by Zoe McKnight & Zane Schwartz
November 15, 2022

What university was like for these 25 year olds

They were born in 1991, the first year our university rankings came out. Most have degrees by now. Here are the lessons they've learned.

They’ve been there, done that. They’re moving on (well, a few are still in school). But who is in a better position to tell you what it’s like to go to university than 25 Canadian 25-year-olds, who were born the same year as the Maclean’s University Rankings? Over the course of your life, you will make many decisions. As these students attest, even when they made the wrong choice, very few had regrets. They studied, they partied, they volunteered, they worked, they learned and they grew. Here is a look at school through a 25-year-old lens.

(Courtesy of Kevin Hua)

Kevin Hua

Kevin Hua tells his friends he considers himself a human hardware engineer, a human software engineer and human IT support. That’s because he’s studied kinesiology, psychology and now nursing. Hua started at the University of Ottawa in 2009 in pursuit of a bachelor of science in human kinetics with a minor in psychology. He intended to get a double major, but was accepted into a two-year nursing program at Trent University, which he started this fall. “Like the majority of human kinetics or kinesiology students, we enter with the mentality of getting into physiotherapy,” he says. Hua has always been athletic, playing competitive badminton and doing martial arts in his youth, but he was injury-prone as well. He was intrigued by physiotherapy after attending many sessions himself. He applied for a physiotherapy graduate program but wasn’t accepted. In hindsight, Hua is okay with that. In his final year of study, he went from mild injury to full rupture: his Achilles tendon blew out while he was playing flag football, and he spent a lot of time in hospital. “Being around nurses, seeing the surgeons and being exposed to that environment, my interest waned for physiotherapy,” he says. He found himself checking out nursing programs and applying for the accelerated program at Trent, after which he will receive a second B.Sc. and can eventually apply to become a registered nurse or nurse practitioner.

What did you want to be . . .

At 10? I was raised in a relatively traditional Asian household. I think I wanted to be a doctor. I’ve always had an interest in science and the body. And around 10 years old is when I started hurting myself.
At 17? Physiotherapy was the end goal. A lot of kinesiology students enter first year thinking, “Yeah, physio,” but the number of students who want to go there by fourth year definitely drops off.
At 25? Nursing, definitely. Emergency nursing is also an interest. Or a nurse practitioner, which is a little more stable, with nine-to-five hours. As a registered nurse, you’re definitely on shift work.

What would you do differently if you could?

I would have gone into nursing right away. At 25, all my friends are starting to get established, and there’s a little part of me that feels like I’m playing catch-up. In the interest of time, I would have enrolled in nursing right from the get-go. I would have had two years of work experience by now.

Besides academics, what life lesson did you learn at university?

There are so many ups and downs. I finished high school with honours and a high average. In first year, I failed my very first class, organic chemistry. It was a huge blow to my self-esteem. You still have control over the next mid-term, exam or final. You just have to allocate resources accordingly.

(Courtesy of Elyse Watkins)

Elyse Watkins

Originally, Elyse Watkins thought she would become a pediatrician. She graduated from McMaster University with a bachelor of health sciences in 2012, but this year, she completed her master’s degree at Harvard University in the graduate school of education with a specialty in international education policy. “It was probably the biggest surprise of my educational experience,” she says. “I completely fell in love with education.”

Part of her graduate coursework included a research project on Ontario’s public education system. “That course motivated me to come back to Canada and be a part of our education system here,” she says. Today, she works in Toronto as a policy analyst at People for Education, which promotes the public system in Canada. “I just realized I cared about kids developing in other ways,” she says.

One of her new research projects involves measuring indicators among students—and one of them is health. McMaster is known for its problem- and team-based learning style, especially in the field of health sciences, and it struck a chord. “I was completely empowered by that learning experience.” There was also less emphasis on grades, which has now become a personal project. “It’s pretty unconventional, but we were really positioned to be the drivers of our own education,” she says. “We were graded, but they tried not to say it was the only motivation for doing well.”

After graduation, she worked as a staff member of the health sciences bachelor program, which led to her studies at Harvard.

And Watkins might have a chance to become a doctor, after all. She’s not ruling out furthering her own schooling and pursuing a Ph.D. in education. Eventually.

“I’m thinking of getting some experience in the field first, before I commit to something. A Ph.D. is quite a few years to dedicate to a field of study, and I want to make sure I get it right before I move forward.”

What did you want to be . . .

At 10? I really wanted to be a teacher, so I made a full education circle, in a way. I think at some point I wanted to be an entertainment lawyer, even though I don’t really know what that means today. I just wanted to meet celebrities.
At 17? I loved science throughout high school. I had a very narrow idea of what I thought I could be, which is why I thought I had to be a doctor to succeed. When I went to university, I started to challenge those biases.
At 25? I know that I will be in the education domain. I’m considering moving forward in the research strain of education, and bringing that together with policy.

What would you do differently if you could?

No way. I have no regrets.

Besides academics, what life lesson did you learn at university?

One of the things I grappled with most was accepting that failure is key to the learning process. It doesn’t mean you didn’t succeed. It means you learned from the things that didn’t work.

(Courtesy of Doug Learoyd)

Doug Learoyd

This could be the make-or-break year for Doug Learoyd, a kinesiology undergraduate entering his last semester at the University of Calgary. Learoyd started out studying science at MacEwan University in his hometown of Edmonton, but quickly realized kinesiology was a better fit. It makes sense that an athlete whose right leg was amputated at age 6 would be interested in how the body works.

Learoyd plays sitting volleyball, where players keep their lower body on the court and battle for points over a lowered net. He competed at Toronto’s Parapan Am Games this summer, which was the first time his parents had a chance to watch him play with the national team in Canada—he won one of his two career bronze medals. The team has one more chance to qualify for the Rio 2016 Paralympics at an event in China, but Learoyd said it’s not clear whether the team will be able to go because of perennial funding issues.

After that, sticking with the sport becomes a bigger decision, he says. “You commit for four years at a time,” he says. “I’ve been doing this a while, but I’m still young. The opportunity is there if I want it. I just take it day by day right now.”

Learoyd, who lost his leg above the knee in a boating accident and now has a titanium-and-carbon-fibre prosthesis, joined the Canadian national men’s standing disabled volleyball team at 14, helping them to a world title three years later. At 17, he joined the national sitting volleyball team.

Luckily, the coaching staff is based in Calgary, but the time commitment is still huge: lifting at the gym three times a week, injury prevention and maintenance, and training on the court two or three times a week. Although parasport is more of a part-time job than Olympic training, “it’s definitely busy,” Learoyd says. “Obviously, I’ve taken a little bit longer than the usual four-year program.”

Many fellow kinesiology students are also athletes, and professors are understanding. But like most undergrads, he’s looking forward to moving on to the next thing. “I’m pretty excited to wrap up my studies,” he says.

What did you want to be . . .

At 10? Becoming an amputee, I knew I wasn’t going to play at the highest level of sport. I wasn’t familiar with parasport at that time, but I was always active as a kid.
At 17? Going into sciences, I was leaning toward maybe pharmacy.
At 25? I’m leaning toward doing more school and potentially becoming a prosthetist. If that doesn’t work out, then something related to strengthening and conditioning in sport.

What would you do differently if you could?

I wish I had planned out my courses a little better, maybe seen a program adviser. I ended up with a bunch of random electives to finish up with. I wish I had known about other options.

Besides academics, what life lessons did you learn at university?

The big one is time management and utilizing my time more effectively. I have a busy schedule, and in my early years in university, I didn’t manage my time and made things difficult for myself. Now I’m much better at it.

(Courtesy of Katelyn Jmaeff)

Katelyn Jmaeff

The Simon Fraser University grad wanted to major in international studies, but later switched to environmental geography. But a trick of fate pushed her in a different direction altogether.

Winners of the TD Scholarship for Community Leadership are provided summer jobs at a bank branch. But Jmaeff hails from Crescent Valley, a rural area of British Columbia, west of Nelson, which doesn’t have a TD bank, so the company allowed her to work at the Canadian Red Cross for the summer, doing youth education programming, at home in the Kootenays and later in Vancouver.

“Through that skill-building, that set me up to continue on the non-profit path,” says Jmaeff, who has been working at Kids Help Phone since last year in a fundraising role.

At SFU, she also participated in what’s called a Semester in Dialogue, which teaches communication and conflict resolution as part of an experiential learning program to develop civic responsibility in students, mostly outside the classroom. “I’ve drawn so many skills I learned from that semester into my current work,” she says.

Initially, as an international studies student, she was required to take a second language; but Jmaeff’s French didn’t improve much until she took a year abroad as an au pair in France. While in Europe after graduation, she also worked as an intern at Plan France, a global development agency that arranges child sponsorships.

It should have been obvious that helping kids was in Jmaeff’s future: as a teen she founded Inspiring Youth for Change, a local NGO that encouraged young people in the Columbia Basin region to find what drives them and initiate their own projects. “It was a theme that kind of stuck with me and still does,” Jmaeff says.

What did you want to be . . .

At 10? I wanted to be everything. Education was always something that interested me. Not necessarily public education, but I always thought young people were interesting beings.
At 17? I was quite heavily involved in the community with my group Inspiring Youth for Change, I was thinking non-profit world, but I didn’t really know what that meant.
At 25? There have been a lot of kids in my life. There’s a strong theme of youth. I think I do want to go full circle and go into the education side, whether it would be public school or alternative school, I’m not sure. I see myself in some capacity as a teacher or facilitator.

What would you do differently if you could?

I don’t think I would do anything different. I would have maybe jumped straight to environmental geography but even then, I’m glad for my first two years. I was involved more off campus, like with the Red Cross, so maybe I would have been more involved on campus with extracurricular (activities).

Besides academics, what life lesson did you learn at university?

Understanding the difference between passion and interest. Interests are important but I think you’ll never really be fulfilled in something unless you’re doing your passion. And interests can be just phases, too.

(Courtesy of Donya Samadi)

Donya Samadi

Donya Samadi came to Canada when she was five. Her parents left Afghanistan looking for a new life in Canada and settled in Vancouver, where Samadi went to high school. She did her undergraduate degree at the University of British Columbia, where she got a bachelor of science focusing on life sciences and psychology. She worked for a year in Vancouver before deciding to pursue her master’s in educational psychology at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C.—no surprise really, considering how she sings B.C.’s praises.

“I’ve always loved Vancouver: downtown, the waterfront, Squamish, Whistler, Victoria, hot springs—the whole area is so beautiful. I love being here,” says Samadi.

These days, you’re likely to find her rushing between class, the library and the lab, working hard as she gets ready to apply for Ph.D. programs later this year. Right now, her first choice would be to stay at Simon Fraser, although she’s keeping her options open.

Her family’s heritage is very important to her. One way she stays connected is through cooking: “I like cooking lamb stew and maybe a really yummy eggplant dish, or dumplings. There are so many delicious Afghan dishes,” she says.

If not in the kitchen, Samadi is likely to be spending time with family or exploring hidden parts of British Columbia. Asked to recommend a spot that students considering the West Coast should make sure they visit, she doesn’t hesitate: “So many beautiful places, but if I had to suggest one, it would be Rocky Point Park in Port Moody. I really like going there for evening walks by the water.”

What did you want to be . . .

At 10? A librarian. I just loved books.
At 17? A scientist, a researcher in biology.
At 25? I want to be a researcher in psychology.

What would you do differently if you could?

I don’t think I would do anything differently, because everything happens for a reason.

Besides academics, what life lesson did you learn at university?

Basically never giving up. When one door closes, another door opens. When I did my science degree, I never thought I would be doing my master’s degree in educational psychology.

(Courtesy of Drew Hampden)

Drew Hampden

When he was growing up in Lower Sackville, N.S., Drew Hampden’s mother took him to the Dalhousie University campus, where he remembers sitting in a classroom at the Schulich School of Law. He was the only high school student at the information session, and the memory of sitting in that lecture hall stuck with him.

Years later, Hampden completed his undergraduate studies in business administration with a focus on marketing and finance at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S. “I thought my career was going to advance into the business world,” Hampden says. But even though he returned for a fifth year of undergrad to get more credits in finance, he found himself studying for the LSATs. He headed straight from St. FX, as it’s known among students, to Dal, where he is now finishing his third and final year of law school and working at a personal-injury firm.

Every year for three years, he has sat in that same classroom. “So many years ago, I was a young, African, Nova Scotian student sitting in that room, whose mother believed in him and thought he could do this,” he says. “It’s surreal to sit there today.”

Hampden went from a shy kid in high school to sitting on the national executive of the Black Law Students’ Association of Canada, which strives to improve diversity in all areas of the legal profession. He even got an award for being the most outgoing first-year student at Dalhousie law.

He had also toyed with the idea of joining the military—he joined up as a reservist in his teens. He knew early on that the Canadian Forces weren’t part of his long-term plan, but believes the experience gave him a sense of structure and organization that helped with managing the demands of law school.

“In law school, there’s no time to mess around. You have to get right down to it,” he says. “Learning those things at such a young age carried over into my bachelor of business and ultimately my legal career.”

What did you want to be . . .

At 10? I always wanted to be an entrepreneur, own my own business.
At 17? I was interested in law but I was still interested in business, as well. When I took a law class in Grade 11, it really piqued my interest.
At 25? I’m articling at a firm now and I think I’m going to stay here for a number of years. I really like the experience and exposure. But ultimately the sky’s the limit.

What would you do differently if you could?

All the experiences I’ve had have brought me to this moment. In second year of university, I broke out of my shell and became more social. That impacted me academically a little bit, but that experience changed my life.

Besides academics, what life lesson did you learn at university?

Organization. Becoming a student who is more outgoing and more involved… you have to organize your life in a way that allows you to realize your academic goals and keeps you grounded.

(Courtesy of Justin Ryder)

Justin Ryder

Justin Ryder had a rough first year. He grew up in Riverview, N.B., a town of about 20,000 just across the river from Moncton. He chose Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) for his undergrad, and even though it has roughly the same number of students as Riverview has people, he quickly felt lost. “My whole first year, I didn’t spend time with other people—I didn’t do anything except class. It was quite a rough year for me,” says Ryder. In second year, he got involved with the Queer and Trans Resource Centre on campus. At first, he volunteered for a few hours a week and made friends who led him to the student group LBGT MUN. Pretty soon, Ryder was on the executive of LBGT MUN, helping plan social and education events for queer and trans students. He was involved with the first pride week on campus, coinciding with the St. John’s pride week. Eventually, he helped organize the Canadian University Queer Services Conference, a symposium that brings together service providers and community leaders from across Canada to explore how best to support queer students on campus.

Ryder’s organizational prowess was recognized by his fellow students when he was elected director of finance and services for the Memorial University Students’ Union. In his final year, Ryder did an undergraduate thesis project on LBGT diversity. With the encouragement of his faculty supervisor, he decided to go to York University to do a master’s degree examining workplace policies designed for people who identify as LBGTQ.

While at York, he’s been working for the Canadian Federation of Students Ontario as a graphic designer. Although graphic design wasn’t his area of focus in his undergraduate or graduate degrees—he taught himself while planning student events at Memorial — Ryder is looking forward to pursuing a career in the field once he finishes his master’s. As he puts it: “Starting out at Memorial, I’m nowhere near where I thought I’d be, but I’m really happy with where I am.”

What did you want to be . . .

At 10? I wanted to be one of those people who tests video games.
At 17? I wanted to be an author, like a writer. I read a lot when I was in high school, and the idea of being an author seemed cool to me. I identified as being an intellectual.
At 25? After I finish my master’s, I want to pursue graphic design and illustration.

What would you do differently if you could?

Basically, for my whole first year, I didn’t do much, and I was so happy once I got involved. So if I could go back, I would try to get involved even earlier.

Besides academics, what life lesson did you learn at university?

I learned skills around organizing and doing things. I learned how to coordinate large events and coordinate people.

(Courtesy of Rhys Kearns)

Rhys Kearns

Rhys Kearns didn’t want to be a starving artist. His dad was a carpenter and his mom a police officer, and he’d always been encouraged to work hard, even if it meant putting aside what he really wanted to do, which was art. He loved to draw and paint. Becoming a graphic designer had floated around in the back of his mind, but Kearns forced himself to apply to general arts at North Vancouver’s Capilano University. “That’s what everybody else took, and I just followed the crowd,” he said. He paid for the tuition and books himself, saving up during summers working construction jobs.

As a teen, he started doing graffiti, designing stickers and T-shirts for his friends, and knew that graphic design was a viable career path, but “somewhere along the line, I got discouraged,” he says.

University wasn’t for him. After two years, he transferred to nearby Langara College on the advice of a friend, thinking he would have a better chance of graduating. He lasted another year before dropping out. Now, five years after leaving school for good, he has a clear-eyed take on the experience: “I was consistently lazy, I was always on academic probation,” he says. “I knew there was no way I could finish. I was not in my element at all . . . but I was scared of not going to school. I thought it would make me some kind of failure.” He had taught himself design software on the side. So after college, he decided to go his own way and eventually landed a job with an online clothing store. He creates its web marketing material and is designing a new print publication associated with the retailer. “Now, to say I’m a graphic designer, I feel lucky. This is what I was meant to do,” he says.

What did you want to be . . .

At 10? A MuchMusic VJ. It was the era of Rick the Temp (now a host on ET Canada).
At 17? I had no idea.
At 25? Graphic design. Definitely.

What would you do differently if you could?

Even though I always wanted to be a graphic designer, it took me a long time to come to the conclusion I could just do it, instead of just following the crowd. Now, I would take time off, travel and learn more about myself, and then just do exactly what I wanted to do and not let anything get in the way of that.

Besides academics, what life lesson did you learn at university?

I learned the world is a bigger place. When I was in school, I was in this bubble. I got such bad marks and my whole world was being in this building, not feeling good about myself, feeling dumb. And as soon as I left and followed my dreams, I realized the world is a big place. I’m happy I went to university, because it made me a little bit tougher.

(Courtesy of Jeremy Tsang)

Jeremy Tsang

Jeremy Tsang is fortunate enough to make a living off his art and photography just a few years after graduating from NSCAD University, also known as the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. There, Tsang says, he learned early on to differentiate himself from the crowd. “If you have a strong point of view, something you truly stand for, it will be distinctive,” Tsang says. “The art industry is tough because you have to carve out what you want to do and do it well.”

Part of the NSCAD curriculum included trips to New York, gallery hops and studio visits with artists to get a glimpse of life as an artist after school. “One of the things I took away was to be different and to figure out what you’re good at and what your selling point is,” he says. “To make a career of it without having to compromise.”

Tsang graduated in 2011 with an interdisciplinary bachelor of fine arts and remained in Halifax for a couple of years before moving to Ontario. His art is now exhibited all over Canada—recently at Nuit Blanche Saskatoon, at Nocturne Halifax and at the igNIGHT exhibition in Fort McMurray, Alta., that city’s version of an all-night art happening.

In Fort McMurrary, Tsang created a bus shelter with blue crystals made of Plexiglas and LED lights to encourage the viewer to consider how humans rely on minerals for physiological survival, technology and the economy. In Halifax, he built a lighthouse next to a dilapidated urban building as a “comment or exploration of urban planning and historical property versus future building,” Tsang says. In Saskatoon, Tsang explored the voyeurism and exhibitionism prevalent in today’s iPhone world with a one-sided mirror covering an alleyway.

The conceptual pieces create “a mirror to reflect an anthropological gaze into society,” he says.

Besides his formal education, Tsang remembers Halifax for its hospitality. “People were so nice, so hospitable, so warm and loving and supportive. I don’t know if I would have gotten these things in another art school or city.”

What did you want to be . . .

At 10? Something in the arts. I always wanted to work on film sets. The magic in film—the same thing happens for me now that I’m doing installation art.
At 17? I ended up choosing art, full-on.
At 25? To continue doing public art, but in a larger capacity. Hopefully as you continue moving on you get larger-budget, larger-scale pieces, and eventually a permanent installation would be something I’d want to head toward.

What would you do differently if you could?

More school. I wish I did more courses in different departments. I really enjoyed the interdisciplinary aspect. You can dive into another faculty and pick up more skills.

Besides academics, what life lesson did you learn at university?

Figuring out what you want to say to the world is one of the big things, and to set yourself apart from what everyone else is doing, not just follow a trend that’s in the arts.

(Courtesy of Paige Galette)

Paige Galette

The hit TV series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation allegedly influenced trial juries and certainly the public in the 2000s by altering ideas about crime-solving. It influenced Paige Galette: she enrolled in criminology at the University of Ottawa—but didn’t stay long. For two years, she was an executive on the Student Federation of the U of O, and francophone student rep of the Canadian Federation of Students. “I was always involved in student politics, and that definitely pushed me to change from criminology to political science,” Galette says. “Similar to the vast majority of undergrads, I didn’t like [criminology] or see my calling there.” She graduated with a bachelor of social science in 2012. Galette was raised in London, Ont., where very few speak French at home, and has been involved in French-language advocacy since her teens. Today, she is a pan-activist, involved with Black Lives Matter, LGBT issues and women’s and workers’ rights. Her day job is working with the Loran Scholars Foundation, which grants scholarships to first-year university students. It should have been obvious Galette was destined for a more political future. She was voted “most likely to become prime minister” in high school, though she’d now rather deal with people affected by politics than run for office herself.

What did you want to be . . .

At 10? I definitely wanted to sing when I was a kid. I danced, too. Pop culture was a very big inspiration.
At 17? I wanted to be a pathologist. I wanted to dissect dead people. I was really interested in pop culture—CSI was big when I started university. I was intrigued by the human body and by crime.
At 25? I’m very intrigued by politics and intersectionality, like race and politics, education and politics. Sexual education is always on my mind, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I worked in that domain in the future.

What would you do differently if you could?

I was really involved, and I would definitely do it all over again. Even if I had to do another undergraduate degree, I would get involved in my student union again. Would I change anything? No, not at all. I made the best of it.

Besides academics, what life lesson did you learn at university?

When we start university, we’re told we’re all the same, we’re all equal and have equal opportunity, and that’s not the case. There are a lot of barriers. And most people have a form of privilege.

(Courtesy of Erin Linklater)

Erin Linklater

When Erin Linklater found herself at McGill University in 2009, she was shocked to find some of her political science classmates didn’t understand colonialism in Canada. “Some of them had never met a Native person before. It just blew my mind. Growing up in the Yukon, that doesn’t really happen,” she says. “We’re not so separate from each other.”
Those were the days before McGill even had an Indigenous studies program—it now offers a minor concentration—and Linklater was enrolled in a general arts program with a vague interest in international relations and development.

“I switched my interests in second year,” she says. “I realized I was more passionate about Canadian issues and First Nations issues in Canada, and that led me to realize McGill University is not the place to study those things.”

Linklater took a semester on exchange from McGill at the University of British Columbia and another at the University of Victoria, and started going back to visit her extended family in Yukon during summers, heading to the fly-in community of Old Crow that is the home of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation.

After graduating from McGill with a bachelor of political science, Linklater returned to the Arctic to work with local hunters and trappers on resource issues relating to land claims agreements, and later moved to Whitehorse to work on a language revitalization program for the Council of Yukon First Nations. She’s also a youth representative with the Native Women’s Association of Canada.

Working with First Nations groups in the North made Linklater realize she could advocate for traditional forms of justice within Canadian law.

“It would be ideal if we could have more of our own legal order,” she says, “but it’s a reality that our First Nations need legal opinions, we need legal expertise, so lawyers are high in demand.”

What did you want to be . . .

At 10? I was really into dancing when I was younger. I attended the National Ballet’s summer program when I was 13 and was accepted into the school year, but I didn’t want to leave the Yukon.
At 17? After high school, I spent some time travelling. My best friends from the Yukon and I went down to Central America, and I really enjoyed my time there. During my first year of university, I took a lot of international development classes and Hispanic studies and Spanish. I saw myself working internationally.
At 25? I see myself working up North. There are a lot of things our First Nations government needs. Implementation of our self-governing agreement is a big thing, resource issues are a big thing. Social and family welfare, child welfare.

What would you do differently if you could?

I don’t have regrets. I learned a lot being so far away from home in a totally different environment. But I wish I’d had the opportunity during undergrad to take Indigenous studies and delve into that a lot more. It’s really enlightening and empowering.

Besides academics, what life lesson did you learn at university?

Speaking out. It doesn’t do anything for your education to just sit there and listen. You have to engage with other people—other students, especially. Just remember to be humble and respectful.

(Courtesy of Shannon Anderson)

Shannon Anderson

Shannon Anderson has a feeling this won’t be her final year of school. She’ll graduate from Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont., next spring with a B.A. in psychology and philosophy, and is already dreaming of completing post-grad studies in counselling and spirituality at Saint Paul University in Ottawa.

That’s a long way from the general arts program at Confederation College in Thunder Bay, where Anderson started out. She had no idea what she wanted to do after high school, and—after taking a year off—thought seeing the world would be a good way to figure that out. She switched into travel and tourism, but she quickly realized she’d rather help people in a deeper capacity than offering tours in English, and signed up for psychology and philosophy courses at Lakehead.

“It feels in some ways almost vocational that I want to work with people,” she said. “I want to know what people’s stories are, find out how their stories fit together.”
She’s also the editor of the Argus, Lakehead’s student newspaper, and wants to pursue writing as well. “I kind of feel like I’m not sure which direction I’m going to go. I feel like I’m going to be some kind of healer who tells stories or maybe a storyteller who heals. I don’t know if I want to be a novelist more than a therapist, or if I will do a bit of both throughout my life, or if I will change careers four or five times.”

What did you want to be . . .

At 10? I remember at some point wanting to be a nun because I thought I just had to be nice to people and everything would be taken care of. Then I realized I liked boys too much. I wanted to be a chiropractor but it seemed a little icky. After that I wanted to be a writer.
At 17? I couldn’t see anything, I ended up taking a year off. I completely panicked and missed all the deadlines for applying to anything. I couldn’t think about it. I couldn’t think about the expense or what I wanted, I had no idea.
At 25? I still see myself wanting to live in all these places and wanting to help people in a different way—as opposed to guiding a tour, I see myself maybe working one-on-one counselling or working in a palliative care situation, or maybe even trauma care.

What would you do differently if you could?

It sounds a little hokey, but I don’t think I would change anything, just because I really like where I am now, and I feel like a lot of it has come from those experiences I just fell into—even though I fell into them by being kind of afraid and uncertain.

Besides academics, what life lesson did you learn at university?

To take your time. I think there is an immense amount of pressure that a lot of young people feel, even as early as high school, to know what you want to do because “you need to get in, education is expensive, you can’t waste your time, or program jump.” But I don’t think that is doing anyone any favours.

(Courtesy of Julien Tremblay)

Julien Tremblay

Julien Tremblay believes lawyers are a force for good in the world. Maybe that’s why he originally wanted to pursue international law. At 25, he’s already a lawyer, having passed the bar exam and completed his articling year. In Quebec, students can study law straight out of CEGEP, so Tremblay began his legal studies in 2009 at the Université de Sherbrooke, about 150 km east of Montreal.

“I look at law as something that’s very close to the structure of society, and maybe a good way to help people,” he says. He met many people in law school who shared his ideas of following “ethical principles or moral values in a concrete way.”

“Maybe not all lawyers,” Tremblay says, “but those I’ve met tend to have a do-the-right-thing kind of attitude that I really like.”

That kind of exposure came through his work with Lawyers Without Borders and the Superior Court of Quebec. Tremblay has also worked with UNICEF, attended a G8 youth summit during high school and briefly studied international law at the University of Geneva.

But international law turned out to involve more negotiating and paperwork than he expected, so he articled at the courthouse instead, figuring most kinds of law end up there anyway. He discovered an interest in public law, especially dealing with municipal administration. Tremblay is now taking a master’s in urban planning at the Université de Montréal so he can eventually work on public projects like transportation.

Even though he briefly considered computer science or software engineering as a career after high school, he quickly realized he was more interested in the structured, linear thinking than the bits and bytes themselves.

What did you want to be . . .

At 10? An astronaut, probably. I was really into space stuff and science. It’s still a dream, but I don’t think it’s going to happen.
At 17? I started working with UNICEF, getting involved in the general field of international policy and trying to learn everything there is to know. I went to the G8 youth summit at that time, and that’s when I went from a computer-oriented kind of vision to more of a society-law-management vision of my future.
At 25? What I would like to do longer term is work on public-transport projects, like an expansion of the Montreal metro, or if a high-speed train line was built between Quebec City and Toronto.

What would you do differently if you could?

I think my education was really good, really practice-oriented, very concrete, but I’ve met people from (other law schools) who have a more theoretical view on law that I find really interesting. I would like to get some of this perspective.

Besides academics, what life lesson did you learn at university?

The power of working on small projects in teams outside of school. I did a few projects outside of school, mostly with UNICEF, and a housing co-operative for students. That kind of thing really oriented me, or played a role in the way I enjoyed university—more than just the academics.

(Courtesy of Musa Talluzi)

Musa Talluzi

Musa Talluzi is different from his classmates in computer science at the University of Winnipeg. For one thing, he’s 25, and many of them are teenagers. For another, Talluzi arrived in August from a refugee camp in Lebanon, where he and his family fled to escape the violence in their homeland, Syria. He’s now living in residence and adapting to his new reality.

In December 2014, Talluzi applied for a student refugee program through the World University Service of Canada. The organization is sponsoring Talluzi through his studies. This August, a representative met Talluzi at the Winnipeg airport.

He was studying medicine in Damascus and sometimes working as a paramedic, but decided to pursue computer science because he can complete the program in three years and get a job quickly. Becoming a doctor is “a long journey, and I want to work as soon as possible to send money back to my family.”

He’s been warned about the harsh winters, but for now Winnipeg is a fine home. “It’s safe here, it’s quiet,” he says. “Now I’m just thinking about my future and finishing my studies.”

Talluzi speaks to his family almost daily; the camp in Lebanon is not a real solution, but it’s safer than Syria. In 2012, a bomb exploded on the family’s street, killing Talluzi’s cousin and 11-year-old brother. Soon after, a mortar shell exploded in front of his ambulance, killing his friend. Air raids destroyed a mosque in the neighbourhood. Talluzi’s other brother came home crying, covered in dust and plaster. The family fled the next day.

In Winnipeg, Talluzi likes his professors and has found a few spots where he can get Middle Eastern food. He wants to volunteer with the organization that brought him to Canada and he hopes to sponsor his own family.

“Changing one individual person’s life really matters. It’s not a small thing,” he says. “If you change a refugee’s life, you’re not just changing his personal life, but the lives of his family and his friends and all the people around him.”

What did you want to be . . .

At 10? At first I wanted to be an engineer or researcher. When I got a little older, I wanted to be a computer scientist.
At 17? After high school, I got high marks and went to medical school. But after what happened, it was so hard to continue with medical school, so I went back to my previous dream to be a computer scientist.
At 25? After graduation, I’m thinking of working as a software programmer, working for two to three years to ensure a decent life for me and my family. After, I’m thinking of continuing my studies and starting to get deeper into computer technology such as artificial intelligence.

What would you do differently if you could?

No, I’m not thinking about that.

Besides academics, what life lesson did you learn at university?

University life is not only academic study. Compared to high school, you will be more independent. It’s not only a matter of the grades, but you need to have work experience and volunteering in the community.

(Courtesy of Paige Kezima)

Paige Kezima

A lot of grown-up decisions involve a trade-off between passion and practicality. When Paige Kezima entered the University of Regina, she was into the classic arts and sciences: sociology, psychology, anthropology. “But it’s hard to get well paying jobs with liberal arts degrees,” she says. Kezima applied for a bachelor of social work, and added a public relations certificate, both of which she recently completed.

Growing up on a farm a three-hour drive from Regina, Kezima would stage Barbie elections rather than fashion shows. She was always interested in political movements and “the greater good,” she said. A couple of summer jobs working for child protection and the provincial welfare agency deterred her from the one-on-one social work that many recent grads and students first experience. “My heart was in it, but it was in it a little too much,” she said. Around the same time, she got involved with the student union.

“I realized my passion was really within an advocacy role,” she said. Her PR training helped her get a position at the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour, where she now works as a community organizer. She helps develop and facilitate courses, and works with unions and other groups to develop their own organizing capacity through education and training.

What did you want to be . . .

At 10? Something to do with people. I enjoyed being around people. But I wasn’t one of those people who said, “I want to be a doctor when I grow up.”
At 17? I had absolutely no idea. I just knew I would graduate high school and go to university. I wasn’t sure where. I wasn’t sure for what. It took some intro classes to make me realize what my interests were and how I could see myself in the future.
At 25? I’m enjoying where I am now, but it’s a contract position. Like everybody else, I would like a permanent position that I enjoy that has health benefits and a retirement plan and those big-kid things, doing something that I enjoy.

What would you do differently if you could?

I would go in with the mindset I don’t need to be done within the allotted four years. It ended up taking me about six years to get the degree and diploma. There was a lot of pressure that I put on myself to fill that time slot exactly: university and then job, and then eventually family and kids. I don’t think there needs to be that rigid schedule.

Besides academics, what life lesson did you learn at university?

University was a catalyst to get me involved in activism. Being involved in different groups and campaigns really helped me find myself and find a community. I would encourage people to get involved on their campus and find those people who have similar interests as them.

(Courtesy of Jessica Tung)

Jessica Tung

Jessica Tung thought she would follow in the footsteps of her older sisters, both pharmacists. But after the first semester of her first year in science at the University of British Columbia, she knew that would never happen. “It just wasn’t an environment I could envision myself working in, or studying in, for the next four years,” she says.

After failing a couple of courses and being placed on academic probation—despite excelling in science during high school—Tung decided to try out the social sciences instead, sampling all the 101-level courses she could in sociology, women’s studies, philosophy, psychology and economics. She eventually decided to major in English literature. “I think it was one of the best decisions I ever made,” she says, “seeing the light at the end of the campus and moving into the arts faculty.”

Today, Tung is still at UBC, working toward a dual master’s of library and information studies and master’s of archival studies.

“A lot of people would ask what I’m going to do with an English lit major,” she says. “They think I just read stories. But it enhanced my writing and communication skills and the ability to be more empathetic in a world that can seem really cynical.”

She most enjoyed not just reading the classics but also courses on digital media and the information economy. Today, Tung is on a co-op term working with UBC’s rare books and special collections to preserve transcripts relating to the Delgamuukw Supreme Court decision, considered a turning point in treaty negotiations and the recognition of Aboriginal title in B.C. Through the co-op program, she’s also worked on records management in the corporate world. Perhaps surprisingly, she now feels strongly about digital archives. Tung finds herself interested in the human history behind the bits.

“There are a lot of records made by government and by the people in a country that serve as a collective memory,” she says. “If we don’t have access to those records, we can’t learn from mistakes we’ve made or move forward with informed decisions.”

What did you want to be . . .

At 10? A pharmacist, following in my sisters’ footsteps, for sure. It seemed a very rewarding career for them.
At 17? I wanted to get a general feel of the science program.
At 25? I really see myself working with electronic records. The preservation of digital records. I think it’s going to be very important.

What would you do differently if you could?

Even though it took a long time for me to get where I amit took six years to finish my undergrad because of the change and because of co-op work placements—all that contributed to my overall university and personal experience.

Besides academics, what life lesson did you learn at university?

Fill your days with a wide range of experiences and eventually you’ll be able to figure out what you like. That’s what’s going to be able to point you in a direction that’s rewarding.

(Courtesy of Navroop Tehara)

Navroop Tehara

Navroop Tehara knew from day one that he would major in political science when he enrolled in the University of Calgary. He followed his big sister into the program, where he got his degree.

A few years later, his sister enrolled in an urban-planning graduate program; Tehara is now working on a master’s of planning at the University of Waterloo with a focus on land use and development. “I didn’t even know city planning existed when I was in my undergrad, and in my third year, my sister was about done her master’s in planning, and I started to look into it. I found it really interesting,” he says. “I always enjoyed learning about how cities grow.” While his sister eventually pursued a different career path, Tehara now hopes to work for a major Canadian municipality.

He had initially thought law school was in his future—possibly a career as a Crown prosecutor. “I always wanted to work for the government, do public service in some way,” he says. “I thought law would be a good opportunity to do that and represent the interests of the public.”

In Calgary, Tehara was also one of about 10 campus Young Liberals—the Young Conservatives had 10 times the membership—and in Waterloo, he’s active in the Association of Graduate Planners.
During his undergrad years, he was interested in federal politics but now finds the municipal level more interesting, and he muses about running for city council in his 40s. For now, his goals are modest: to have a secure job by age 29 or 30. His sister graduated in the wake of the 2008 recession and was never able to get a planning career off the ground. Tehara admits he’s a bit “jaded” when it comes to job prospects and has been applying in B.C., Alberta and Ontario. “I fully expect to be hopping on contracts for the first couple of years. That’s really just how it is, especially if you’re working in major cities.”

What did you want to be . . .

At 10? I wanted to be an engineer. I didn’t understand it. I just thought it was cool because my uncle’s an engineer. I was good at math at that point in my life, but as I got older, I realized that wasn’t my skill set.
At 17? I saw myself going to law school. With a general degree like political science, the career paths are there, but not as plentiful as in other majors.
At 25? I’d like to work for a municipality. I’ve also looked into applying for consulting stuff on land development. A master’s degree can get you a job, but I could do other things with it. Ideally, though, I’d like to be a planner.

What would you do differently if you could?

I’d probably do a double degree in economics or something just to broaden my skill set. If you don’t have the qualifications on paper, employers assume you lack the business savvy.

Besides academics, what life lesson did you learn at university?

Whenever you have the opportunity to meet unique individuals and people of different backgrounds, you should try to engage and work with them. University is a great place to meet people.

(Courtesy of Kayode Fatoba)

Kayode Fatoba

Not everyone’s path is determined by a well-publicized failure. In 2010, Kayode Fatoba organized a concert on campus at Simon Fraser University headlined by Somali-Canadian rapper K’naan, who was riding high on the World Cup hit song Wavin’ Flag. Fatoba, who was born in Nigeria, had never even been to a concert. But the fundraising fell short of K’naan’s fee—around $40,000—and the show was cancelled, leaving students outraged and reporters calling for comment.

Five years later, Fatoba will graduate in April with a bachelor’s degree in health sciences from Simon Fraser University. Interestingly, Fatoba has no immediate plans to pursue a career in medicine. He still loves to plan events—even though his first one was a bust. “It’s completely separate” from his degree, he says. “It’s about finding my passion.”

Fatoba left Vancouver briefly after the concert flop, staying with his family in Toronto. When he returned to classes, he immersed himself in extracurricular activities. He started his own campus clubs, like the African Students’ Association. “It would have been so epic if K’naan performed,” Fatoba says. “But I’ve also gotten the opportunity to organize other events,” such as a sexual-health awareness week. Eventually, Fatoba was elected SFU’s student society vice-president in 2014, organizing events and concerts. He has also founded a digital company called SkyNation, making website-hosting affordable in Africa.

What did you want to be . . .

At 10? My mom recently showed me this letter I wrote in elementary school. I actually wanted to be a corporate lawyer. A lawyer and a businessman.
At 17? My dad saw me as being a doctor.
At 25? I see myself as being part of Canada’s emerging entrepreneurs, building a brand people can believe in and employing a lot of people and changing the world.

What would you do differently if you could?

I’ll never know how I might have been different. If I didn’t go to SFU, maybe my trajectory would have been different. But I learned a lot from failing. What I learned outside of school I don’t think any individual can pay for.

Besides academics, what life lesson did you learn at university?

I feel that [my success] is based on not giving up and me getting lost and finding myself.

(Courtesy of Jessica Yu)

Jessica Yu

Jessica Yu has hiked up Mt. Longonot in Kenya, been robbed in Tanzania and spent two months in an Indian slum. She’s visited 57 countries so far, and this young firecracker says she’s just getting started. “I love travelling. I want to visit as many countries as I can,” says Yu. She didn’t always want to be a globetrotter. In high school, she was interested in sports physiotherapy, and at McMaster University she studied kinesiology.

At university, she became interested in international relations and human rights. She jumped at opportunities to go abroad, finding time for everything from a 2,000-km road trip to Florida during reading week to a summer semester at the University of Jerusalem. After completing her undergraduate degree, she decided to get a master’s in global health because it married her interest in science with her delight in the world.

For her master’s thesis, she spent two months in the slums of Ahmedabad, India, interviewing residents and non-governmental organizations in an attempt to improve how slum communities cope with disasters. Now she’s working on a joint Ph.D. at the University of British Columbia and the University of Edinburgh in global health. Her research focuses on improving the health of South African miners, who have some of the highest tuberculosis rates in the world.

This fall, Yu is focusing on applying for the Trudeau and Vanier scholarships, major financial awards that go to promising young researchers with bold ideas. Once that’s done, she’ll indulge her travel bug. As she puts it: “I’ll certainly be spending lots of time in South Africa over the next few years, and apart from that, who knows? There are more than 100 countries I’ve yet to visit.”

What did you want to be . . .

At 10? I wanted to be an artist. I wanted to paint.
At 17? I wanted to be a sports physiotherapist.
At 25? I want to be a professor.

What would you do differently if you could?

I wouldn’t do anything differently. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t made the mistakes I made. Maybe I would have studied a different subject instead of kinesiology, but I’m still really happy I did because I have that health background now.

Besides academics, what life lesson did you learn at university?

When I travelled, I saw that what was important to study in the classroom could be important in the bigger picture. Teaching in China, conducting research in India, meeting people in New Zealand, Thailand, Belgium and Sri Lanka—and learning from them—changed the way I see the world.

(Courtesy of Cassandra Fong)

Cassandra Fong

Cassandra Fong had wanted to work in global development for as long as she could remember. That’s why she took a job on graduation with Bain & Co., part of the legendary Bain Capital, a huge private-equity firm co-founded by former presidential candidate Mitt Romney. That might have seemed an unlikely choice for Fong, who now works in the non-profit sector.

“It was actually really, really useful in terms of getting the skill sets I needed to work in the non-profit sector,” she says. After graduating from Western University’s Ivey Business School with a bachelor of business administration, Fong worked at Bain for two years.

“I knew it would be a really corporate environment but I wanted to learn from the best, get thrown into the toughest problems out there . . . and transfer those skills.”

She’s now a consultant with the UN World Food Programme, where she helps identify cost savings and efficiencies in the organization.

Fong applied to Ivey right out of high school and in 2008 was granted early acceptance, meaning she could take courses at the business school in her third year of studies. Through business school, she became involved in charities like the Sunshine Foundation, which helps realize the dreams of severely disabled or seriously ill kids, and Ivey Connects, the school’s charitable arm.

Fong completed the internship with the Sunshine Foundation just before starting her job at Bain, where she took on extra casework for a national charity. She has spent the past year in Rome and plans to remain a global citizen.

Those who work in the non-profit world are “incredibly passionate people who love what they do,” she says. “But I did notice there were some inefficiencies in place, some disorganization and chaos that I thought business structure could help.”

What did you want to be . . .

At 10? I really wanted to be a human-rights lawyer. Part of that was influenced by the books I read. The most impactful one was The Street Lawyer by John Grisham. I also watched shows like CSI, and I thought being a lawyer would be rewarding.
At 17? Law was still an option. Ivey has a dual-degree program where you can do law and business in a shorter amount of time. I found out that the [law] material wasn’t as exciting as I would have hoped.
At 25? Within the next year or two, I’m looking into going to business school to get my M.B.A. so I can continue learning business to apply to non-profits. Long-term, I see myself working my way up in a large, international development organization in a leadership role to really drive change.

What would you do differently if you could?

Absolutely nothing. I’m pretty happy with all the decisions I’ve made. Even if, at the time, it didn’t seem like the right one, things had a way of working out for the best.

Besides academics, what life lesson did you learn at university?

Definitely say yes to any opportunity. You really don’t know where it’s going to lead.