The spirit of an aspiring volunteer

16 04 2011

This past week, I was given a opportunity of a lifetime. I traveled to Toronto to receive the Ontario Medal for Young Volunteers from the The Honourable David Onley, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. Find the press release here.

Following the medal ceremony, there was a grand reception where I had the privilege of speaking about the experience, on behalf of all of the medal recipients. This speech was a response to a toast from the Advisory Council for the award.

Your Honor, Members of Provincial Parliament, ladies and gentlemen and fellow medal recipients, I thank you for this unexpected recognition. Even the most careful planning and preparation could not have prepared us for such an occasion. As passionate volunteers, we quickly learn the value of thinking on our feet and responding as well as we can in each opportunity that presents itself, but as my fellow recipients can surely relate, I have been utterly overwhelmed and pleasantly surprised by the experience of being a recipient of the Ontario Medal of Young Volunteers. Although we feel privileged and honoured to experience this special occassion, volunteering is not a unique opportunity. Instead it is an attitude, a lifestyle, a state of being that we have chosen to adopt. And I believe that this is the true beauty of volunteering. Like myself, this year’s selection of recipients come from humble beginnings, in most cases, small towns that seemingly offer limited volunteer opportunities for volunteering. We are not exceptions or outliers among today’s youth. We are simply the lucky ones who received the unconditional love and support from our family and friends that inspired us to engage in our communities. And the secret is that volunteering is in fact a hedonistic act. It is an addiction that makes one feel so good that once we start, we cannot stop. And I don’t think, any of us have such an intention. We thank our nominators who took the initiative to give us this incredible distinction, the advisory council for their dedicated efforts in making this year’s selection and above all, we thank our supportive communities that empowered us in such a way that we can stand here today. This honour is one that we will cherish for a very long time and one that motivates us to continue volunteering for just as long.

This experience was an incredible learning opportunity. I was able to put Melanie’s etiquette training to good use and network with elected and appointed officials as well as Ministry staff. I was also able to talk to many people about my studies at Quest and share my enthusiasm for volunteering, while resisting the urge to talk about partisan politics, for the most part (The upcoming election made this a bit difficult, but I tried to adopt the essence of Eric Gorham by using my words judiciously.) This experience also re-ignited my grade-8 passion for politics, something that has been stirring as of late as a result of my election to the Quest Students’ Representative Council as well as the development of my Question. Who knows what doors this honour will open? I can’t wait to find out!

On a more personal note, I was overwhelmed and surprised by my emotion during the ceremony. I was the only university student among the recipients (the others were in their final years of high school) and I was the only recipient to cry during the ceremony. In addition to preparing physically (i.e. trying to make my unruly, half-finished head of dreads look as neat and tidy as possible), I tried to prepare mentally and emotionally for the experience. However, when I was standing beside His Honour hearing my citation read by Dr. Eric Hoskins, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, my lip started to quiver and my eyes began to well with tears. At first, I tried to hold back and smile politely. But then, two thoughts occurred to me (well, really a zillion thoughts were swirling around my head, but these two were especially significant): 1) In the words of Eve Ensler, “I am an emotional creature!” and; 2) “The only person I know how to be is myself.” And in acknowledgment of these two simple mantras, I recognized my emotions and allowed myself to express them. No, I didn’t burst into sobs of joy, but there were definitely a few tears. Besides, it is not everyday that someone cries in the Lieutenant Governor’s Suite, or at least I hope not.

I am likely romanticizing the circumstances (as I tend to do) in saying that my emotional response was a conscious choice. In more honest terms, this is only a half-truth or a way of rationalizing my emotional behaviour. In reality, once started, emotions can’t be stopped, nor should they be, in cases such as this. We are told to “save face”, “not to let emotions get in the way”, think rationally rather than emotionally (I personally don’t agree with the affiliation between irrationality and emotion.) and to save face. Although I appreciate these sentiments and even act upon them regularly, they are not as universal as we may think and in all honestly, they are highly overrated. That said, I am slowly learning the importance of wearing different “hats” and I look forward to further developing this skill next year during my term as student body vice president!

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Wisdom from Quest faculty and staff

16 03 2011

Thus far, I have met with many faculty and staff members to discuss and organize my ideas. In the two months prior to Question block, I spoke to many faculty members to varying degrees to organize my ideas as well as brainstorm potential directions. (Check out our faculty bios here..they are pretty spectacular!) In addition, I have also shared some of my preliminary ideas with a few former colleagues and personal contacts. I have deliberately cast this wide net in order to make sure I am gaining diverse perspectives from a range of academic fields as well as personal backgrounds. I feel very fortunate that the faculty is so accessible to students as these meetings (both formal and informal) have been incredibly helpful as I try to find an academic focus of my own.

Most recently, I scheduled meetings with Andre, Jim, Court, Steve as well as a second meeting with Eric. I went into this second round of meetings with much more focus than my preliminary sessions, and was even able to propose possible Questions, such as “How can we facilitate collaboration effectively?”

  1. Focus – What is an appropriate balance between breadth and depth? How can my Question be broad enough to encompass a wide range of curricular and co-curricular interests and to provide adequate flexibility and freedom during my Concentration years? However, my Question needs to be narrow enough to offer sufficient academic focus and direction?
  2. Integration – How can I acquire a well-rounded education that integrates concepts from different disciplines in a meaningful, multidisciplinary way? To what extent is it possible or even desirable to pursue both arts and sciences with equal rigour?

My goals for these meetings were to:

  • Gain perspective on the importance of focus and integration when forming a Question.
  • Receive constructive feedback on the wording of my Question
  • Identify some relevant sources of information that would aid further independent research, such as search words, topics, disciplines and possible readings

During these meetings, I gained a lot of insight about some possible areas that I would like to further explore as well as some specific courses that might be relevant to my anticipated academic journey. I was pleasantly surprised by the meaningful links I was able to identify between seemingly different fields, all occurring within the scope of my Question. For example, Court identified parallels between natural resource management and human resource management. Furthermore, population models used in the life sciences could inform human population models. On the other hand, Andre and Jim highlighted the importance of first defining the terms that I am using, such as management and collaboration, to make sure I mean what I am saying, after all definitions can be subjective. In addition, Andre suggested that I also define the anti-theses of these terms. Rather than strictly thinking about the motivations for collective action, he suggested it might also be useful to look at individualism.

Also, out of pure coincidence, I also began talking to Steve, our new international admission counselor. I described the nature of my Question, and then asked about his academic background. As it turns out, he has an Honours degree in Sociology, a discipline that Eric had directed me to during our meeting a day earlier. Sociology is defined as “the study of the development, structure, and functioning of human society.” Steven has also worked in varying capacities within the field of institutional organization. According to Steven, I am destined for a career in human resources. I have fully processed that notion quite yet, but I’ve accepted it for now. Similarly, I learned that Vanessa, our university librarian, is currently undertaking graduate studies in leadership. She is currently writing a strategic plan for the library, which serves both her responsibilities for work as well as one of her courses. Coincidentally, I plan on writing a strategic plan for the Quest Students’ Representative Council (SRC) as experiential learning over the summer, so she will be an incredible resource. Melanie has also been extremely helpful in the past couple months as I attempt to integrate both my curricular and co-curricular activities. Once again, I am completely intrigued by the professional and personal backgrounds of the staff and faculty at Quest, and their willingness to take time out of their daily work to exchange ideas with students.

Also, Eric proposed a few more possible Questions: i) “What is the role of collaboration in political and social organization?”, or more broadly, ii) “How do institutions transform themselves?” Alternatively, in consideration of David’s suggestion, I could merge the two to read, “What is the role of collaboration in institutional transformation?” As you can tell, each of these versions has a slightly different focus. I’ll keep all three for now.

My next step is to start the next round of research, based on the keywords that I received. A long day in the library for me, but luckily, I am so interested and excited about my Question that it won’t even really feel like work. I was hesitant and overwhelmed at first, but I think I’m going to like this whole Question thing after all.