When Sarah Girgis entered her first year at the University of Toronto Mississauga, her only goal was to make the most of her time. Last year, she was recognized as the UTM Class of 2019 valedictorian. In an interview with The Medium, she reflects on her undergraduate journey.

Girgis completed a Bachelor of Commerce degree at UTM. However, her impact on the UTM community stretched further than her academic achievements. Looking at her resumé, the extent of her involvement in the university is apparent. What makes Girgis the perfect valedictorian is that her various roles in the community and diverse experiences speak to the cumulative efforts of her graduating class. Girgis’ strong sense of collaboration and her selfless manner allowed her to have a tremendous impact on the people around her.

As a recipient of UTM’s prestigious Gordon Cressy Student Leadership Award, Girgis was to be considered as a valedictorian candidate. The Gordon Cressy Student Leadership Award recognizes individuals that are well-rounded and passionate about the UTM community. “I couldn’t even believe I got an interview, let alone the honor to be valedictorian,” says Girgis.

Girgis’s journey to valedictorian was not a smooth one. She started her first year with the realization that she hadn’t been admitted into the university of her choice; however, she didn’t let that deter her from her goals. Girgis immediately immersed herself in student life outside of her scheduled classes. In doing so, she lost touch with her GPA, and following her first year as an undergraduate, Girgis began to wonder if the program was for her.

She ultimately realized that she needed to find the right balance between her extracurriculars, which she loved, and her commitment to academic excellence. She allowed extracurriculars to keep her driven but focused on creating stability that allowed for academic success. Girgis persevered and entered her second year in the commerce program, specializing in accounting and majoring in economics.

Girgis found mentors and leaders that guided her through the rough patches and helped her get back on track. These individuals inspired her to give back to other students in the community. Girgis also created a bucket list in her last two years of her undergraduate degree. She was able to complete everything she had placed on her list: from participating in Zumba classes to becoming president of the Accounting Club and working as a teaching assistant for the Department of Management.

Aside from her extracurriculars, Girgis chose courses that were fun and tailored to her interests to motivate her. In her second year, she was part of a for-credit research program that allowed her to travel to the Bahamas. When she was struggling to understand her place at UTM, she befriended students in different disciplines and learned that they too, were facing the same struggles.

When asked about what she considers her biggest accomplishment, Girgis selflessly responds, “I love seeing other people killing it.” Girgis feels a real sense of accomplishment seeing others, including her sister who is currently in her third year at UTM, grow in front of her eyes. As Girgis progressed from mentee to mentor, her mentees drew inspiration to do the same.

Girgis continues to give back to the UTM community. As valedictorian, she maintains a regular connection with the alumni. However, when asked about what she will do next, Girgis says that some parts of her need to move on. Her roots will always remain at UTM but she is ready to venture forward and dive into the unknown.

Girgis’ ambition is to become a Chartered Professional Accountant. Over the summer, she completed a twelve-week intensive course at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Commerce and received a graduate diploma in accounting. The course propelled her into a highly competitive and challenging environment in business. This week, she starts a paid, full-time position at KPMG Canada as a Staff Accountant in the audit service line. This opportunity will allow her to explore different roles within the company such as in audit, tax, consulting, and talent acquisition.

There are a few pieces of advice that Sarah would give to any UTM student trying to excel in their field of study and make the most of their experience. The first is to not “be scared of failure [as] it is actually a validation of exactly what you should be working towards and just a stepping stone that will lead to something better.” Second, she highlights that one should find his or her place, and always “stay hungry [as] you can’t be too comfortable.” Lastly, Girgis advises students to “be flexible, weigh all options, do research, [and] talk to people.”

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