails congratulating us for going to continuous round.

We’ll miss writing 20-page workterm reports and finishing WatPD assignments every Tuesday night.

We’ll miss all the good times studying, whether with friends or alone, furiously striving to receive better marks on a test that might have no impact on our future.

We’ll miss the freshness of alternating between co-op terms and academic terms.

We’ll miss the vibrant transition from teenage years to young mature adults.

And most importantly, as we part our ways, we will miss each other.

While our individual journeys at UW are unique, our collective journey shares common themes. Each of us here have earned our degrees, and we received support, directly or indirectly, from the community:

To our professors and lecturers, thank you for your wisdom!

To the TAs who went above and beyond your job descriptions to help us understand course material better, thank you for your initiative!

To our parents and family members who cheered us on from the sidelines, thank you for your support! And to those who helped pay for our tuitions, your financial contributions won’t be forgotten! (Doug Ford, Wanna make a political joke)

To our friends and classmates, thank you for your friendship!

To all the students who volunteered your time to enhance campus life, or provided anonymous words of encouragement over Reddit, thank you for your selfless contributions!

Last but not least, to our co-op advisors, …… yeah, who am I kidding. Let’s move on! (provide explanation)

All good things come to an end, and our journey at UW is no different. There’s the age-old saying that the best times of our lives are in university. Well, that’s just not true; that’s like saying the best part of co-op is WatPD. While we cherish our moments at Waterloo, let us remember that the best times of our lives do not reside in the past; they live in the future. A new journey awaits us and although we may feel uncertain, or unsure, or even afraid of what lies ahead, just as how we had felt on the first day coming to Waterloo, let us rest assured with the skills we gained from this university that we’re ready for this next chapter of our lives.

With that said, as we look towards the future while commemorating the past, graduating class of 2019, please join me in the symbolic tradition of throwing our hats into the air.

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