Every year, shortly before the final exam season, the UTM Office of Advancement interviews candidates for valedictorian for the graduating class. This year, the office selected Cherie Elizabeth Novecosky, who’s doing a specialist in art and art history. With graduation right around the corner, Novecosky reflected on her undergraduate years with The Medium.

“It [being chosen as valedictorian] wasn’t something I thought could actually be a possibility,” Novecosky said with a laugh. “I was speechless.”

Novecosky won the Gordon Cressy Student Leadership Award after being nominated by the chair of the Department of Visual Studies, professor Alison Syme, who she said was one of the most “influential and inspiring” people she studied under at UTM.

After winning the leadership award, Novecosky was considered for the valedictorian position and got it after, according to her, she “connected really well with them” at the interview. “When they told me I got it, I teared up a little bit. I had no idea the leadership award would lead to this. It’s an absolute honour, something extremely special and I can’t wait.”

Having spent the last five years in a program that allowed her studio time alongside academic focus, Novecosky has been actively involved on campus. She was the art and art history liaison for the Department of Visual Studies’ student society for two years and the vice-president of the dance club in her third year. She has also represented her program at the Ontario College Fair and the Creative Art Fair. She’s also holding a solo art exhibit in the Faculty Club at UTSG in early June. Her work is currently being displayed in the Blackwood Gallery as part of the Art and Art History Grad Show until March 31st.

Other than professor Syme, Steph Sullivan, DVS’s undergraduate counsellor has been a constant “source of strength” for Novecosky throughout her undergraduate years, “I went to her once every semester just to make sure everything was on track and she has been a rock for me,” Novecosky said.

When asked to describe a turning point for her at UTM, she recalled a time when she was extremely close to dropping out of UTM in her third year, due to some deeply personal struggles. However, after going back home to Calgary and regrouping with her friends and family, she knew what she wanted to do with her life and was certain of it.

“I got myself together. I told myself, you’re not stopping anymore, you go and you go hard, and you go fast and you get it done. It was the most trying year but also the most rewarding one,” Novecosky explained.

After graduation, Novecosky will move back west and start her master’s in counselling psychology at the University of Victoria, while hoping to do art therapy on the side.

Reflecting back on her time at UTM, she said it has made her “a much stronger woman, has made me find who I actually am and made me realize I have a voice I didn’t know I had. I feel very confident going forward with my decisions, knowing they’re right for me.” She emphasized the importance of her family but also the importance of her group of friends at UTM who have been her support system throughout the five years.

When asked about any advice she had for other students, she replied, “[The] journey has not been easy and I want people to know that it hasn’t because life is hard, school is hard. But it’s not about what happens because we all share in the struggle, but it’s about how we overcome those struggles and get past them. If you’re struggling, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and you can make it there, because, look at me, I almost dropped out and here I am. You have to keep going. Use the resources around you, they’re there to help and there’s absolutely no shame in using them to help you get to where you need to go.” Novecosky noted the Health and Counselling Centre as being one of the best resources she received help from at UTM.

While recognizing that juggling five courses per semester, volunteering, and a job is no small feat, Novecosky mentioned that she de-stresses by “moving around.” After going to the library to study, her break would consist of going to the RAWC and taking either a yoga class or going for a run just to, as she said, keep movement in her body instead of focusing entirely on a particular midterm. “When you’re studying, you’re working your brain all day. For me, I felt I needed to do the opposite. To give my mind a break, I needed to be in my body which I still do now,” she said.

To end on a lighthearted note, we asked who would she be if she could be anyone for a day. After a hesitant pause, she laughed, “Ellen DeGeneres. I love making people laugh and I love dancing. I’d have so much fun doing it.”

Novecosky will be giving her class valedictory address at this year’s Last Lecture on April 23rd in the Kaneff rotunda, alongside UTM alumnus, Zaib Shaikh. After graduation, Shaikh pursued an acting career. He is best known to Canadian audiences for his role as the imam in the CBC-TV comedy Little Mosque on the Prairie. Currently, Shaikh serves as the City of Toronto’s director of film and entertainment.

This article has been corrected.
  1. March 28, 2018 at 4 a.m.: Changed UTM Alumni Relations Office to UTM Office of Advancement.

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