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Matthew Ferguson's valedictory speechJune 18, 2019

Matthew Ferguson, a Chemical Engineering and Society graduate, addressed the morning convocation with his valedictory speech on June 14, 2019.

Good morning Chancellor Lebarge, President Deane and President McKerlie, Provost Farrar, McMaster and Mohawk faculty, honoured guests, friends, family and of course, my fellow graduates of 2019. Before I begin, I’d like to ask you to take a moment to look where you’re sitting right now and let it soak in. Some of you may let out a huge sigh of relief. Or you may experience an overwhelming sense of pride. Some of you may even think, “What’s the big deal? I came here, I did my time and now I’m free.” And that’s totally fine. But what you all have achieved over the past four to seven years of your life is nothing short of outstanding, and I encourage you all to give yourselves a well-deserved round of applause. 

I am extremely grateful to be given the opportunity to speak on your behalf as graduates of the Bachelor of Engineering and Bachelor of Technology programs. To give you an experiential summary which represents a class this diverse is impossible. Heck, a lot of you likely don’t know who I am. But what I can try and do is help all of us realize the significance of where we are and why we are here today.

We all stepped foot on this campus in first year, ready to conquer the McMaster Engineering gauntlet. But what we got was the most brutal adjustment period of our young, naïve lives.

It was a hard pill to swallow learning that studying the night before a test wasn’t as efficient as we once thought. And for some of us, “adjustment period” meant adopting the use of the glorious brain juice that is caffeine. By the end of second semester, some of us thought that we had a handle on this whole engineering thing, and we prayed that we would never have to do another maple or LON-CAPA assignment ever again. 

Sure, it was a rude awakening, but we thought we had gotten through the worst of it… absolutely not. Nope. No, from our first classes in our decided disciplines, to that dreaded capstone project consisting of countless hours of meeting and grinding, there was always something keeping us up late. We could have been waiting for that simulation to converge, finalizing the details of a lab report in Thode, de-bugging the same code over and over, only to realize the culprit was a negative sign, or waiting for that one group member to send their part at 11:59. But it wasn’t always school worries that kept us up. It was personal stresses.

Matthew Ferguson.

We’ve experienced heartbreak, we’ve experienced fear of disappointment and so much more. But the beautiful thing about all this, is despite all our different pasts, and our different pathways, we’ve all managed to converge to this room, because of our resilience and strength.

Whether the next chapter in your life is working in the field, a long stint of travelling, the beginning of a masters, or even a PhD, you’re all on your way to do great things for not only others, but yourself. I have the utmost confidence in you just based on what I’ve seen throughout my time here. 

In this graduating class, I’ve met some of the most well-rounded, driven and self-aware people that I’ve ever seen. In this graduating class, I’ve seen people be struck down by personal failure; something to which we can all relate, to a certain degree. But in this graduating class, I’ve also seen people achieve not only their academic goals, but their personal goals as well. It’s amazing how much all of you have excelled inside and outside of the classroom. Maybe you made a lasting impact at your co-ops or internship. Maybe you screamed at the top of your lungs when you passed Math 2ZZ3. Maybe you showcased your talents through our remarkable clubs and teams, showing the rest of McMaster that we do have talents other than late night studying at a poorly lit desk. All of this is what makes me so incredibly proud to be a part of this community. 

Although today is a testament to your strength, fellow graduates, the encouragement we have received is the foundation. To the parents and other loved ones that have supported us unconditionally, and motivated us to reach such a significant life milestone — words can’t express our gratitude. Thank you to the professors, deans, TAs and advisors who were approachable and spoke with us when we were overcome by academic and professional doubt. Thank you to the countless groups like NSBE (National Society of Black Engineers), Mac MSA (Muslim Students’Association), Women in Eng, Engiqueers and our international student groups that supported us when we faced adversity based on our identities and backgrounds. Thank you to the friends, consoling us during our life problems helping us through our math problems, even though you may have contributed to our late-night sleeping problems. It’s okay, though. The late-night bonding was definitely worth it. And lastly, I want to say thank you…

To those that felt like they didn’t have as strong of a support system but still managed to find themselves here; you are the ones that truly show us that our strongest support system lies within ourselves. 

To give you an idea of the impact that I think this class can have on the world, allow me to share an experience that some of you may resonate with. Think about the first interaction with your family after coming to Mac Eng.

You were the new tech whiz of the family and the thought was that because you were in engineering, you could fix pretty much everything. It could have been the internet, it could have been the toaster. At least now, for me personally, I can put on my resume “Bachelor of Engineering, proficient in unplugging and plugging back in again."

But I feel like that’s a testament to world’s current problems. 

Our generation has been presented a new set of problems that our predecessors don’t necessarily have experience with, and we are now equipped to solve them and thrive. Because of this degree, we have the privilege of transferable knowledge and skills that enable us to succeed in any venture that we set out for ourselves. To those of you transitioning to postgraduate studies, I commend you for wanting to broaden your mind and apply yourself further in an academic setting. To those that have already started, or plan on working in industry, go and show them what McMaster Engineers and Technologists are made of. Remember you add tremendous value. And those of you that don’t want to pursue a career in engineering right away, or even at all, that’s okay too. Know that you’re not taking a step back. Only forward. Take the skills you’ve acquired here and set out to inspire and make change within your own respective passions… because an engineering degree opens more doors than you can imagine.

Graduating class of 2019, remember not just what we’ve learned in class, but what we’ve learned from our mentors, our peers and ourselves. 

I don’t believe that I’m standing here facing a group of just future engineers. I’m facing future influencers, innovators, activists, teachers, doctors and everything in between. I’m facing genuine, driven, fully qualified world changers. So, although you may have groaned when your family asked you to fix their toaster, the world is now our toaster; so, let’s get this bread. 

Thank you.

 

To learn more about Matthew Ferguson, read his pre-convocation profile.