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There are busy people who heap a lot onto their plates. And then there are those who take on the entire buffet at once.
Meet Clive Chang, honours student, musical director, administrator, student counselor and all-round burst of energy. To say that 22-year-old Chang is busy is to seriously understate the situation. He is an honours student carrying a double course load: a bachelor of commerce as well as a bachelor of music; he is the youngest conductor in the history of the McGill Savoy Society; he is involved with community service as the president of the Golden Key Honour Society; he is a director of the Soulstice A Cappella singing group and is also floor fellow at his dorm.
Chang's two main focuses are music and business. This pursuit is what brought him to McGill in the first place. "I chose McGill because it has strong faculties in both business and music. No other school in Canada offers the same opportunities." He plans on combining the two once he graduates. "Eventually, I think I would like to do executive work in the entertainment industry. But unlike most entertainment execs, I will never give up on playing and producing music as well."
Chang is musical director of the McGill Savoy Society, a Gilbert and Sullivan tribute society with many chapters worldwide. Working with the group has allowed Chang to remain involved with grand, musical theatre. "Granted, it's Gilbert and Sullivan all the time, but you meet all sorts of fantastic people and it's great to be surrounded by all of the wonderful energy that goes with big stage productions." The troupe will perform love songs from the Romantic era, just in time for Valentine's, on Saturday, February 11 (for more info go to www.mcgillsavoy.ca)
For the past three years Chang has been acting director of McGill's Soulstice A Cappella singing group. Formed several years ago Soulstice A Cappella has released two albums that are available around campus and at performances. As well they will be heading to the big leagues when they take part in the annual International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella. The first round will see them face off against a cappella groups from McGill, elsewhere in Canada and the U.S. Chang does not disguise his desire to get to the finals, to be held at Lincoln Center in New York City: "What a venue! Can you imagine?"
Chang is also president of the Golden Key International Honour Society, McGill chapter. The Golden Key Society is an academic-achievement-based organization comprised of the top 15 percent of students worldwide. As president of the McGill chapter, Chang has spent the last couple of years expanding the presence of the Golden Key Society around campus and working with local employers to show them the pool of exceptional talent found at McGill.
And as if that were not enough, Chang is floor fellow at the New Residence Hall. With 52 students under his guidance, Chang does everything from being there to helping sort out personal and scholastic issues, to arranging student activities and engaging in student animation projects. While time consuming, Chang describes the gig as "more of a lifestyle than a job."
When asked how he copes with the daunting workload that he has taken on, Chang has some sound yet simple advice: "I find it best not to really think about how much there is to do. It just becomes overwhelming. I think it really helps to take things one at a time and not become too focused on all of the tasks at once. Besides, I like diversity. It's fun to jump from one thing to another. It makes life much more interesting!"
I confess I had never given much thought to debating societies, associating them with moribund 1950's clubs or that eccentric keener in high school. My mistake. Turns out that the McGill Debating Union was - and is - one of the largest and most venerable clubs around. Late one afternoon in Gert's pub, three of its veteran members were happy to give me the lowdown on debaters and what makes them tick.
"I found people who were as loud and opinionated as I was, who were okay with all of my opinions," laughs Dash Veel, U3 Economics and Political Science.
For people dedicated to disagreement, Dash and his crew turn out to be a pretty jovial bunch who regard the Debating Union not as a fight forum, but as a place where students can develop confidence in themselves and sharpen their political acuity.
"I like the concept of having strong opinions and knowing why you have those opinions. It strengthens you as a person - I like the feeling of knowing why I believe in stuff," says Philippe Boisvert, who is this year's president of the club.
The club is also a crucible of politics and politicos. Jess Price, who recently emerged as Canada's top debater at the World Debating Championships in Dublin, notes that the McGill club includes members from five of the country's political parties.
"A lot of people come to debating from the left or the right," she said, adding that the process of having to comprehend and respond to others' opinions results in most members developing more nuanced views.
Price and her debating friends are also using their speaking skills and exposure to politics as a means of fostering some very big ambitions. Law school is in the cards for all of the Gert's trio, and Price herself hints that see hopes to see the words Right Honourable before her name someday.
Unrealistic? Maybe not. After all, the Debating Union's alumni include people with last names like Cotler, Trudeau, Fish and Binnie. And aspiring poets might be intrigued to know that Leonard Cohen spent some time among the point-of-order, point-of-information crowd.
Is it a flamboyant dandruff sufferer? No, this is the classic pose that is still struck by debaters who wish to interrupt with a "point of information." And they're not just being theatrical. The rules of debating presentation are deeply influenced by old traditions of the British Parliament. In this case, the point-of-information pose mirrors that used centuries ago: one hand on the back of the head to keep a wig in place and the other stretched out front to show the speaker carried no weapon.
It's not right to make fun of people. Unless, that is, you're a debater from Ireland or Western Canada where rules allow you to score point for a "heckle," a short and witty comment that will make the judge laugh and throw your opponent off her game. But here in staid Central Canada, heckles are frowned upon. Incidentally, the name of the official newsletter of the McGill Debating Union is The Heckler.