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Hannah McPhee's valedictory speechJune 19, 2019

Hannah McPhee, an Engineering Physics graduate, addressed the afternoon convocation with her valedictory speech on June 14, 2019.

Good afternoon and welcome Dr. Labarge, Dr. Deanne, Dr. Farrar, all guests, faculty, family, friends and my fellow graduates. It is an honour to deliver this year’s valedictory address, and an honour to be graduating from my undergraduate degree with an exceptional group of students.

And to my fellow students, congratulations. We did it! We’ve made it through the past four to seven years of school and work successfully — and that is a huge accomplishment. We’ve gone from failing our first major labs because we can’t figure out what an ‘if’ statement is, to being full fledged Computer Science and Engineering graduates (even if we still need to google the Syntax every time). We survived the sleepless nights that come hand in hand with working on our capstone projects and made it out the other side better engineers and hopefully better friends because of it. And we have done it together!

Take some time today to thank the friends that inspired you to work harder — who were always doing better than you, who encouraged you get involved in extra-curriculars you definitely didn’t have time for and who always took the time to help you when you needed it.

But also, thank the friends who made you work less. The friends that convinced you to MSAF that assignment so you could go to a concert, and who’s “do you reaaally need to go to Friday morning lecture?” comments were the most convincing. Those are the friends that made our time at McMaster about more than school. Our friends helped us to build a community.

And our community here — one where we don’t compete with one another, but we raise one another up — is what has made this place so special to me over the past five years. Everyone here has contributed to making this school, and this faculty, our home. The people I have met through my time here are some of the most giving I have ever encountered. They are giving of their time — volunteering in the community, spending countless hours on clubs and teams and bringing life to Mac Eng.

Hannah McPhee.

Mac Eng students are giving of their empathy, kindness and knowledge (but definitely never their matlab code). And we are not alone. We have made this space a positive one alongside our professors, administrative assistants,  academic advisors, career counsellors and long suffering teaching assistants. From the staff who call us “honey” when we buy our coffee, to the cleaners who ask us how we are doing instead of kicking us out when they find us working at 3 a.m., we have been supported through our time here by a village.

To all these people, and especially to my peers, thank you. We have made McMaster our home, and as we leave here to embark on our new journeys, let’s keep building homes wherever we go. 

We are a new generation of engineers and computer scientists, and we have a responsibility to create more communities and to create workplaces that are inclusive and positive for everyone in them. I urge you all to take the time to reflect on how you can support the women, members of racialized communities, LGBTQ-identifying folks, First Nations, Metis and Inuit people, persons with disabilities, and all communities who are seeking equity in STEM.

Let’s recognize discrimination and injustice and advocate for each other, instead of letting that work fall on the shoulders of those who might not have the same opportunities that you do. We are all here because we like solving interesting problems, and with diverse voices at the table, we can find better solutions.

Our responsibility to each other doesn’t stop at our workplaces. As engineers, we have signed up to serve the world. And as the worlds next designers, builders, policy makers, artists and business managers, I believe we have the power to make positive change.

We can design products, processes and policies that are sustainable. We can demand better of companies that cause undue harm to the environment, or don’t treat their workers with dignity. Wherever we end up, whether its engineering work or not, lets always ask questions: Is our work respectful of the environment? Are we listening to the communities we impact? Are we elevating marginalized voices? Will there be free coffee at office meetings?

We are about to have a seat at the table, and a louder voice than we have ever had before. Let’s speak up.

Now if you are at all like me, you are probably feeling a little overwhelmed at the prospect of the future. You might be hoping that I will stop talking about the work that we are going to do because you don’t have a job lined up. By the way, for any employers in the audience — you can find me on LinkedIn, Hannah with an H at the end. But despite my own fears, I honestly do believe that I am in a room with a group of people who can do great things. One of my favourite professors once told our class that we are smart “enough." 

Successful people, impactful people, are not geniuses. They are hard working, with positive attitudes, committed to life long learning, and they are alright intellectually. All of us have made it this far — we are smart enough. With a little elbow grease, and a little passion, we can do anything.

But for now, lets enjoy the summer. Congratulations and best of luck. Thank you.


To learn more about Hannah McPhee, read her pre-convocation profile.