I had the honour of speaking as the morning Valedictorian for the 2016 graduating class from the University of Waterloo Faculty of Arts. You can watch my address above at the 23:22 mark.
A small excerpt of my speech was featured on the Faculty of Arts page and I’ve reproduced some more of my speech below.
So, what are you going to do next? That is the first thing people said to me when I told them I was graduating. I’m sure you’ve heard the same thing too. It’s a question which comes with the kindest intentions. You, by being a student of the University of Waterloo, have already proven you are intelligent, talented, and most importantly, willing to work hard for all you want to accomplish. Of course, everyone wants to know what great thing you’re going to do next. It isn’t really a question. The real question which they sometimes mean is: what are you going to do with an Arts degree?
Yes, we’ve all heard it before and we’ve all tried to explain. There is something special about the Arts. There is a reason why we exist and continue to exist and that reason is you. It is because of minds like yours that take the time to study everything from Greek mythology to neoliberalism that the world becomes better. No, we aren’t engineers or computer scientists, so we might not know about bridges or combinatorics or titration. We may not have a technical degree, but we have something that is fundamentally and unequivocally necessary.
We know about humanity. We know about the parts of the brain and civilizations of the past. We know about currency and how to perform a monologue. We know different languages and religions of the world. We know about prose and the pillars of our legal system. We know about conflict and discrimination and politics and painting and user experience design. We know about life. We know about people.
And if you don’t know about people, well, you get bad bridges. You get meaningless numbers. You get chemical compounds without any purpose.
Society as we know it could not exist without us and it will become better because of us. Because of you. The passion which you brought here today is the passion the world needs to solve our most pressing issues. We need you to question what we do about hundreds of missing and murdered indigenous women. We need you to evaluate and improve our mental health care system. We need you to create legislation and laws for governing our new technologically driven world. We need you to develop social programs that meet the needs of our growing elderly population, new immigrants, and even refugees.
Your future career path may not be obvious, and your next job title might not printed on your degree, but you have the ability to think critically about the world around us. You have the knowledge and the experience which make for better questions, better teams, better ideas, and a better world.
That is what you can do with a Waterloo Arts degree, but you already knew that. You knew it when you put on that gown and you’ll know it when you walk across this stage. Every page you’ve read, every project you’ve worked on, every paper you’ve written, every midterm you’ve passed — even if just barely — has not gone unnoticed. Every one of you has made a mark on this campus whether you were an executive in a society or simply by raising your hand in class you have already made an impact for future graduates. That impact I am certain you will carry out into the world.