Hailing from around the world, McGill’s valedictorians are a diverse, multitalented group. When they came to the University, they brought with them their unique backgrounds, passions and ambitions. While they all praise the education they received at McGill, one thing is certain, the University has benefitted just as much for having them as valuable, contributing members of our community.
These outstanding students have earned the respect of the peers who they represent through their strong academic performance, leadership and commitment to making the University – and the world – a better place.
While COVID-19 made it impossible for them to deliver their respective addresses in in-person ceremonies, they still have important messages to deliver. The Reporter has conducted a series of interviews with this year’s valedictorians.
In this, our second instalment, we feature Elizabeth Chima, the valedictorian for the Desautels Faculty of Management. Chima graduated with a BCom, Double Major in Finance and International Management, Minor in Economics.
What is your hometown?
Answering this question is always a little complicated! I spent my childhood in Saudi Arabia before moving to Calgary, AB, which is where I was before coming to McGill, so I consider both of those places home.
Why did you choose McGill?
While growing up in Calgary, I wanted to learn French and become fluently bilingual so I did all my studies in French. However, when it was time to go to university, I wanted to return to studying in English but didn’t want to lose my ability to speak French either. So, in addition to McGill being one of the best schools in Canada, Montreal seemed like an ideal city to move to so that I could continue my studies in English while still having an opportunity to speak French on a daily basis.
What were some of your impressions when walking onto campus for the first time?
My first impression of the campus was that it was absolutely gorgeous – and also massive! Coming from a relatively small high school, I was really worried I wouldn’t be able to make it to my classes on time if they were on opposite sides of the campus. Now in hindsight, I realize that the campus really isn’t that big when compared with other university campuses across Canada – and I still think the campus is beautiful!
What are some of the highlights of your time as a McGill student?
Over the last year, I served as the Executive Director for the Desautels Management Achievement Awards (DMAA), which was an absolutely incredible experience. Not only did I get the opportunity to meet some amazing leaders in the business world, but I worked with the best team imaginable in planning the event. I was able to develop a lot of strong relationships by being a part of DMAA and it was a truly one of the most rewarding experiences of my McGill career.
Being part of the McGill African Students’ Society (MASS) was definitely another highlight of my time at McGill. I was involved with the club in various ways, from being a part of the executive committee to simply participating in and attending its events. Through MASS, I met an incredible community of people with whom I could relate and share diverse experiences with, and formed some of my closest friendships to date.
Three favourite places on McGill/Mac campus?
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced during your time here and how did you overcome them?
My second year proved to be a particularly difficult year: I struggled with some personal challenges and relationships, took on more difficult courses, and overextended myself with my extracurricular activities. I felt stressed, overwhelmed and emotionally drained. However, I have an incredible support system in my friends and family and they really helped me overcome that challenging period. It also reminded me that it’s important to take a step back sometimes and take care of yourself; you can’t give from an empty place nor can you run on an empty tank.
What’s next for you?
I’ll be working full-time at HSBC while also pursuing my CFA designation over the next few years.
Who or what will you miss the most?
I’m really going to miss all the amazing people I met and the friends I made over the last four years – especially those that moved to a different country following graduation. They really made all the difference during my time here at McGill. However, I’ve now gained an extremely international network and I plan to visit them often, and I’m extremely grateful for that.
I’m also really going to miss all the different events and conferences Desautels had to offer. Those events provided a really great opportunity for me to meet different industry leaders and network with my peers, as well as to learn of all the endless opportunities that exist. I’m really grateful I had the chance to participate in so many of them over the last few years.
What are your long-term goals and plans?
Over the course of my degree, I began to understand the essential role finance plays in economic development and became really interested in how I can use finance to help improve the economic advancement of developing countries. I would love to end up in a role which allows me help these countries build more efficient financial systems and capital markets, thus increasing their access to finance. However, I do realize a lot can change when looking forward so I’m trying to keep my options open and just see where life takes me.
Tell me about your Faculty and your classmates. What does it mean for you to be representing them as valedictorian?
The Desautels Faculty of Management is a community of doers and truly a force to be reckoned with. One of the most impressive things about Desautels’ students is our unique ability to mobilize the resources available to us to generate impact and create a desirable outcome. This is especially important because over the last few years, there’s been an increasing focus on how we can use the skills and knowledge we’ve gained during our time at Desautels to solve some of the world’s most pressing issues. We are truly a group with so much potential to change the world and I’m very excited to see what the future holds for all of us. It is an honour to be representing them as the valedictorian.
What advice do you have for new students starting at McGill this fall?
My biggest piece of advice to incoming students would be to relax. You’ve made it into one of the top schools in Canada which is already an achievement in itself – take some time to appreciate that and don’t put too much pressure on yourself.
Expect to be challenged and expect that you will fail sometimes – and that’s okay! Those moments of failure are just as important as the moments of success and it’s important to learn something from each and every one of them.
Finally, I would advise new students to be as open as possible. Don’t be scared to put yourself out there, talk to as many people as possible and take advantage of every opportunity to learn something new; some of your most valuable experiences will come from doing so.
Did you “attend” your virtual convocation?
Yes, I attended the virtual convocation; I watched it from my apartment here in Montreal. Unfortunately, I’m currently separated from my family due to the COVID pandemic, but we were all able to watch it together online!
What was your experience with the pandemic? Where did you spend the lockdown?
I spent the pandemic here in my apartment in Montreal. My family currently lives in Saudi Arabia and the borders closed before I had a chance to go and join them. At first, it was definitely difficult to be separated from them given everything that was going on, but we’ve been able to maintain contact through frequent FaceTime calls and video chats. The whole experience has definitely highlighted the importance of relationships and of having a good support system in place, and made me further appreciate the people in my life. It has also given me an opportunity to find new ways to connect with my friends that no longer live in Montreal and maintain contact with them.
Given that the winter semester’s on-campus activities came to an abrupt end, do you have any special “last” memories (last lecture, last study session, last hang-out with friends, etc.)?
Once I realized how quickly and unexpectedly things were changing, I made it a priority to spend a few last moments with my friends who were still available given I didn’t know the next time I would see them. The last few months have been full of last hang-out sessions, conversations, walks, and laughs that I will cherish for a long time.
Were you able to say goodbye to your classmates and professors, or maintain contact?
Given the abrupt way things ended this semester, there were many classmates, professors, and faculty members I wasn’t able to say goodbye to in person. However, I have sent messages and emails to some of them and have been able to maintain contact with them.
What was your experience with remote learning, and having to finish your semester (and degree) from a distance?
In some ways, remote learning proved to be both advantageous and challenging over this last semester. It was advantageous in the sense that there was more flexibility to listen to recorded lectures, take notes, and do the assignments at my leisure. However, it was difficult to find the motivation to do the work at times given I was stuck in my apartment and unable to change my environment when needed.
My best advice to students preparing to do a remote semester in the fall would be to manage your time wisely and stay on top of the work you need to do. Deadlines creep up on you faster than you think, so don’t take the increased flexibility for granted. Also, make sure to get outside for some fresh air and keep in contact with the people in your life. That will help you maintain a healthy mindset and stay motivated to get the work done.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
The last four years have been truly enriching and transformational, and I’m forever grateful for my time spent at McGill.
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