On June 14th 2019, I was invited to be the Guest Speaker for the University of Toronto’s St Michael’s College Convocation Ceremony. To anyone who may be confused about the use of University and College in one title, let me explain it for you. UofT (University of Toronto) has many colleges on campus which act as a community providing academic support, residence accommodation, social activities, athletic pursuits, co-curricular experiences and a lot more. I was part of the St Michael’s College (SMC), where I stayed on campus for the first 2 years. When it comes to graduation time, students usually graduate with the college that they are a part of, with a few exceptions.
On June 14th 2019, I was asked to be the guest speaker for the convocation ceremony. It was truly an honour, and an opportunity to share some of the things I’ve learnt since I graduated. It took many drafts to figure out what message I wanted to share with the students on such an important day, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to share it with anyone else as well.
The ceremony was live streamed and recorded so you can watch the whole ceremony here. My speech specifically starts around the 9 minute mark.
3 years ago, I was sitting in one of those seats, eagerly waiting to receive my diploma just like the rest of you. 3 years later, and I’m now standing here in front of all of you on one of the most important days of your lives. Thank you for having me, it truly is an honour.
I should have probably practiced this speech more, but I was doing what I suspect many of you were doing last night, which is celebrating the Raptors defeating the Golden State Warriors. Last night was an important moment in history. And today, is yours. You’re ending one part of your life and about to start another and I can’t wait to see what you have in store.
Since I got the email initially inviting me to speak, I’ve been thinking about my own graduation day, and the lessons I have learned since. People often come up to me and ask how I’m able to handle a full time job, running a non profit, pursuing other hobbies like photography or speaking at conferences while also maintaining an unhealthy habit of binge watching TV shows. Hard work and ambition have a lot to do with my successes, but it’s my passion that’s kept me motivated and moving forward especially if I hit a rough patch. In the last 3 years, I have learnt and understood so much more about what it means to have and pursue one’s passions, and I’d like to share a bit about that with all of you today.
As I settled on the topic of “passion”, I did what all of us have been taught to do. I went to google and I looked up it’s definition. Here are a few that I copied over; “Passion is a strong desire that can get you to do amazing things”, “Passion is an emotion to be acted upon”, and my personal favourite “When you have passion for something, you love it even when you hate it”. Think about the strong desire it took to get you your diploma today, the emotions you’ve gone through to get here, the love of stepping your first foot on campus, getting a drink at steins, trying to find somewhere to study in Robarts, having a snowball fight on front campus to the parts you hated, like studying for exams. All of that hard work and late nights paid off.
Now what? Graduating from UofT takes hard work and ambition, and as you are all sitting here today, I know you are all hard workers filled with ambition. As you step out into the real world, whether you are starting your first job, going back to school for further education or taking some time off to explore the world, let your passions help drive those decisions.
Over the past few years, I’ve realized that I can categorize most of things I’m passionate about into four main themes. Technology, Philanthropy, Travel and Photography.
Let’s start with travel. My love for travel has pushed me to exploring to new places. I love to travel as it gives me a chance to experience how other cultures live, and bring some of that back into my own life. It also gives me incredible experiences like paragliding in South Africa, falling out of a helicopter without a parachute in Vegas, and Scuba Diving with Sharks in the Maldives. Travel makes me try new things, and apply what I’ve learnt from those experiences back into my work. It also teaches me about empathy as I learn more about other people in the world. As you look for your own passions, find ones that make you try new things.
My passion for photography gives me a creative outlet I need. It gives me a way to express myself, and share what I’m doing with those around me. I’ve been doing something called #Project365, where I post a single image every day, and have been doing this for the last five years. That photo is meant to represent my day, things I’ve done, places I’ve been and what I’ve felt. It also reminds me of what I have accomplished, and makes me reevaluate my decisions to make sure they line up with my passions. Have passions that help you reevaluate your decisions and keep you moving towards your other goals.
As a woman who studied Computer Science at UofT, and now works as a Software Engineer at Square, my passion for tech is heavily intertwined with my career aspirations and it’s amazing. What’s that quote by Mark Twain - “Find a job that you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”. For the most part, that’s how I feel in the career path I have chosen, and hopefully many of you will be as well. Would you believe that for the majority of my childhood, I wanted to be a lawyer and not a Software Engineer? I wanted to be a lawyer to the point that I took high school summer courses at Columbia University in New York, so that I could learn more about law. Somewhere around 10th Grade, I was looking forward at University and realized that to be a lawyer, I’d need to do an undergrad and then law school. I wasn’t too keen on the idea of studying History or Political Science, they’re great topics just not for me. So I decided to take Computer Science with the assumption that by the time I graduate from Law School, the world would need lawyers who understand computers. But then a slow shift happened, and my passion for law eventually turned into a passion for computer science and well, here I am. It’s ok for your passion to change - it’s a healthy part of growth and will open you up to more opportunities.
Finally, my passion for philanthropy. I grew up with some of the best role models, the type of people who taught me to help others whenever I am able to. That passion manifested into a need to join many clubs in high school, where I helped host events raising thousands of dollars used to improve education and life for less fortunate kids around Kenya. As I came to University, that passion to help others manifested into being an active member in Elmsley and Sorbara, where I lived for my first two years, as well as being the first female president of the computer science student union in over 10 years and founding UofTHacks, the first student hackathon in Canada to name a few. I loved being able to help students. Find a passion that helps you leave the world in a better state than when you found it.
But I knew I could do more. I wanted to do more. My passion was driving me to do more. And one day I was introduced to someone who had similar passions as mine, and Elixir Labs started. Elixir Labs is a non profit that partners with other non profits around the world. We build technical solutions to empower the non profits we’ve partnered with to do more with their lives. I’ve taken my love and passion for technology and philanthropy and combined it into this beautiful project that’s helping the world.
It took years of education and trial and error to get the necessary set of skills to build a tech non profit, working with volunteers around the world on unique projects. There were many days I questioned why I was adding the extra work on top of my already busy life, but I’d always remember. My love and passion for tech, and especially my passion for philanthropy - drove me forward. Knowing the impact that these products could have on the people we’re helping.
One of my favourite quotes from Mahatma Gandhi is to “be the change you want to see in the world”. I use my passions to help drive those changes I want to see. As you enter the world as fresh, young adults with an incredible education, strong alumni community and network of friends and professors, you have every opportunity available ahead of you to be the change you want to see in the world. Let your passions drive you wherever you need to go.
Graduands of the USMC class of 2019, congratulations once again and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for each of you.