Tomorrow I graduate from university.

This is what will happen: I will pick up my black robe with red trim and a hat that will most certainly look silly on me. I will greet old colleagues and friends on campus and they, along with my family, will congratulate me and tell me I’m special even though I’m one of hundreds of students dressed exactly alike doing exactly the same thing. But I’ll believe them anyway.

I’ll sit in a row with other people whose last name also starts with G and eventually I’ll walk across the stage and kneel in front of the chancellor,who will bop me on the head and give me my diploma. Someone will give some nice speech with a few nuggets of life advice, and then all of us newly minted graduates will file demurely outside to take pictures.

But what I’ll walk away with is more than a piece of paper,

That parchment, which, in truly clichéd fashion, will probably end up framed and hanging unimpressively on my wall somewhere, isn’t simply the sum of lectures, assignments, and exams I completed in my five years at UVic. My main piece of advice to any student starting university is that some of your most important learning will happen outside the classroom. That little paper, to me, is a testament to all that I’ve learned and all the ways I’ve grown since I started here, wide-eyed and scared, some Septembers ago.

My degree is in political science and professional writing, but what does that mean? It means I learned how to get lost in Amsterdam and how to make small talk with my local banana man in Malawi. I made people cry, tears of grief and happiness, with words I wrote. I discovered the beauty of a group of friends where no two people grew up with the same cultural background that still finds common ground to laugh over. I walked into the office of the university president and asked him for funding for a program that serves refugee students. I stood on stage in front of thousands of new students at the end of an orientation day I helped plan for them. I talked to a panel of professors like equals as I proudly defended my honours thesis.

I began to understand how much inequity and injustice there is the world—but also where I fit and how much I can do about it.

It is these highlights and so many more tiny, unquantifiable moments that make up my time as a student of UVic. Watching students dig up the lawn in my first year in a protest over food security. Sitting a cubicle in the library, blinking back tears because I didn’t think I was smart enough. Lying on the grass at night and pointing out constellations I learned in astronomy class. Writing messages on classroom chalkboards at 7:30 am before anyone else was awake. Sharing iftar dinner with friends at a Ramadan celebration. Getting the jitters from 8 pm coffee during paper-writing season. Having honest and heartwarming conversations with people from all over the world in the basement of the Student Union Building.

UVic is my home. It will always feel like home. It’s shaped me and changed me—especially the parts of the system that taught me to question the system itself. The life of a student is one of ideas, passion, and possibility, and even though I will no longer be a  student after tomorrow (for a while, at least), I never want to stop thinking and learning and striving to do better, like my time at UVic taught me to do.

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