With less than three months remaining before convocation hall streams with black gowns, camera flashes, and decorated parchment, final-year students anxiously await graduation. As the cold end-of-the-semester air at UTM appears to be equal parts anticipation and equal parts anxiety, graduating students are busy polishing resumes, connecting with references, and forgetting to go to class.

As fellow graduating students, or students waiting for their turn next year, we may find ourselves asking—how are students coping with completing their undergraduate years? How are they preparing for the next chapter? And how did they get through it all? Speaking to students two months after they clicked “request to graduate” on ACORN, and ready to enter their last weeks of undergraduate classes, The Medium interviewed several graduating students.

Amna Azhar, 4th year, Psychology.

“I’m very excited,” says Amna Azhar, a fourth-year student pursuing psychology, biology, and professional writing and communication, when asked how she feels to be part of the graduating class and entering the world that she has been preparing for. Azhar says she had always been interested in biology and passionate about writing, however, “Psychology was not planned at all.”

Azhar feels that during her four years at university, every year she developed upon her learning techniques, gauging what would work for her and help her in her academics. “Since first year, I learned what works for me and what doesn’t.” She adds that she began to understand since then that university is not only about academics, and that “Pursuing your hobbies and being a part of everything that you enjoy is equally important.” Thinking back to her first year at university, Azhar says, “During the Headstart [program] at O-week, I met Chad. He was then the coordinator for the event [I was attending] and he told all of us one thing—always remember to smell the roses. He told us that we must always make time for things that matter to us or the things we enjoy. This is one thing I hope all the first-years know because I realized it very late.”

Azhar also says that there are many opportunities in the university which can help students in their development, and that “No one should not make use of them.”

Although she does face the stress of graduation, employment, exams, and collecting documents, graduation is something she is “definitely looking forward to.”

Currently, Azhar is doing research in psychology and biology using zebra fish as a model organism, and wishes to take a year off after graduation to work and explore if, with certainty, she wishes to pursue research or associated fields.

Alanna Thompson, 4th year Sociology and Criminology.

Before applying to university, Alanna Thompson, who’s a fourth-year sociology and criminology major and president of UTM’s Sociology and Criminology Society, was told by high school teachers to expect her grades to drop by 20 per cent in university. Determined since high school to pursue a career in law, she did not let those pre-conceived notions get in the way of succeeding in her studies.

“I came in thinking that it was going to be extremely difficult, and I was going to face a lot of struggles—but that wasn’t what happened. I was able to keep obtaining my high grades […]. If you put in the effort and time, you can still succeed in university as well,” says Thompson.

However, balancing academics, work, and life, as Thompson says, can be difficult. If not right away, Thompson managed to gain that balance through her years at UTM. Living on residence in her first year, the UTM SCS president recalled, “I was literally a hermit. I literally sat in my dorm room at my desk, and all I did was study and do readings. I didn’t, you know, go make friends, I didn’t go talk to people—I didn’t care. I just locked myself in and did my work, and I thought that’s what I had to do in order to succeed in university.”

Thompson came out of her shell in second year as her class sizes got smaller and more intimate. Navigating through her programs, she met more people and got involved in extra-curricular activities, which included becoming a member of the SCS.

In her third year, Thompson played for the UTM men’s intramural ball hockey league. She joined at the request of a friend and was the only girl in the league. Thompson notes, “I was so embarrassed at first, but I did it both semesters and it was a blast. I’m glad I did it in the end.”

Thompson became president of the SCS in her fourth year, and worked to provide academic support, resources, and events for students in the sociology and criminology programs. She worked with the SCS to introduce facilitated study groups this year for SOC 100, something that had not been introduced before. For Thompson, one of the best parts of being in the society was meeting professors in her programs and maintaining meaningful relationships with them.

In her fourth year, Thompson juggled studying for the LSAT, applying to law schools, taking a full course load, tutoring, and taking on her role as president of the SCS. She emphasizes time management as one of the most important aspects of her undergraduate career. She says, “So this year was the year I had to buy an agenda […]. I altered my routine and started getting up really early and doing my studying before I had to go to school, before the day was done, so that it’d be done and I didn’t have to worry about it.”

According to Thompson, getting a degree is just one aspect of university. She notes, “You don’t want to look back on your four years of university and wonder what it is that you did the entire time and what you accomplished besides getting your degree.” According to her, getting involved in school, meeting students and professors, and enjoying your time at university is equally as important as studying.

“Don’t be first-year me. Don’t sit in your dorm room and not talk to anybody, seclude yourself, and think that you need to live with your nose inside of a book for the next four years in order to do well and succeed. Get out there. You’ve got to get involved, meet people, do things, because you want these four years to be something that you remember.”

Thompson sees herself becoming a courtroom litigator in the future. She’s also interested in securities, an interplay between corporate and criminal law, as well as sports and entertainment law. After months of preparation, Thompson successfully took her LSAT in February and will be attending York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School in the fall.

Bidour Al-Rawi

Bidour Al-Rawi, a fourth year pursuing a double major in Biology for health science and chemistry, as well as serving as the president of the Erindale Biology Society (EBS), shared her experiences and what she would have done differently.

“University has been a choice ever since I was a child. Both my parents went to university, so I wanted to be, first an engineer like them, and then a dentist like my other role model,” Al-Rawi says. “I did look into some college institutions, but I never applied.”

“First year, I’d say was my easiest year of university,” reveals Al-Rawi. “I wanted to be a dentist before starting and after first year, I was like ‘Yeah sure, let’s stay there’ because first-year went well,” she continues, chuckling, “It went downhill after.”

In response to whether or not she had ever second-guessed her fields of study, Al-Rawi says, “Yes, a lot of them. The hardest courses I’ve ever taken were in chemistry. I always doubted my chemistry major.”

“You know the hoodies that say ‘biology’ and ‘chemistry’? I bought a biology [hoodie] but I never bought a chemistry one because I was like, ‘What if I leave my major?’” She shares. “Now I’m almost done, so I’m going to buy one.”

“What made me stay was the fact that I actually found it interesting and enjoyed chemistry, enjoyed the topics. The professors were very good, so despite it being hard, I still really enjoyed it, so I tried to survive,” adds the EBS president.

Addressing what she would have done differently in her first year, Al-Rawi mentions that she would have tried to find out about the jobs available on campus. “For my fourth year, I worked as a photographer for the athletics department, which was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had—I met really amazing people. I got to travel with the teams to different universities and colleges. I improved my photography. I wish I did that since first year because they hire these people every year but I never looked into what opportunities were available.”

In reference to post-graduation plans, Al-Rawi suggests, “If you’re applying to grad school, apply early, ask for reference letters early,” and continues to say, “If you don’t have to worry about that, then make sure you do something to enjoy it, to remember it. Make your fourth-year memorable by being part of a club, a society, getting an interesting job, just a cool new experience, because it is your last year of university. You don’t want to make it stressful. You also want to enjoy it and make good memories.”

“What keeps me going is the fact that I want to reach my goal,” Al-Rawi shares, “My parents have also been very supportive. They’re always driving me and giving me motivation to keep going.”

“It’s a mix of emotions,” Al-Rawi admits. “I’m very happy to be done. I’m tired of studying and tired of waking up in the morning, but I really do want all of that to come to an end—I want to graduate.”

“But at the same time,” she continues, “I’m going to miss, you know, my friends, I’m going to miss my job, some professors.” Al-Rawi laughs as she continues to say, “It’s also very stressful because I still don’t know which program I’m getting accepted into. So it’s also like, ‘I’m graduating, but to where?’”

Convocation ceremonies for Undergraduate UTM students will be held on June 13 to 14, 2018.

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