Valedictorians salute the Class of 2016

Posted on Thursday, June 16, 2016

Jeffrey Keillor, Peter Soroye et Devyani Biswal.
From left: Professor Jeffrey Keillor, holder of the University Research Chair in Bio-Organic Chemistry, with valedictorians Peter Soroye and Devyani Biswal at the Faculty of Science convocation ceremony. Photo: Andrea Campbell

Meet the 13 valedictorians who spoke at uOttawa's 2016 Spring Convocation on behalf of 7,186 graduating students. Below, brief excerpts from their speeches and links to videos of the convocation ceremonies.

Ekaete Asuquo.

Ekaete Asuquo (PhD) specializes in medical-surgical nursing, with a particular interest in maternal and child health. For the past few years, her research has focused on the challenges faced by HIV patients, including mothers and children, and the role of nurses in providing healthcare services, especially in low- and medium-income countries such as her native Nigeria.

Today, I can proudly say that the University of Ottawa has transformed me — and hopefully you, too — into change agents for the world. We shall become leaders who can confront global issues, especially in the healthcare system. We will help eliminate old paradigms that hinder global development and replace old ways with new ways of thinking and a new vision that aligns better with contemporary society.

Kristina Baier.

Kristina Baier (BHSc) volunteers at the Ottawa Hospital, assisting patients and training new volunteers. Her passion for health advocacy led her to participate in the Youth Assembly at the United Nations in New York. She has worked in health promotion in Labrador, where she found innovative ways to transmit health messages to isolated communities. She begins medical school at uOttawa in September.

In a world fraught with wars, violence and terror, let us each harness the most valuable and evolved tool we possess: our voice. Our voices can do something no weapon can: it can make people listen. May you speak to shatter the walls of injustice, speak to push the boundaries of the human spirit, and speak to break the silence of inhumanity.

Devyani Biswal.

Devyani Biswal (BSc), a financial math and economics major, is also a Gee-Gees athlete. She won gold in the 60m hurdles at this year's provincial and national varsity finals, becoming uOttawa’s first Canadian Interuniversity Sport champion in women’s hurdles. She was named uOttawa Female Athlete of the Year and returns in the fall for a master’s degree in mathematics.

One of my favourite quotes is by Dr. Seuss: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.” Knowledge is power, and with power comes greatness — to be game-changers, educators and, above all, to be the people you aspire to be. I think this quote is very appropriate for defining what part of the university experience is: to use what we have learned and apply it to something greater in life.

Connor Flack.

Connor Flack (BCom) went on an international exchange to Sydney, worked in Hong Kong for the Canadian Chamber of Commerce through CO-OP and was a teaching assistant for a number of classes. He was on the Telfer team that competed in the annual interuniversity Jeux du Commerce in 2015 and 2016 and was part of the Telfer Capital Markets Mentorship Program.

What we’ve learned goes far beyond what’s in our textbooks. Intopia taught us to mind our friends, respect our competitors and treasure our accountants. Presentations class taught us just how fast five minutes can fly. Philosophy taught us … well, actually, I’m still working on that one. But, above all else, Telfer has taught us to appreciate all those who have helped us get to this moment.

Lucie Le Callonnec.

Lucie Le Callonnec (MEd) is from the Brittany region in France. She completed a master’s in political science at Sciences Po Rennes before arriving at uOttawa in 2014 to pursue a master's of education, with concentration in second-language education. She will further her interest in adult learning and start a PhD at uOttawa in September.

According to a Chinese proverb, “teachers open the doors, but you must enter by yourself.” Our professors have transferred the information needed for our learning and thus gave us the key to knowledge. And this, dear Faculty of Education colleagues, is very meaningful because now we have these keys, and we must now, in turn, make use of everything we have learned to open the doors to knowledge for our students.

Myriam Longtin.

Myriam Longtin (BSocSc) grew up in the small Franco-Ontarian town of St. Albert. She has a summer job with the RCMP, where earlier she completed a research internship during her criminology studies. She has also volunteered, as a Big Sister with the Valoris agency and on a project in a poor community in the Dominican Republic. She returns to the University in the fall to pursue a master’s degree in criminology.

When I had the chance to experience the ‘‘real world’’ during a field placement, I thought I had spent the past four years learning theories of criminology and not acquiring any skills transferable to the labour market. I now realize that is completely false. The University of Ottawa has helped us develop the most important skill of all: critical thinking.

Sylvain Rouselle.

Sylvain Rouselle (BASc), who grew up in Montreal, was an automotive technician running his own business when he decided to switch gears and enroll in electrical engineering at uOttawa in 2011. His second child was born at the start of fourth year, when he somehow also found time to direct a highly successful capstone project (Universal Home Controller).

Our grandparents created the production chain. Our parents solved the problem of acid rain, and now you — what will you solve? Whatever you decide to do, keep in mind that humanity is counting on you to make a better world.

Peter Soroye.

Peter Soroye (BSc) has been active with the Science Students’ Association and an intramural volleyball team. Co-author of two forthcoming research articles, he is currently working as a research assistant in the Sky Islands of Arizona, looking at habitat selection in lizards. In the fall, he begins a master’s degree at uOttawa, studying conservation biology and ecology with Professor Jeremy Kerr.

I’d like to make a promise that will help me show my appreciation to each of you science graduates of 2016. Whenever you’re out on the town and see me next, whether it’s tonight or in three years, stop and say hi, because I promise you this: the first round of drinks is on me.

Phil Spencer.

Phil Spencer (BSocSc) finished his studies in economics in December. Since then, he has worked for the World Bank in Lebanon promoting job creation. He is now working in Ghana with Innovations for Poverty Action, evaluating a girls’ education project. As a CO-OP student, he worked at Industry Canada and the African School of Economics in Benin. This fall, he begins a master’s degree in economics at the University of Toronto.

As social scientists, our greatest challenge is to enable as many people as possible to climb one step further up the mountain of life. If we can work to break down the structures that keep others from climbing, imagine the impact that fresher air and expanded horizons can have on us all — for it is only possible to fully enjoy the beautiful view in the company of others. I can assure you that the pursuit of something beyond ourselves is far greater than pursuing something only for ourselves.

Prashanth Srinivasan.

Prashanth Srinivasan (BSc/BASC) has earned two degrees through the biotechnology program, with a 10.0 CGPA. For this achievement, he received the Governor General’s Silver Medal and University Gold Medals in Science and Engineering. He has co-authored several papers in peer-reviewed journals, and starts a PhD in bioengineering at Stanford University in September, with a focus on synthetic biology.

What we have gained these past few years was not only a knowledge of thermodynamics, or an understanding of structural failure. We have also developed a very powerful set of qualities that transcend the boundaries of occupation or field: creativity and ingenuity; tenacity and teamwork; and an uncanny ability to understand how things work. For, above all, we are problem-solvers: we untie the knots and tangles that restrain human progress.

Roland Tusz.
Roland Tusz (BSocSc) was drawn to uOttawa because of the opportunity to learn French. He spent CO-OP and study terms in Paris, Lima and Madrid, participated in intramural soccer, and worked with RezLife and his program’s student executive. In the fall, he will start a master’s degree in economics in Toronto, “but the Gee-Gees, La Maison, and the hot dog guy will always have a special place in my heart.”

These past years have been a journey that we will not ever get to repeat, because we cannot go back to being the same people we were in first year. And, trust me: I was a residence advisor with first years, and this is probably a good thing!

Arno Van Dijk.

Arno van Dijk (BA), from Owen Sound, Ont., came to uOttawa so he could take a joint degree in environmental studies and geography in French. He spent three years on students’ associations, including one year as president of the Students’ Association of the Faculty of Arts. He undertook a memorable CO-OP term working with the Cree Nation of Wemindji in Northern Quebec. In the fall, he will begin a master’s degree in urban planning at the University of Toronto.

Life is not infinite (at least not yet, but we’ll leave that to the science graduates). However, the possibilities presented to us in life are infinite and as such we must make the most out of every single one of them.

Sophie Yelle.

Sophie Yelle (BA) moved from Sudbury to pursue a uOttawa degree in Communications, with minor in business administration. During her time on campus, she has been a research assistant, teaching assistant and vice-president of the Communications Students’ Association. She is now headed to Seoul, South Korea, to teach English as a Second Language.

As students of the University of Ottawa, we have gone through multiple ups and downs but have dealt with them together and consequently grown stronger as a community. And as my cool art teacher from high school always said, taking risks opens new doors we would otherwise never have considered. Step outside your comfort zone because no matter what the experience, you will learn and grow from it.

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