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Convocation preview: 10 great grads, in numbers

Concordia's valedictorians and Governor General's Academic Medal winners offer pearls of wisdom for the class of 2016
May 31, 2016
By Tom Peacock


For an entire class of Concordians, the big day is almost here.

At this month’s convocation ceremonies, more than 6,000 students will receive degrees, diplomas and certificates from the university. For all of them, this moment represents the end of an incredible educational journey.

The 2016 spring convocation ceremonies take place on June 6, 7 and 8 at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier in Place des Arts. Nine new honorands — gender history scholar Joan Wallach Scott, social scientist Sherry Turkle, drug addiction researcher Nora Volkow, entrepreneur Arlene Dickinson, Darwin collector Garrett Herman, philanthropic engineer Pierre Lassonde, inventor Aaron Fish, film producer and LGBTQ advocate James Shavick, and the Governor General of Canada, His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston — will address the graduating class.

Eight university valedictorians and two winners of the Governor General’s Academic Medals will join them onstage.

We asked these 10 standout students for the secrets to their success.


Daniel Santiago Sáenz 

BA, Religion (Honours), Art History
Faculty of Arts and Science

Sáenz’s research examines the role of male saints and their iconography in the religious and sexual colonization of Latin America.

His writing and curatorial projects centre on the relationship between art, religion and sexuality in both historical and contemporary contexts.

3 keys to a good education

  • A balance between interdisciplinary breadth and disciplinary depth. 
  • Understanding the importance of self-sacrifice and the meaning of setting goals. 
  • A good education is one that reaches beyond the classroom walls. If you can, get involved in your community. It will not only give you an opportunity to step out of your comfort zone, but will also teach you many things that you would not learn in class. 

2 lessons learned at Concordia

  • Never underestimate the importance of self-care. There is nothing wrong with taking a break once in a while and treating yourself! 
  • Always keep in mind how much you can learn from classmates and colleagues — try to be collegial, respectful and open to criticism. 

1 piece of advice for graduates

  • Failure is a possibility, a very real one. It is not nice, but it’s the state-of-affairs. There is no need to panic, however. As Alain de Botton writes, ‘We suffer, therefore we think.’

Next great goal

  • After a summer-long break from all things academic, I will be working on my MA in Art History at Concordia, under the supervision of Steven Stowell, with the intention of pursuing a PhD later on. 


Meaghan Johnson

BA, Western Society and Culture
Faculty of Arts and Science
Liberal Arts College

Johnson came to the Liberal Arts College of Concordia to prepare for a master’s program in psychotherapy. She enjoys connecting theory with embodied lived experience in her writing and research. Drawing on her former career as a yoga teacher, she taught a free weekly mindfulness class to her fellow students. 

3 keys to a good education

  • Self-care: taking care of your body is taking care of your mind. 
  • Ask for help: make use of office hours, the counselling centre and other supports available both on and off campus. 
  • Make it personal: picking research topics that are meaningful to you facilitates passionate engagement with the work. 

2 lessons learned at Concordia

  • No matter how accessible education is, not everyone is working from the same ground. Some people are working full-time jobs to put themselves through school and others have support that allows them to focus entirely on their studies.
  • As I did not go to university until I was in my mid-30s, I spent a lot of time feeling like I had really missed out on something. I discovered that while there is a lot to learn in higher education, I also learned a lot outside of school that allowed me to be successful in this context. 

1 piece of advice for graduates

  • Know that you are on a path, not the path, and that success is not linear. Take breaks when you need to; there is no rush and there is nowhere to go.  

Next great goal

  • The goal all along has been to do a master’s in psychotherapy; getting my BA was the first step. I will start my master’s in the fall. But first, I plan to relax, enjoy the summer and do relatively little for the next three months.


Tovah Marie DiMeglio Cowan

BSc, Psychology (Honours) Multidisciplinary Studies in Science
Faculty of Arts and Science
Science College

Cowan did her psychology honours research on prosocial behaviour in toddlers. She hopes to become a clinical psychologist after researching psychosocial treatments for, and aspects of, psychosis for her graduate studies. 

3 keys to a good education

  • Choosing something you are interested in.
  • People who support and challenge you, every step of the way.
  • Professors who care about their subject and their students. 

2 lessons learned at Concordia

  • Learning is a process. That means sometimes you'll fail. That's okay.
  •  Do work you're proud of. Don't do something if you don't understand why you're doing it. 

1 piece of advice for graduates

  • Follow what you care about, make brave choices to get there and trust that it'll work out how it's supposed to in the end. 

Next great goal

  • Getting into a graduate program for clinical psychology. 


Laurence Pilon

BFA, Design and Computation Arts
Faculty of Fine Arts

Before completing her degree in Design and Computations Arts at Concordia, Pilon studied graphic design at Collège Ahuntsic. Next fall, she will undertake a master’s degree in information design at the University of Reading, in the UK. Pilon believes design can be understood as an initiator of change that has the potential to influence and even remodel our world. Her work focuses on typography and photography as a way to transform complex ideas into meaningful, tangible and interactive experiences.

3 keys to a good education

  • Vision: When a traveller plans a trip, he needs a clear vision of where he is going, and why. The journey may be quite different from what he had imagined in the first place, but he needs a purpose that will keep him going.
  • Exploration: Learning is also about taking risks, challenging yourself, going the extra mile and testing your limits.
  • Practice: We learn more efficiently when we are able to apply our knowledge to projects or goals that are most meaningful to us. We get real and purposeful outcomes that way.

2 lessons learned at Concordia

  • Success is all about balance: Finding a balance between good grades, a healthy social and family life, and sports.
  • Design is everything, and everything is design. Design is culture, technology, art. Design is a process. Design is a way of thinking.

1 piece of advice for graduates

  • Get involved in your Concordia community! University is not just about your course curriculum. You will meet amazing people while working at the Concordia Student Union, for example. You will make friends during orientation activities, or while volunteering for events on campus. Using the facilities at school is also a great way to discover new possibilities. Make the most of Concordia’s resources: the computer labs, the metal and wood shops, the printing facilities, the Greenhouse, etc.

Next great goal

  • I will be pursuing my design studies in the United Kingdom next year. My next goal is to complete a master’s degree in information design at the University of Reading. The most challenging aspect of this might not actually be the completion of the degree, but rather the fact that I will be on my own in the UK, away from the support of my family and friends.


Michael Richardson CEO for a Day finalist

Michael Vasili Richardson

BComm, Accountancy and Finance
John Molson School of Business
Concordia International (Skema Business School in France)

Throughout his four years as an accountancy student with a minor in finance, Richardson always showed a strong commitment to student life. After graduation, he will begin working in the audit practice at KPMG in Montreal while pursuing his CPA (chartered professional accountant) designation. Eventually, Richardson hopes to transition into the management consulting industry and one day start his own practice.

3 keys to a good education

  • Understand your own potential: Go for the things that scare you and disrupt your understanding of what you think you can do.
  • Surround yourself with people who challenge you: It will push you to become the best that you can be, because there is always more to learn.
  • Go beyond the classroom: Whether you’re interested in case competitions, volunteering abroad, Co-op, student government, studying in a foreign country or anything in between, reach for knowledge and life lessons outside of your textbooks.

2 lessons learned at Concordia

  • You would be surprised what people will give you if you just ask for it. Request an assignment for extra credit, extend your internship or ask a CEO out for lunch. People are often willing to help if you have the courage to ask.
  • The harder you work, the luckier you seem to be. Don’t be afraid to put in the effort. Those who are willing to go the extra mile are often the ones who reap the greatest reward.

1 piece of advice for graduates

  • Never stay satisfied with your understanding of the world — never become complacent, always stay hungry and constantly strive to be the best you can be. Treat every mistake and every failure as a lesson, and never be too afraid to take risks.

Next great goal

  • Other than working and pursuing graduate studies, I'll be taking the summer to backpack through Europe, so I can continue learning from different people and different cultures.


Laura MacDonald

BComm, Accountancy
John Molson School of Business

During her studies, MacDonald developed keen interests in investigative/forensic accountancy and the emerging field of environmental accounting. As a teaching assistant she was renowned for her innovative and comical approach that drew up to 200 students to her managerial accounting tutorials. In the fall she begins work at PricewaterhouseCoopers, the largest professional services firm in the world. MacDonald also has two previous degrees: a BFA from Concordia and an MA from the University of British Columbia, both in art history.

3 keys to a good education

  • Access: We need to work hard to give as many people the opportunity to pursue higher education as possible. 
  • Support: Getting a degree is a team effort. Surround yourself with good people and ask for help when you need it. Accept their support and do your best to be worthy of it. 
  • Resilience: Real learning involves engaging with the material, taking risks, putting your hand up, being willing to be wrong and to work through the material until you understand it.

2 lessons learned at Concordia

  • Teaching someone else how to do something is the most effective way to know if you've really understood something.
  • The best way to build good networks is to help others, because investing in their success is an investment in your own. 

1 piece of advice for graduates

  • No one is going to show you your path, you have to find it yourself. Don't wait for instructions, be proactive, be curious and be brave. Make huge, glorious, incredible mistakes and don't let them drag you down; let them teach you and lift you up. 

Next great goal

  • In September I start working full time at PricewaterhouseCoopers and begin my CPA graduate certificate. But beyond that, I'd like to get my PhD in accountancy someday. 


Nathaly Mercedes Arraiz Matute

BEng, Electrical Engineering
Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science
Industrial Experience Program

Arraiz Matute is an electrical engineer with a vivid interest in how technology can be used to achieve environmental and social sustainability. She wants to work on projects that have direct impact on as many people from as many walks of life as possible.

3 keys to a good education

  • You get out what you put into it.
  • Teachers, tutors, textbooks and labs are just the beginning. You need to take it seriously, engage with material every chance you get and take it further by getting involved.
  • I took part in every student activity, contest and project I could find and it made what I learned in the classroom that much more effective.

2 lessons learned at Concordia

  • Throughout my degree, I was constantly shown the powerful nature of collaboration. Working with the District 3 Innovation Center, on research projects with my professors or participating in projects and competitions, I learned collaboration makes a project easier and leads to better results.
  • My BEng in Electrical Engineering is my second degree. My first was a BFA in Electroacoustics. This time around I learned not to take this special experience for granted. You are only here for a few years and you really need to make sure that you "squeeze the juice out of it" while you have the chance.

1 piece of advice for graduates

  • Get your hands dirty, get involved. Find your passion by throwing yourself into everything Concordia has to offer. Especially if you are a woman, forget stereotypes and get in there, because STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) is great for anyone. I took part in IEEE, Space Concordia, the Hackathon and Wearhacks, as well as jumping at the opportunity to be an intern, a research assistant and a teaching assistant. It has made all the difference and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Next great goal

  • I want to find a place in developing new sustainable energy technologies in a way that will also allow me to explore their social impact.

Read more about Nathaly Mercedes Arraiz Matute’s Capstone project.



Alexandra Meikleham

BEng, Civil Engineering
Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science

Meikleham is interested in helping Canadian students to gain exposure to engineering work that takes local contexts into consideration. This means working with people to better understand their needs and their ways of life before conceiving of a technical intervention. Meikleham believes this is the future of engineering.

3 keys to a good education

  • Seize opportunities that are around you — education isn't just about what's going on inside of the classroom (of course it's a big part of it).
  • Get involved in the societies that exist at school. It’s the best way to get exposed to and meet other students.
  • I also firmly believe in the value of open-ended projects (either in class or outside of it). It is a humbling way to get students to work together and learn team skills.

2 lessons learned at Concordia

  • Engineering design cannot occur in a vacuum. The designer has an onus to engage users and understand their needs. 
  • The best answers never come from one person, but rather from an effective collaboration. Engineering is intensely creative and requires the ability to communicate and work well with others.

1 piece of advice for graduates

  • Remember to cherish the relationships you have formed at this school. I believe that the bonds you form during your undergraduate degree are unlike any that you will ever form in your professional or personal lives.

Next great goal

  • I am looking forward to trying to relax a bit after the last four years! I will be starting my master’s at the University of Calgary in September in engineering design; my goal before then is to catch up with my friends and family whom I've been neglecting as I concentrated on finishing my degree.


Anne Almey

PhD, Psychology
Faculty of Arts and Science
Governor General’s Academic Medal (Gold)

Almey defended her PhD dissertation in December 2015, under the supervision of Wayne Brake at the Center for Studies in Behavioral Neurobiology, in the Department of Psychology.

Her thesis examined the distribution of membrane-associated estrogen receptors in dopamine innervated brain regions, and their implications for cognition in female rats. Almey is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Psychiatry at McGill University.

3 keys to a good education

  • Curiosity
  • Critical thinking
  • Current information

These three things will give you access to the most up-to-date data in your field, the motivation to learn and understand that material, and the ability to evaluate that information and assimilate it into your knowledge and theories.

2 lessons learned at Concordia

  • Perseverance is the key factor to success in science. Don’t be discouraged by the little failures that are inherent to all research.  
  • Success is never an individual achievement, but is based on those around you. The hands-on instruction, advice and support I received throughout my degrees allowed me to complete my PhD and made graduate school fun, despite challenges.

1 piece of advice for graduates

  • Always stay curious. We are living in the age of information so all of the knowledge in the world is at your fingertips (thank you, Google). All you need for a lifetime of learning is the motivation to seek out and understand the information that is available to you.

Next great goal

  • I recently started a postdoc at McGill University where I am studying the anatomical neural networks involved in different navigation strategies in the lab of Véronique Bohbot. This marked a major transition in the type of research I do, so right now I am trying to get comfortable with the techniques and data associated with MRI experiments so I can ask and answer the questions that interest me.



Mats Powlowski

BEng, Electrical Engineering
Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science
Member of the Institute for Co-operative Education
Governor General’s Academic Medal (Silver)

Born and raised in Montreal, Powlowski became interested in science at an early age, but decided to study electrical engineering “for the practical applications.” He’s interested in electromagnetics (which played an important role in his Capstone project) and semiconductor physics. In the future, Powlowski aims to continue doing research related to nanotechnology.

3 keys to a good education

  • Interest in the subject.
  • Teachers that are good at making the material interesting.
  • Experiential learning opportunities.

2 lessons learned at Concordia

  • Good team chemistry has a huge affect on the project.
  • Start work on important projects well ahead of time.

1 piece of advice for graduates

  • Balance studying and pleasure, doing both on a consistent basis.

Next great goal

  • To work on new technology that changes the world in a positive way.


Read about turning points in the lives of the nine individuals who will receive honorary doctorates during this spring’s convocation ceremonies.

Consult the complete Concordia spring 2016 convocation schedule, and be sure to share your thoughts and photos on social media: #CUgrad and #CUalumni.


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