A Word From Lavinia Auhoma, 2024 Arts Valedictorian

We've asked this year's Arts Valedictorians to share their thoughts and insights on their academic journey at McGill.

In Fall of 2020, one thing was for certain—that nothing, for the next few years, would be. Navigating the uncertainty of the global pandemic that would upend my McGill experience, it would be an understatement to describe my first year experience as untraditional. As the Entering Class of 2020, we traded Rez Life for rapid tests and joined Zoom calls before ever crossing the Roddick Gates. Ironically, in a time where we were more distant than ever, it was our shared experience that brought us together. Perhaps it’s cliché, but it is this experience of camaraderie, unity, and collective solidarity that quickly became a common theme across my experience at McGill, especially in my final semester.

I recall spending most of my first year on mute (camera off, of course) in my childhood bedroom in Toronto. To most of my professors, I was a mere “ding!” that appeared on the corner of the Zoom call. Making friends proved to be impossible, especially as someone who made the choice to stay home. I was lucky to find a group of friends quite early on in first year with similar passions and interests, thanks to the power of social media. At the time, I was also working part-time as a Barista. Deemed an “essential worker” (because people needed their coffee more than ever), I worked throughout the entirety of the pandemic. In retrospect, working during the pandemic gave me a unique perspective on how it affected all walks of life, allowing me to regain a sense of normalcy through routine. However, while balancing work, school, and the looming, existential threat of the future, I was consumed by the fear that all I would ever see of McGill would be through my 14’’ laptop screen.

I made it to Montréal in Fall 2021, living with some friends in an apartment off-campus near the scenic Square Saint-Louis (a place that would be the site of many morning walks and late night talks for years to come). Things were looking up. I felt a little silly being a second year student who still had to use Google Maps to find the McIntyre Medical Building (granted, it is quite far up the hill). I joined some clubs and tried to get involved on campus. I would often joke that I finally felt like a “real” University student. I was reading obscure texts on Existentialism in the Islamic Studies Library instead of in bed in my pajamas, and engaging in (masked) discussions on Political theory instead of in silent breakout rooms. However, the pandemic was far from over, and in the early days of Winter semester as the trees lost their leaves, I lost someone dear to me. I returned home at the same time campus closed up shop again as a new wave of illness reverberated across Canada and beyond. Navigating grief, loss, and more uncertainty, I became disillusioned with my future at McGill, and struggled to relocate the academic fervor I once had.

In 2022, as classes began in-person again, I still felt like a naïve first-year on campus. In an attempt to turn things around, I decided to get more involved. I joined both the McGill Youth Advisory Delegation (MYAD) and the International Development Studies Students Association (IDSSA) on a whim, both opportunities that would provide me life-changing opportunities and life-long friendships for years to come. I also had the opportunity to do things I had never imagined, like deliver a speech at the United Nations in New York City as a youth delegate. At this time, I also finally felt like I was carving out a space for myself and finding out where my academic interests lied. With a background in social justice, advocacy, and often rooting for the so-called “underdog,” I focused on underrepresented theories of the Global South and explored critical race theories and feminist philosophies to constantly challenge and critique the world around me. Being able to take more specialized courses in my upper years, I also developed a keen interest in South Asian history and politics. While somewhat informed by my desire to understand my family history more, it was by joining the small but mighty South Asian Studies department where I thrived academically. It was thanks to professors like Professor Andrea Farran, Professor Subho Basu, Professor Iwa Nawrocki, and Professor Pasha Khan who consistently challenged me and supported me academically and beyond. Thank you all—for always rooting for the underdog, for advocating for the marginalized, and for always speaking truth to power.

In April 2024, in an almost cinematic, coming-of-age melodrama way, I watched the eclipse with some of my friends from first year on campus where it all began, remarking on the sheer spectacularity of everything. It was the end of an era, as the moon eclipsed the sun and as we approached graduation, we realized that this was it (but it was also the start of something new, as the term “commencement” might suggest). My last few semesters were nothing short of incredible, and I find myself already nostalgic about the recent past. From sunbathing at OAP, getting free coffee at Fika (shoutout to Nordic Culture Club), and enjoying vegan hot dogs on Lower Field, I finally felt like a “McGill” student in my fourth year. As I plunge into another period of uncertainty post-grad, I reflect on a very simple adage from one of my favourite movies, La Haine: “jusqu’ici tout va bien…” So far, so good. Everything will be okay.

Born and raised in Toronto, Lavinia Auhoma is an Honours International Development Studies student with a double minor in Philosophy and South Asian Studies at McGill. She formerly worked as a Junior Policy Analyst at Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) in racial equity, diversity and inclusion. She has also worked in several NGOs and grassroots movements, championing youth advocacy, racial justice, intersectional feminism, human rights and humanitarianism. In general, Lavinia is obsessed with movies and pop culture, music (especially R&B/hip-hop, having written a published essay on hip-hop), and finding new cafés (her go-to drink is an iced matcha latte).

 

 

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