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After years of relentless hard work, sleepless nights, and running away from geese, convocation is a significant milestone for most University of Waterloo graduates. Such an event couldn’t possibly be more auspicious, unless you have been chosen by peers in your faculty’s graduating class to represent them as valedictorian. That was the case for Kyle Rowe, who graduated with an honours bachelor of global business and digital arts (GBDA), with a global experience certificate (GEC), and represented the Faculty of Arts class of 2021 at spring convocation. 

We got to sit down, virtually, with the Vancouver native himself to talk about his amazing achievement, his time at UW and what the future holds.

Imprint: How was virtual graduation?

Kyle: It was actually pretty good. The convocation team did a good job doing what they could. The silver lining of a virtual convocation was that you don’t have to be there for five hours; you heard a few speeches, they listed everyone’s names and that was it. So, it got people on about their day a little earlier. But of course, it’s too bad everyone couldn’t see each other one last time for the hugs and photos and everything that we’re all used to. 

I: Were you wearing pants?

K: I was indeed wearing pants, believe it or not. I was thinking maybe I don’t even need to dress up, I could just wear sweats. But I watched it with my family, so I decided I should dress up and probably put on some pants.

I: Was Valedictorian on your list of things you wanted to accomplish, or was it something that just happened?

K: It really wasn’t on my radar at all. In first year, I was just kind of getting used to the school, and changing my study habits. Second year is when I started getting involved in volunteering, hack-a-thons, and stuff like that. It wasn’t until one of my friend’s suggested it to me. He said, “Hey, you should apply for this,” and I did. I sent in my list of accomplishments and an example speech. I guess they liked it, so they chose me. But it was never on my radar at all. I was just volunteering and doing my thing and it just kind of worked out that way, which was nice.

I: What was the valedictorian selection process like?

K: You have to get nominated by five people in your faculty, as a prerequisite. Once you have the nomination form, you submit a list of your accomplishments; things you’ve done academically, professionally, for the school, for the community — that sort of thing. Then you submit a two-minute example speech, as if you were Valedictorian. And from those three things, the Valedictorian committee  whoever fits best. 

I: Unlike high school, university doesn’t have a yearbook. If we did, what would be your yearbook quote?

K: I would go with the end of my Valedictorian speech. Arts students — we’re all creative, that’s what binds us. “Wherever you go in the next stage of your academic or professional journey, use your creativity and go make the world a more diverse and accepting place.” It’s more important than ever right now  — diversity, acceptance, and just being kind to people. 

I: What advice would you give to your first-year self?

K: First of all, don’t stress about marks too much. I know UW has a reputation of being a pretty high-achieving academic school. Coming from high school, a lot of people are used to getting really good marks. UW kind of hits you like a truck sometimes, especially in first year; I felt that. In the end, marks (for me) really didn’t impact my placement or anything too bad. Your grades don’t define you. 

I: What has been your fondest UW memory?

K: In 2018, there was a hack-a-thon called StarterHacks. The year before I went as a hacker, and the next year I was on the organizing team as the marketing director. There were so many cool partners [such as] Toronto Police Service, Amazon, and BMO , and so many first time learners – who learnt so much. [There are] so many mentors that came out to share their experience. It all went great. It was so incredible to see a group of students pull something off like that. 

I: What was your favourite course that you took?

K: This is probably a weird one, because I talked to a lot of students about this type of course, and they’re not huge fans. It was an Introduction to Business Ethics course (GBDA 306). Ethics can be quite dry content, depending on the professor. Luckily, we had a professor named Alex McIntosh, who was incredible. I really enjoyed that class and going to it, which was awesome because it’s a testament to how teaching can really affect your experience. 

I: Props to the entire class of 2020, and 2021. To be able to finish up your degree in these conditions is super inspirational and requires a great deal of resiliency. What was your moment of resiliency that the pandemic and online learning forced on you? 

K: For my co-op, or internship as we call it in GBDA, I was hired on the communications and marketing team at PCL construction. When COVID happened, they released all of their co-op students. Then I got hired by UW as a senior online learning assistant at the Centre of Teaching Excellence (CTE). So we basically just helped professors adapt to everything online. We scouted for the best platforms and programs that instructors can use to make online content more engaging.When it got approved, we wrote documentation and manuals for instructors on how to use it, if they chose to. 

It’s kind of funny because I ended up teaching professors in a 10-20 person workshop, which I wasn’t used to because we’re usually on the other end.

I: Well you made it to the end of your undergrad, you have your degree. What’s next?

K: Right now I have a full time job as a digital marketing specialist for a tech company in Vancouver. I’m doing some web development stuff, which is pretty cool. In the future, I would like to do my Masters someplace in Europe — maybe Germany or Italy. And then one day I would like to start my own marketing agency.

I: What is the Kyle Rowe, 2021 Faculty of Arts Valedictorian’s, famous Tim Hortons order?

K: Oh my gosh! The Tim Hortons at the Student Life Centre, I can’t count how many times I’ve been there — in between classes, before midterms and finals. I would go with a bacon grilled cheese with a hash brown, and either a hot chocolate if it’s cold outside, or frozen lemonade if it’s warm. I am not a coffee guy. I somehow went through my entire undergraduate career without having a cup of coffee.

You can watch Kyle Rowe address the faculty of arts graduating class of 2021 on the University of Waterloo YouTube channel.