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70 pearls of wisdom from new Concordia grads

Peruse choice advice from the class of spring 2018. PLUS: Watch this space — there's more great student insight to come!
May 25, 2018
By Tom Peacock and Jordan Keenan

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

From June 11 to 13, more than 5,600 new graduates will receive their degrees, diplomas and certificates at the 2018 spring convocation ceremonies alongside 11 Concordia honorands.

In anticipation of this great celebration, we asked 10 spring grads to share the secrets to their success.

PLUS: Watch this space! Later this week, you'll also hear from the 2018 valedictorians and winners of the Governor General's Academic Medals.

Cleopatra Boudreau

Theatre Performance

Boudreau was the general coordinator for the Fine Arts Student Alliance, an executive for the Concordia Association for Students in Theatre and worked at the CSU’s Off-Campus Housing and Job Resource Centre (HOJO).

Raymond Marius-Boucher, senior lecturer and acting chair of the Department of Theatre, describes her as a strong actor, collaborator and writer who never loses her focus or commitment:

"She's a leader in the Concordia theatre and fine arts communities."

Cleopatra Boudreau's 3 keys to a good education:

•    Diversity
•    Do what you truly want to do
•    Patience

2 lessons learned at Concordia:

•    Our life paths are not always clear, so it is important to be mindful of your needs in every moment.
•    Everyone deserves to study what they love.

Next great goal:

•    To continue to create thoughtful, imaginative and playful art. Also, I'm moving to Los Angeles in the winter, and I hope that big transition goes smoothly!

1 piece of advice for future grads:

•    Take your time. Embrace and enjoy every minute of your education and trust your gut when it comes to making decisions about the next step.

Michael Wright

BSc Honours
Exercise Science

Wright received two undergraduate student research awards for the summers of 2017 and 2018 for biomechanics-related projects.

In March 2018, while representing his department at the National Undergraduate Research Conference in Kinesiology and Physical Education at the University of Toronto, Wright won a presentation prize for his honours thesis work.

Michael Wright's 3 keys to a good education:

•    Self-motivation and perseverance
•    A willingness to accept and learn from constructive criticism
•    The ability to reach out to your professors and peers for support when needed

2 lessons learned at Concordia:

•    The essentials for conducting high-quality research
•    How to develop creative solutions to difficult problems

Next great goal:

•    To pursue graduate studies in physical therapy and to begin a career in developing research programs with an emphasis on researcher-patient collaboration.

1 piece of advice for future grads:

•    Contact as many professionals as you can who are related to your field of interest and develop relationships. You'd be surprised at how many professionals are willing to work with young and motivated people, and how much you can learn from them.

Gabrielle Machnik-Kekesi

Individualized Program in Humanities

Machnik-Kekesi received funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and the Fonds de Recherche du Québec — Société et Culture (FRQSC) to complete an interdisciplinary master’s thesis examining constructions of gender and sexual violence during Ireland’s War of Independence (1919-21), and to create a digital archive of historical artifacts.

She also acted as a liaison for the School of Irish Studies with the Irish community in Eastern Ontario, and won a Government of Canada History Award in 2018 for her essay titled "The Dominion of Canada in Irish Political Discourse".

Gabrielle Machnik-Kekesi's 3 keys to a good education:

•    Collaboration
•    Curiosity
•    Commitment

2 lessons learned at Concordia:

•    Share your work, often.
•    Ask your peers about their work, often.

Next great goal:

•    To complete a half marathon this summer.

1 piece of advice for future grads:

•    Take full advantage of Concordia’s free workshops, seminars and public lectures. In my case, the School of Canadian Irish Studies hosted acclaimed authors, historians, activists, geographers and artists. This provided valuable networking opportunities early in my academic career.

Andy Williams

Educational Studies

A world-renowned musician, music historian and community organizer, Williams entered graduate studies at Concordia as a mature student.

He wrote his thesis, “Jazz and Learning Cities: Motivating and Enhancing Learning among Disenfranchised Youth,” inspired by his peers, learning theories and the experiential model proposed by the anti-poverty online community PovNet.

His research is a direct offshoot of his community, artistic and educational commitments.

Andy Williams's 3 keys to a good education:

•    Commit to thorough work, inspired in part by the experiences of student peers.
•    Develop the capacity to identify and apply refining cues to bring focus to the research.
•    Apply good study habits in the context of the support available through the university.

2 lessons learned at Concordia:

•     Not to underestimate myself. I was initially skeptical that this journey would come to its conclusion. Yet, it ultimately did — through a process of "tackle and tackle and tackle," resulting in hard work and long hours spent at the library.
•   To ask questions of your professors and of your peers, to establish a clear sense of their expectations and of your own expectations of yourself.

Next great goal:

•    Improve school systems — whether that occurs through crafting school policy, curriculum writing or managing a school and its programming.  

1 piece of advice for future grads:

•    Never underestimate yourself. The task at hand is easier than it might initially seem. Your instructors are there to support and inspire your journey.

Vanessa Macri


As coordinator for Sustainable Concordia's Dish Project, Macri expanded the service to the Loyola Campus, established a new funding model with the CSU and made dishes more accessible by connecting with Distribution Services.

She also served on the board of directors of the Sustainability Action Fund, as a facilitator of the Organizing Sustainability workshop series and as the social media coordinator for the Waste Not Want Not compost collaboration.

Macri won a 2018 Sustainability Champions Award for her "strategic mindset and creative outreach strategies".

Vanessa Macri's 3 keys to a good education:

•    Time. Without putting quality time into studying and assignments, good results are hard to get.
•    Openness to failure. The best learning comes from failure.
•    Self-care. Be mindful of capacity and personal needs, take breaks and get reenergized to avoid burning out.

2 lessons learned at Concordia:

•    Pairing classroom learning with hands-on, on-campus projects is key to an enriched learning experience
•    Interdisciplinary learning increases the value of your work and of your learning experience.

Next great goal:

•    Complete my Master of Environment degree and get eight hours of sleep a night.

1 piece of advice for future grads:

•    Get involved in activities outside of the classroom.

Jethro Gillespie at an Art Education event

Jethro Gillespie

Art Education

Gillespie’s research focused on rethinking and remaking a high-school visual arts curriculum, primarily by focusing on treating contemporary artists as creative role models.

He has published in peer-reviewed journals, and won multiple awards for his teaching and scholarship.

Jethro Gillespie's 3 keys to a good education:

•    A generative environment
•    Access to and engagement with resources
•    A steady stream of positive energy

2 lessons learned at Concordia:

•    Ultimately, what matters is not your GPA.
•    What matters is your work, your reputation and your relationships.

Next great goal:

•    Create a new secondary-level visual arts course and curriculum that focuses on helping students develop brainstorming and ideation skills.

1 piece of advice for future grads:

•    Work hard and form a good relationship with your supervisor.

Carolanne Magnan-St-Onge

Western Society and Culture
(Liberal Arts College)

After trying out other fields of study, Magnan-St-Onge is graduating from what she considers to be “the hidden gem of education”: Concordia's Liberal Arts College, which, she says, allowed her to develop her intellectual, artistic and emotional curiosity.

She was also active in the Parlement jeunesse du Québec, which she describes as much more than a parliamentary simulation.

"I acquired a greater understanding of myself and my strengths and limits, a greater awareness of many social issues, but also a greater openness to the other — the diversity of backgrounds, opinions and personalities."

Magnan-St-Onge has a keen interest in women's literature, specifically the development of "intimate" literature in Quebec. Her honours thesis was about the work of Quebec literary star Nelly Arcan.

Carolanne Magnan-St-Onge's 3 keys to a good education:

•    Interdisciplinary knowledge
•    Respectful personalized approach
•    Critical thinking

2 lessons learned at Concordia:

•    To accept and affirm my curiosity by enrolling in diversified courses, ranging from Spanish to Québécois literature.

•    To be satisfied with enjoying and concentrating on what I am doing at the present time and not to dwell uselessly and unhealthily on what the future will hold for me.

Next great goal:

•    To stop setting myself abstract and distant goals or dreams, but rather to continue to flourish in what I do in the present and let myself be carried by the opportunities that will come my way.

1 piece of advice for future grads:

•    « Il faut cultiver notre jardin » writes Voltaire in Candide. To find the right equilibrium between paralyzing introspection and volatile recklessness by getting involved and focusing on challenging actions and projects.

Aurora Torok

Design for the Theatre

Torok worked on a number of theatrical productions at Concordia, including Secrets and Lies: The World of Henrik Ibsen, Love in Seven Languages, and Shakespeare's The Tempest, designing costumes, set, props, puppets, lighting, projection, video and sound.

Torok is also known for her generosity and willingness to go above and beyond to help new theatre students. She organized many events, workshops and training sessions.

Aurora Torok's 3 keys to a good education:

•    Dedication
•    Communication
•    Compromise

2 lessons learned at Concordia:

•    You can learn so much from not just your professors, but also your peers.
•    You are never done learning.

Next great goal:

•    Become a better, well-rounded designer.

1 piece of advice for future grads:

•    Find something that makes you so passionate that you never want to stop. And learn time-management skills — then you should be pretty happy.

Sarah Morgan

Mechanical Engineering
Member of Concordia's Institute for Co-operative Education

Morgan was elected VP Academic of the Engineering and Computer Science Association. She won third place in the innovative design category at the Compétition québécoise d’ingénierie (CQI) and presented original research at the Canadian Engineering Education Association Conference.

Morgan also received a Volunteer Recognition Award for her work developing engineering-based educational programming for youth with special needs, and was a proud member of Concordia's Institute for Co-operative Education.

Sarah Morgan's 3 keys to a good education:

•    Supportive and inspiring professors
•    Interesting class projects
•    Unique electives

2 lessons learned at Concordia:

•    Get involved with extracurricular activities. They are a great way to make friends in a new school.
•    Never be ashamed to ask questions, or to ask for help.

Next great goal:

•    To survive my first real job after graduation and continue to work with special needs children and designing science related programs.

1 piece of advice for future grads:

•    Get involved as much as you can in your last year before you graduate. Get to know your professors. They can provide you with guidance and insight that may help you in the future.

Gabriel Desjardins

Theological Studies

A three-time winner of the Arts and Science Scholar Award, Desjardins helped to organize a number of important conferences and open houses for Concordia's Department of Theological Studies.

He is also very involved in the Graduate Student Association, produces podcasts and assists international students.

Gabriel Desjardins's 3 keys to a good education:

•    Always be curious
•    Never doubt your own ability
•    Don’t be afraid to ask questions

2 lessons learned at Concordia:

•    To be honest and humble, by realizing that there is so much I don't know.
•    Question everything, even things foundational to my life and worldview.

Next great goal:

To be a high-school dropout who attains a doctorate.

1 piece of advice for future grads:

•   It's never too late to form habits and make daily choices to be the person you want to be. Who you become is determined by who you are each day. 


Read about the 11 distinguished individuals who will receive honorary doctorates at this spring's convocation ceremonies.

Consult the Concordia spring 2018 convocation schedule, and be sure to share your thoughts and photos on social media: #CUgrad, #CUhondoc and #CUalumni!

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