My Comments to the UVIC Grad Class of 2013

I was an invited speaker to the UVIC Grad Luncheon. It was held on Sunday, March 24th at the Fairmont Empress. The following is my typed speech, but I ad-libbed some and will try to recall some of those comments.

Today I want to speak to you about a few things with my precious 10-15 minutes. Those of you who have classes with me know that I can gladly take more time!

First, thank you to the Grad Committee for inviting me to speak. I saw the flyers for this event and wondered if I should buy a ticket. I conferred with one of my friends, Dr. Annalee Lepp and decided that this was a student event, and had no idea that you invited faculty to speak (not lecture)! I was happily surprised when I was invited. I have so many current and soon to be former students graduating and thought it might be nice to attend. I believe at last year’s convocation I counted more than 100 former students graduating…so thank you for the invite. My family has been joking with me that it’s just me and some…oh, the college President! It’s definitely one of those moments when I can picture Vice President Biden smiling and saying, this is a BFD. I thank you for this humbling and amazing opportunity and hope that my comments are useful. I won’t lecture, I promise.

I want you to think about the words aspire, aspiration, and inspire.

Not too long ago I was in your shoes…I was about to graduate and wondering what was next. But, even before then I was thinking about going to college and my aspirations. Like many of you, I am a first generation college graduate and in the process of my post-secondary education, I earned four degrees. BA in Women’s Studies, minor in Political Science, MA in Liberal Arts and Sciences, then the MA and PhD in Political Science. With each degree my family was bursting with joy, yet also wondered when I was going to stop and finally become a college professor. I did lots of adjunct work (part-time teaching) between different universities in Southern California. I loved what I was doing and knew that I was in the right career on that fateful day in January 1996, when I lead my first section or as they call them at UVIC– tutorial. I’m lucky. I knew what I wanted to do, but alas my road to full-time work had some bumps in the road—few jobs in places that I was willing to work. Yes, I am a weather snob. I don’t do four seasons. My people thrive in warmer weather!

But, after many years of work, I took a big chance and immigrated to Canada in May 2004 with my family. My partner and I arrived in this beautiful city without jobs. Simply put, I took a chance on Victoria, and on Canada. I was glad for getting short-listed for some government jobs a few times, but when Dr. Colin Bennett called me and asked if I would be willing to teach Poli 335: Gender and Politics, I said: yes. I never looked back. I’m glad that I worked part-time for Political Science and Women’s Studies. I got the lay of the land. I networked. I went to talks, meetings, conferences, and taught lots of courses. I took a chance on UVIC and UVIC took a chance on me. (Here, I referred to Abba and think I sang, “Take A Chance on Me.”)

I want you to think about taking chances. I want you to think about what you aspire to do. Where do you see yourself in 1 year or in 5? How will you use your UVIC experiences to your advantage? How will your education help you get to your next goal? In the 5.1 years that you were at UVIC (that is the average time for most of our undergraduates to complete their degrees)–what have you done? You’ve attended courses, tutorials, hopefully office hours, clubs, events, worked, and occasionally let some steam off. But, how are you going to make use of this wonderful privilege–a post-secondary education? That is really up to you. Some of you will continue to graduate school and work, but most of you will continue working or look for what’s next–the career job. For most of you, that first year after graduating is the hardest. I hear from your friends who graduated–they say that they miss UVIC, they miss the freedom that they had. Believe it or not–your college years are some of your best years. You’ve made so many connections–you’ve learned so much. So, what is next?

I want you to think about people who inspire you. What qualities do they have that you admire? How can you learn from them? Who do you inspire? Many of you have been leaders in different respects on campus or off campus. There are certainly different ways of leading. Others of you are sitting perhaps thinking-who me? I’ve inspired someone. Yes, you have. It could be a classmate, a sibling, your parents, a coworker or one of your professors, who you have inspired. But, you’re not done. You’re just starting. You have more to do—to aspire to and to inspire.

Let me get back to people who have inspired you. I want you to get uncomfortable. I want you to make coffee appointments with some of these people who inspire you. You might send them a friend request on Linked In and then begin to interact with them there or maybe on Twitter. Get to know people in real life, but also within social media–these tools can be incredibly helpful for you. For the people that you can meet with face to face–ask if they have free time to meet with you. You’d be surprised at the number of people who are willing to meet with someone who is interested in learning more about their company—even when they aren’t currently hiring. They might say no—too busy to meet or they might be willing to meet with you. Ask them if they can introduce you to another person. You need to network. You will hear some nos, or people who might not respond to your email or call. Do not let that dissuade you.

You need to see our Career advisors on campus and have a set of eyes review your resume and get comfortable with promoting yourself. Your education is one part of who you are, but now you need to feel more comfortable networking and promoting yourself. You need to think about your aspirations. You cannot rest on your laurels–a BA. You have to go the next step. And network. Look for work. Meet people.

What can you do? Get out there. Join organizations or professional groups in your field of interest. Talk with your mentors. You do have some–think of your networks that you currently have, your former professors, teachers, family network, career services on campus. And, think about what you want to do next. Talk to people about what you think you want to do and this includes your peers. I am a strong believer in peer mentoring. Find a mentor, coach or sponsor–someone you trust who you can chat with occasionally or regularly. You need to articulate, plan, dream, and make things happen, but having someone to chat with is incredibly useful. You have this degree (just about) and what you make of it is up to you.

My hope is that you have some idea of what is next for you. Pursue it. And, remember that you can do so many things with that BA. What have I done? I worked retail, then retail banking from regular teller, business teller, customer service rep w/ loan work, educational foundation work (researcher), then did consulting work for non-profits and now I’m half way through 15 years of teaching and mentoring. I also am quite active in my discipline and I started that activity in 1996, when I was a PhD student. My point here is that you’re going to do lots of things with your career. Be patient, be strategic, and make mistakes. When you look back, they might not be mistakes, but what I refer to as teachable or learning moments.

Your BA demonstrates that you were able to start and complete something. It demonstrates to your family, peers, and potential employers that you have post-secondary education. But, you need to then demonstrate your skills. What are your skills? Think about this. This is where Career Services and Mentor/Coach are helpful. I cannot count the number of conversations with students who didn’t realize how important it is to note their skills, languages, computer software familiarity or social media literacy on their resumes. Ask for help. Think about what you’re good at and what you want to do. Talk to your peer network about your skills and what you want to do. I know this is scary. I’ve been there.

This next year will require you to be more introspective. I want you to be introspective, too. What single word describes you? I think about this lots and depending on the month or time of year I might have a different word. Today: it’s mentor. Mentor describes me. The mentor in me wants to encourage you to read some more. Yes, don’t groan. I want you to peruse What Color is Your Parachute. I want you (women and men alike) to read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In or join the website portal for the book. See what works for you, but remember that even if your formal education is complete–ultimately you will engage in life-long learning.

When I think about where I am today, I realize that years of preparation went into being a standout candidate for my job. I put a few years of prep into making sure that the hiring committee could not think about NOT interviewing me. Sure, I had experienced rejection letters, but this didn’t stop me from trying again, and again. What I’m saying that is success is not immediate. You need to try, you need to aspire. And, you need to get used to the fact that at times you won’t get the interview or be short-listed, but you take a deep breath and try again. Do not give up. I aspired to be the first college graduate from my family and I was. I am the first Dr. Aragon and hopefully not the last. Your BA is the first of many accomplishments for you. Try different things! Make your life list and write/type or text what you want to do and revisit this list periodically. Be flexible–be smart. And, update this life list—chat with your trusted network about your aspirations.

I want you to be introspective and remember to aspire for more. You are really at such a propitious moment of your life. I know that I speak for many– I am so proud of you. We are proud of you. You are on your way to becoming UVIC alums. And, looking out at your faces this afternoon I have a sense of inspiration. You inspire me—you make what I do rewarding. Congratulations UVIC Class of 2013!