What I wish I knew before starting University

To begin with, I would like to apologize for stepping back from the blog. Nonetheless, I am here and ready to share some insight as I finish up my Bachelor of Commerce! While some of this advice may be specific towards a Business degree, I still hope it can help guide you in your pursuit of a University degree. Looking back at the five years (yes, it should only take four years and no I am not bitter about the delayed graduation) of my undergraduate degree, there’s a few lessons that I wish others had told me before I began my journey.

Get involved on campus.

As a student club executive, I think others involved in student politics or clubs can relate to this one. Student apathy can be very discouraging to those that actively try to engage the student body. Here’s a general summary of what many undergraduates (including myself) experience.

First year – meet new people, make friends, go to parties, pass classes. Second year – do the same thing as first year, but do it better. Third year – worry about the future and begin planning (*note: plans and actions are not the same thing). Fourth year - examine your resume, panic… and attempt to gain leadership experience.

Now this is definitely not the experience for ALL students. I have met many mature and brilliant first and second years who have it all figured out. They have the head start, win the awards, and get the dream job. If you meet these individuals, befriend them. They will be very helpful to have in your network, somewhere down the line. But if you are among the many that have no particular interest in getting involved, here’s a few considerations that might change your mind.

It looks really, really, really good on a resume. It adds that extra ‘spice’ to your resume, beyond the retail work experience and post-secondary education. Also, in interviews you actually have an example for when they ask you how you manage your time and prioritize.

You have opportunities to advance into larger leadership roles. It’s a great place to learn what type of leader you are before you actually get to the workplace and mistakes become costly.

You will meet some really cool people. And if you don’t, you haven’t joined the right club/campus activity. There are numerous options, don’t be afraid to go to clubs week or orientation week and learn about what groups there are. I guarantee, there is something out there for you. And if not, start your own club – someone else is bound to be interested in the same thing.

You will lose some friends… but it will be OK.

Speaking of meeting new people, you may lose some old ones. This is one of those life stages where everyone is headed in different directions and people find it difficult to stay grounded. You will find out who is willing to make the effort to stay in touch, and it may be tragic, but that’s an important discovery to make. Just know that you will meet some amazing people who may even be in your wedding party someday.

Professors had a life before teaching and some have actually done some really cool things in their time.

I don’t really know what more to say about this point. But trust me, some of them have a wealth of knowledge, a diverse network and might be able to help you get your next job or start your own business. If they’re especially great, they won’t mind being your mentor for the future as well.

Your GPA doesn’t matter… that much. But it does.

What do I mean by that? Well I’ve flipped back and forth on my position regarding this issue. Does your GPA really matter in the grand scheme of things? If you’re like me and haven’t been anywhere near getting on Dean’s List or graduating with Honours you’ll be overjoyed to hear professionals say that GPAs don’t define an individual. It’s true. There are quite a handful of business professionals who I have talked with or had mock interviews that have reassured me that grades are not as significant as students believe. On the other hand, I have scrolled through various job postings (as a soon to be new graduate) where ‘prestigious’ larger companies require transcripts and overall minimum GPAs of 3.2 or what have you. Keep in mind 3.2 is a ballpark minimum, these companies generally prefer 3.5 or higher in addition to your work experience and extracurriculars. Had I known early on that those difficult Calculus or Statistic classes I flunked in my first year would come back to haunt me, I would most likely have tried a little, or a lot, harder. If you have always planned to pursue a graduate degree, you probably don’t need this speech as you have always understood the importance of a high standing GPA. But for those of you that do not plan on doing so, keep in mind that plans change and perhaps you might realize you love academia or have a secret calling to become a lawyer or veterinarian. A poor GPA closes many, many doors – in work and in continuing education.

Do a Co-op program or get ANY job experience related to your degree.

This one may be a bit more focused on Business majors, but I feel that it applies for all degrees. One of my biggest regrets was not joining the Co-op program at my school. This may not have mattered so much if I had gone out and obtained summer work experience related to my degree. But of course, I didn’t. I spent my summers working as a server, making great money from tips and neglecting my future. So it’s up to you – do you value short-term gains or long-term wins?

Being a full-time student is not permanent. Take advantage of all the perks while you still can.

The most obvious advantage are probably the health benefits, tax breaks, and great discounts. Let’s all take a moment to thank society for recognizing that students are generally broke and really, really appreciate the great deals you offer them on food, tickets and everything else.

Cherish your time.

Whether you were at school for a year before dropping out, or dragged your degree(s) out for eight years, the time really does fly. So enjoy yourself. University is not only about education, it’s about personal growth. You’ll meet a lot of different people, you’ll take a lot of different classes (like those weird elective classes nobody knew about), and you’ll learn a lot of things. You will either walk out of university feeling like you learned more than you ever thought possible, or, you’ll leave with the belief that nobody really knows what they’re talking about. Either way, it’s bound to impact your life, so pay attention because these will be “some of the best years of your life”.

present xmas

After you see what they asked for Christmas, maybe you’ll change your mind about your wish list

After spending the whole day sifting through websites and stores to find the best presents for my loved ones, I came across this video…

What these homeless people ask for Christmas is so simple and heartwarming

american red cross truck

Red Cross counselor tells all on how Experiences have Changed her

Veda Alban is a philanthropist and is adamant about educating people in how best to care for themselves in body, mind and spirit. As a hospice nurse she has volunteered with the American Red Cross multiple times as a mental health counselor for natural disaster patients. Below is her story on the grief and tragedy she witnessed and the inspiring lessons she’s taken away from her volunteering experience.

The older one becomes the more one realizes that individually we are minuscule and impotent. However, collectively we can become a force to overcome adversity and alter its structure, allowing us to transform lives. Together we become compassionate advocates whereas alone we seem to simply be voices crying in the wilderness of turmoil. In the Southeastern United States between 2004 and 2010 we weathered a series of devastating hurricanes. Starting with Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne followed by Emily, Katrina, Rita, and Wilma. Prior to that, the storm that I remember most vividly was Hurricane Andrew which struck the Miami area in 1992. At the time, my husband and I were at a conference in Daytona Beach and my in-laws were on a cruise ship somewhere in the Atlantic. The evening before landfall people hunkered down in hotels along the Eastern Florida Coast from Daytona to Jacksonville having fled the projected path of violence. A year later we drove through Homestead, a suburb of Miami, and were still dazed by the level of destruction present.

Fast forward to 2004 when Charley paid the West Coast of Florida an untimely visit. Since it was predicted to make landfall considerably north of us we were home and directly in its path. After we watched our sliding glass doors buckling and swaying in the 125 mile an hour winds, we threw blankets and pillows and three bug-eyed felines into the only windowless room in our condo – the master bathroom. Cozy. It was a powerful but short-lived storm. In its aftermath we decided to check on our boat docked at a marina in a neighboring town just south of us. What we saw in our attempted drive was a tribute to the forces of nature. All along our route one side of the road was in perfect condition while the other side was demolished – block after block. Before too long though the streets were impassable with debris, mud, felled trees, and downed power lines. As darkness enveloped us, we realized that without traffic lights it would become much too hazardous to continue. Over the next few days as we ventured forth we felt vulnerable and naked. I remember driving to work and crying because National Guard troops were directing traffic and trucks from various states (New York, New Jersey, the Carolina’s, Texas just to name a few) brought us food and water, fixed our power lines and removed debris and trees from our streets. We relied entirely on others for our basic needs. As nurses and social workers we were permitted to load our cars with food, water and supplies at tents set up by the National Guard and dispensed them to the patients and families we were lucky enough to locate. Cell phone service was non-existent and GPS was not yet a widespread commodity. But it was this sense of helplessness and vulnerability that took root in our brains. So many were homeless, so many had nothing.

Several years before Charley, as if knowing something was in the wind, the American Red Cross had approached Social Workers, Chaplains and Nurses from our local hospice to be trained as Disaster Mental Health Counselors. While other Red Cross members doled out water, sandwiches, money, provided temporary shelter and much more, we tried to put a Band-Aid on the gaping wounds of grief. We saw hundreds of people a day and while they fell asleep on a cot in a school or church hall, we retired to the comforts of our own space. Our children were safe, our pets looked after and even if we didn’t have electricity, we had the basic comforts of home. Who said life was fair? Who said that we in the so-called “helping professions” could fix everything? Turns out it wasn’t about fixing at all. It was simply about being present; and then, being present again. By the time Hurricane Katrina struck our Gulf Coast neighbor, we had seen what devastation looked like – or so we thought. But one is never really prepared to stare into the face of such massive suffering. Packing for deployment, I included such oddities as toilet paper, insect repellent, flares, and clothes I wouldn’t swelter in since Louisiana in August/September is, quite frankly, a hot, torpid jungle. The group from our office drove to Mobile, Alabama. We stopped for lunch at a truck stop and much to our embarrassment received a standing ovation from the other customers for “what we do”.

The next day we reported to our assigned disciplines for further instructions. Since I had previous experience with Charley and none of the other volunteers had, I was sent back to Tampa, FL to head up the team of Mental Health Counselors there. I wanted to beg to stay but as volunteers we are trained not to make waves over assignments. So I swallowed hard and flew back to Tampa. In addition to seeing 20 or so clients a day (who would have thought so many would have come to Florida?) I made the rounds of the five offices in the city. Each was as busy as the last. We listened to tale after tale of hardship, we comforted those beyond comfort, and we hugged and listened some more. At times we were called to deal with overwhelmed volunteers and staff as disagreements erupted amidst the high tension environment. And at the end of the long 12-hour day we dragged ourselves back to our hotels and tried to find food before collapsing into freshly made beds. No need for that toilet paper or insect repellent.

It wasn’t until 2010 that I was next deployed. After the January earthquake in Haiti I had attempted to get back in the field but things were backed up with so much red tape I had no success. When I was asked to go to Sanford, Florida I jumped at the opportunity. Due to its smaller size, Sanford’s airport only had runways large enough to accommodate troop transport planes and was used to receive refugees. Thousands and thousands were evacuated in the bellies of those drab mammoth hulls. As I faced each day the words etched on the base of the Statue of Liberty echoed in my heart: “Give me your tired, your poor. Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. Lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Those that survived the journey stood before us. I cannot recall another time when it was so evident we were a team united for the sole purpose of relieving suffering. The refugees were given food, clothing and in some cases shelter although most had some relative to stay with (a contingency for their evacuation to the USA). Many were so ill especially the very old and the very young that they were immediately transported by EMS to the local hospitals which were soon over-crowded. Everyone helped everyone else. I was fortunate enough to speak French. Although delinquent in the Haitian vernacular I was able to understand and be understood. Centenarians, eyes clouded in sorrow at what they had witnessed, wept silently in our arms as if they might reawaken the ravages of the hell they’d left behind. Aunts and uncles, teenage siblings and grandparents came with small children whose parents had been buried under tons of rubble. Babies clung to us as if we were the only available lifeline in a black, turbulent sea.

After each experience I, and I’m certain many others, had difficulty reintegrating into our normal lives. None of us had been at the scene during the event, we had only been witnesses to the aftermath and it was difficult to truly assimilate what the victims of these events had gone through – difficult to really grasp the details of their realities. But I also believe that we as a whole made a difference. Taking each individual deed seems meaningless but to see the efforts as a whole gives me faith in humanity. We are not as drastically altered and scarred as those we served but we are forever changed. We are changed at our soul level. We know there is no such thing as “preparing for the worst” because we have no way of knowing “the worst” before it is upon us. But we can be prepared for the best in all of us and that our knowledge will allow us to shine.

jim carrey speech

Jim Carrey’s witty and brilliant Graduation speech

Here’s the graduation speech everyone is raving about. Jim Carrey in all his glory with the next generation of graduates at Maharishi University of Management. He runs us through finding his passion and how he’s gotten to where he is now. A few of my favorite moments from the video (aside from when he tells us it’s okay to eat our feelings with soft-serve ice cream) are:

“So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality.”

“To find real peace, you have to let the armor go. Your need for acceptance can make you invisible in this world.”

“The effect you have on others is the most valuable currency there is.”

we day inspire change

We Day Founder, Craig Kielburger, speaks about his work

This week I was lucky enough to attend a speech from Craig Kielburger, founder of We Day. Together him and his brother (Marc) organized a movement to empower youth to make a difference in today’s world.  We Day is an event held where your ticket is not purchased, but it is earned. Attendees must do one act for a local cause as well as one act for a global cause. It is a celebration with a host of speakers, leaders and entertainers to congratulate and continue inspiring these young people. Through his work, Craig has been recognized with multiple honorary degrees and awards from Human Rights, International Peace, Leaders of Tomorrow as well as being named a member of the Order of Canada. He also had the honor of working with the Dalai Lama, Mother Theresa and is a best-selling author.

If you want to know a little more about We Day check out the video below, if you want to hear more about Craig’s speech, keep on reading.

When Craig was 12 he opened up the newspaper in search of his beloved Comic section (what other newspaper sections do most 12 year old’s read?). Instead, he found himself face-to-face with an article about a young Pakistani boy who had been sold as a slave when he was 4 years old and finally escaped when he reached 10. His name was Iqbal Masih and he joined Bonded Labour Liberation Front (BLLF)  and started giving voice to his own story and the untold stories of many other children who were also enlisted as slaves. When he was 12, Iqbal was murdered.

After reading this article, a spark grew in young Craig. The next day he asked his classmates to commit to making a change that Iqbal would be proud of and that was where the dream was born. 12 children brought together by one idea and a leader with astronomical hopes, they started by holding bake sales, car washes and fundraisers which eventually led them to building a school in a third world country. At such a young age, Craig’s efforts were creating such massive ripples that the Dalai Lama called to invite him to a private retreat with other renowned leaders.  The focus of the weekend was one single question:

What is the greatest challenge facing our world Today?

After many long discussions, the group agreed that our single greatest challenge is raising a generation of passive bystanders. How we educate young people is a direct reflection of how well our society is equipped to face with the issues arising around us. In places such as Canada or the United States children receive not only a standard school-system education, but also are enrolled in music lessons, art, or sports to create a well-rounded childhood. What parents tend to fall short of is empowering their children to begin initiatives of change – to volunteer. The University of Virginia created a study to see the impact that regular volunteering had on young people. It turns out, unsurprisingly, that those who regularly volunteered were more likely to go onto secondary education, had better academic grades, had less abuse with alcohol and drugs and a better self-image. Overall, these kids were healthier and happier.

So we create change initiatives, we volunteer more, we donate more, what is the secret formula to overcoming the problems that so many charities and non-profit organizations are addressing?

In order to create any sustaining change, we need a well-rounded plan and we need media coverage. We need to not only start the conversation, but continue it. In our world today we are constantly being bombarded with so much information overload that we struggle to stay focused. Our problem is that we move from crisis to crisis, temporarily fulfilling our promise to solve the problem but once the media leaves, the money disappears and the initiatives break down. Craig has seen this first-hand when his group was doing work in Sierra Leone back in the 2000′s. For almost two years the country was consistently in the media spotlight, but when it became old news, people began to lose interest and investors stopped funding the development projects. The model that Craig and his Free the Children non-profit enterprise follow is a 5 year program to run their projects. 5 years gives them enough time to set up resources, teach the locals and allow them to become self-sufficient. A surprising statistic from the UN shows us that most clean water initiatives fail the first three years. The reason for this is they do not look at the big picture. In order for impoverished people around the world to be truly self-sufficient and free from foreign aid we need to give them tools, not simply throw money at them. His enterprise uses a model with 5 main focuses: clean water, healthcare, education, food security and small business knowledge. With this combination, people in need are given an environment where they can finally succeed.

There is a cultural shift happening right now and you can choose to be a part of it. We can choose to teach our young people to be kind, giving, and compassionate.We can choose to talk about the problems that our world is facing. We can choose to take action instead of idly standing by. We can choose to be smart humanitarians and inspire a generation of smart humanitarians.

If you would like to know more about how to get involved with We Day, you can visit:

Find inspiration. Fuel aspirations.