To the Class of 2022
The following speech was delivered to the graduating class of White Pines Collegiate and Vocational School at their first in-person ceremony since 2019.
Thank you for that kind introduction. Thank you for having me here today. It is an absolute honour to be with you all as you celebrate the end of your high school careers and begin this next journey in your life.
I graduated from White Pines in 2007, 15 years ago. I remember sitting where you all are today, eagerly waiting to throw my cap against the wishes of our principal and teachers. We did it anyways. Do it anyways!
I remember my teachers calling out our names as we crossed the stage to get our diplomas, and they would tell the audience where we were going next year, and what we were studying. Meaghan Smith, heading to Algoma University to study History and French. I was going to become a teacher.
But I quickly learned that not all dreams and goals are realized. Sometimes life forces you to take a different path. And sometimes your passions change.
The French program got canceled in my second year of university so I couldn’t study it. In the words of Ross Geller, I had to pivot. So I decided to study English so I could have the two teachables needed to be a high school teacher. So I crammed a four-year English degree into three years.
In my third year of university, I quickly learned after being a tutor in a grade 4 classroom that I did not want to be a teacher - no offense to the lovely teachers here today. So I went to my academic advisor and asked, "What can I do with a degree in History and English?" He told me I should become a professor. So I pivoted again.
When I graduated from Algoma U, I went to the University of Western Ontario to get my Master of Arts in History. And after completing that, I learned that I really didn’t want to be a professor.
I started working instead. I worked as a recruiter for Algoma U, talking to university- and college-bound hopefuls like yourself, convincing them on the university experience. And then after four months in that role, I landed my dream job. Or so I thought it was. In grade 10, right upstairs from this auditorium, I remember telling my art teacher Mrs. Nisbet that I wanted to be a writer. And she wholeheartedly supported me. She would actually allow me to change assignments so they would better fit my passion in writing.
I worked at Algoma U for 7 years as a writer and in communications. It was a great job. But something was missing. Much like I didn’t want to be a teacher, a professor, or a recruiter, I didn’t really want to be a writer anymore. So I pivoted again.
And every time I pivoted, I was reminded of a professor I had at Algoma U, the late Dr. Alana Bondar. In my fourth year of my undergraduate degree, she asked me in the ladies' bathroom, if "my heart was happy". And ever since that day, I've been reminded that if you're not happy with what you're doing, why are you doing it?
If there’s one piece of advice I can bestow on each and every person in this room - whether you’re a graduate, a parent, a teacher, or support staff - it’s to be happy. Once you find what makes you happy, everything else will fall into place. Trust me on that.
Somewhere in those 7 years at Algoma U, I picked up a camera and taught myself everything that I know today. It started out as a hobby and quickly became a full-time job. I like to say I attended the school of YouTube for photography. Today, I’m a first-generation entrepreneur and I’ve never felt more driven, passionate, and most importantly, happy, in my career. Today, I'm an award-winning lifestyle and wedding photographer, who gets to travel the world. It doesn't get much better than that!
When I tell my clients that I have no professional training or diploma in photography, but degrees in History and English, they often laugh and say "those must be a big waste of money". But they're not. And those degrees hang proudly in my home. Sure, I may not be working in my fields, but I wouldn't trade my experiences at Algoma U or Western for anything. I navigated adulthood, I gained confidence, and had many, many reality checks. I learned to speak up and out. I learned that it’s okay to change my mind and that I will be supported by people - even complete strangers - in those ever-changing decisions. But perhaps most importantly, I learned to be passionate. To immerse myself in what I love and allow it to consume me. I learned that you have to do what makes you happy, not what makes your parents or guardians happy, not what makes your friends or life partners happy. What makes you happy.
Maybe that's going to college or university. Maybe that's going into the trades. Maybe that's entering the work world or taking a gap year to travel. Maybe it's doing that infamous victory lap because you're just not ready yet. And that's okay. Listen to your heart. Make your own decisions. If you're happy, then nothing else matters.
We change. Our passions change. It’s okay to not be the person we once were or thought we were going to become. I am not the person I was when I graduated from here.
So to the Class of 2022, I say, happy exploring. Happy pivoting. You've pivoted over the past two years through this pandemic in your high school life in ways that I cannot even begin to imagine. And look at you - you've come out stronger and more resilient.
It may take you a while to find your joy in life. And that’s okay. Change your major, change your degree, change your school, change your trade, change your job. It’s okay. Just do what makes you happy. It took me nine whole years from graduating from White Pines to find out what really made me happy. You may already know what makes you happy, and if you do, follow that passion.
And to the parents and guardians here today: when your graduate comes to you to one day with a change of heart, support them. Don't be upset that they've changed their major or program, or gone to pursue something radically different. Let them explore and find their true happiness. All of these changes will make sense one day and be a part of their important journey to happiness. If you're anything like me, then you want nothing else for your child then for them to be happy. That's all I want for my three-year-old son. Happiness.
So the next time someone asks you what you want to be when you grow up, tell them this: tell them you want to be happy.
Congratulations, Class of 2022! I'm so proud of you!