"Take pride in how far you've come. Have faith in how far you can go. But don't forget to enjoy the journey." Photo: Wallpaperflare/Stock
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Graduates discuss the difficult reality of moving on from university

For some University of Ottawa alumni, graduating from university is regarded as one of their greatest accomplishments in life thus far, and earning a diploma reflects four or more years of hard work. It represents a culmination of sleepless nights, caffeine-induced cram sessions, stress, blood, sweat, and many tears. But also a memorable time — with life-lasting friendships, a discovery of their passions and a whole host of valuable skills and life lessons such as critical thinking and learning how to “sell oneself.” 

Graduation marks the beginning of the rest of their life. It symbolizes the conclusion of one chapter and the start of another. It is a crucial stepping stone which will serve as a basis for their professional progress.

Graduating from the U of O — a distinguished, internationally-recognized university — opens many doors for its graduates. 

Audrey Perron, a fourth-year nutrition student, says completing an internship helped her make clearer decisions as to what she’s interested in within the field of nutrition. “The different environments and subjects seen in the internships really helped me build an idea of what I don’t want to do,” she said in an interview. 

Lauren Hogan, a third-year civil law student, completed an internship as well, stating that it “confirmed to me that I do enjoy and do want to go into international environmental law, specifically animal protection, as a career path.”

Yasamin Rowshan, a fourth-year communications student, started working through the Federal Student Work Experience Program and got a part-time job at the Department of Justice as a junior communications officer. “This allowed me to learn more about what a degree in communication really means and what it can be used for in government,” she said, as it helped her consider a career in this field.

Muhammad Paracha, a fourth-year political science student with a minor in economics, explained that although he recieved an offer for co-op, he rejected it, instead preferring to graduate early. 

“I did a couple of internships alongside my university. I did an internship at the provincial assembly of Sindh during the summer, and Ernst and Young also during the summer,” he said. 

Much to gain over the years

These graduates have acquired a plethora of knowledge, experience, and skills during their education at the University of Ottawa.

“I learned a lot about myself and my inspirations, [the U of O] allowed me to discover my passions and discover new opportunities. It not only allowed me to learn but to also build strong foundations for real life, through communications with profs, living far from home, managing my time, living with roommates and being dependent on myself,” said Perron. 

“I was also able to enhance my professionalism, as well as my cross-cultural communication and work ethic,” mentioned Hogan.

Paracha also observed that the U of O has effectively helped him understand how to prioritize tasks and manage time. He also learned how to distribute his social life and his education. 

To stay or not to stay? 

Part of the university experience is making friends and connections — networking.  

In order to nurture and continue the relationships they’ve built so far at the U of O, Hogan and Perron will make time for people that matter, whether that’s through calling them, travelling with them or simply by communicating via social media.

“I plan on moving, I’ve already seen Ottawa through my four years here, I’m ready for something new and to experience a new city. My financial goals are to be able to pay 100 per cent of my expenses, put some aside and be able to do whatever I want, not having to restrict myself because of money,” declared Perron. 

“If I am accepted into the J.D. program here, I might stay in Ottawa. However, I am also ready to experience a new city. But, I might come back for work. My life is very oriented around my degree right now, but I do hope to get a job in my field over the summer in order to save before starting my post-graduate career,” said Hogan.

Rowshan does not plan on living in Ottawa. She wants to move back home to Toronto but it’s all up in the air for now. 

Paracha is planning on leaving Ottawa because “there is a whole world out there that was created for us to see and not just stay in one place.” He currently does not have financial goals because he thinks that richness is about how rich a person is at heart and not how rich they are in their bank account. 

“In order to contribute and make a sustainable impact, I want to work towards a greener and more sustainable world.”

“I try to make conscious decisions every day to live more sustainably and move away from single-use plastic. I believe that it’s important to take part in actions and projects within my local community. On a small level, there can be a great sustainable impact on my town and community. As the quote goes, ‘No one can do everything, but everyone can do something,’ “ Hogan said. 

“I would like to make an impact on the global level by creating more understanding and flexibility among people. The purpose of education is so that we can be open-minded, knowledgeable, and have productive debates. However, some people have abused the knowledge thinking that they know all there is to it. I hope that more people understand that there is always more to learn and that we should listen to others and be open-minded,” Paracha noted.

Cynthia Allan, a career development specialist who works at the Career Corner on campus, finds that the COVID-19 had an interesting impact on the job market. 

“At first, there was a lot of uncertainty around the markets and how organizations were going to do business, however that has settled. Some industries took a bigger hit than others  — hospitality/retail for instance — whereas other industries boomed, such as e-commerce and the health industry. Now, all industries are starting to level out.” 

The career counsellors most often work with students who are not sure what to do with their careers or what program to take. They work with students using psychometric assessments to determine what may be the best path for them based on personality, strengths, interests and values.

Perron said that the pandemic had a significant impact on her future career aspirations, bringing about an eye-opening experience. 

“I learned more about myself than ever before, it made me realize what really matters and how I want to see the world, have new experiences, say yes to opportunities, allowed me to have a lot of time to think about the future and what I want to do,” she said. 

Although many graduating students were not familiar with the Career Development Centre, Allan is eager to give advice — including encouraging students to start early on job applications and networking.

“It can take a few months before you are able to secure a position that is of interest. We are here for you and services are free for students and alumni for two years after you graduate,” she said.

The career counsellors most often work with students who are not sure what to do with their careers or what program to take. They work with students using psychometric assessments to determine what may be the best path for them based on personality, strengths, interests and values. They also work with students to define a career path more clearly and also help with job search strategies, among other things.

Allan stated that watching job application sites such as Indeed is no longer enough. “You need to be able to sell yourself and your abilities in as many ways as possible in order to set yourself apart from the competition.”

Graduation brings to an end yet another spectacular chapter in graduates’ lives. With this chapter over, many graduates are eagerly anticipating the next one, because, unlike textbooks, we cannot flip through the pages of life to see how long the next one will be. Without a doubt, the U of O has made this chapter of their lives distinctive. 

They have learned a lot in terms of academics, as well as from colleagues who came from different parts of the world, with different backgrounds before they arrived, but are departing as proud students of the same university with a similar desire to succeed. They don’t have to search far for inspiration; they have the capacity to inspire others by being loyal to their principles and committing to high aspirations. 

“Take pride in how far you’ve come. Have faith in how far you can go. But don’t forget to enjoy the journey.” 

“Once a Gee-Gee always a Gee-Gee.”