Dear first years: Words of wisdom from valedictorians 

We asked this year’s valedictorians to share some advice for first years at McMaster. Here’s what they said. 

We asked this year’s valedictorians to share some advice for first years at McMaster. Here’s what they said. 

circular headshot of Rebecca Di VincenzoLet yourself enjoy your time at university. Understand that grades are important, but not all that university is. You are there to grow as a person too!

— Rebecca Di Vincenzo, valedictorian for the Faculty of Engineering, graduates June 13 from Computer Engineering & Co-op. She has begun a full-time job as a software developer at Bell Canada.

circular headshot of Shweta SapraMy best advice to any first-year student is to take it slow and focus on learning one thing from each session. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of information coming your way but taking it slow and absorbing one thought at a time will give you a better understanding of the information plus I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone. College is a time of growth and exploration, so don’t be afraid to try new things, join clubs, and meet new people.

— Shweta Sapra, valedictorian for the DeGroote School of Business, graduates June 16 with an MBA focused on Business Analytics. From here on in, she will be working with an organization that specializes in connecting people to clinical trials done for rare diseases in the U.S., reporting to the CEO and leading their digital marketing campaign.

circular headshot of Laura CoelhoThe best advice I would give to a first-year student is to not rush and to enjoy the journey. While it’s important to set goals, get involved, and try your best, don’t forget to enjoy the journey as it goes because before you know it, you’re in your last year of university wondering where all the time went!

University is a time full of change and uncertainty, but it’s also a time to take control of your life and realize who you want to be. Enjoy the journey, say yes to trying new things, and have a positive mindset that you will overcome challenges as they come.

To the first years out there, remember that it gets better. First and second year can be difficult with all of the required courses you must take, but they provide the foundation for future years. It’ll be okay, just give yourself the credit that you deserve because you are trying and that the best is yet to come!

— Laura Coelho, valedictorian for the DeGroote School of Business, graduates June 16 with an honours Bachelor of Commerce. In addition to beginning her career at Environics Research as a marketing coordinator, she will continue her small business of creating custom hand painted shoe designs.

circular headshot of Taren GinterTry to live in the moment and enjoy first year! It goes by super-fast and I know it’s SO stressful, but really try to take it all in. Also, be kind to yourself and give yourself compassion- the transition to first year is a huge life change, and it’s normal to struggle with this change. Everyone will tell you this but that’s because it’s true, so try to practise self-care and take breaks! Even if it feels like you need to be constantly working, you’ll feel better and do better if you have some recharging time.

One last piece of practical advice: learn how to take care of yourself in whatever way you can! This can be little things, like always making sure to have protein bars on hand if you won’t have time to make a proper meal, or taking naps if you know you can’t sleep enough at night. These little changes will make a huge difference in the end.

— Taren Ginter, valedictorian for the Faculty of Science, graduates June 15 with an honours degree in Integrated Science with a concentration in Physics. She served as president of the Integrated Science Society and Operations Team lead for the McMaster NEUDOSE project, which launched a satellite into space on a SpaceX rocket this year. She’ll soon be attending the Tokyo Institute of Technology for the integrated graduate program in the Earth-Life Science Institute.

circular headshot of Amal KhanDo it. When we say yes to opportunities, even if we don’t feel quite ready, we create a ripple effect that transcends the present moment. By embracing the unknown, we inspire others to do the same. We become catalysts for change and innovation, igniting a spirit of curiosity and adventure within our communities. Remember to embrace discomfort —it will mold you in the most beautiful ways. Although textbooks may provide a foundation of knowledge, it is the experiences beyond these pages that truly shape us. Please remember to be gentle and kind to yourself—it takes time and practice to find what works best for you. It’s a messy process but make sure to find joy in the simple things around you. Whether it be waiting in the Starbucks line with your friends, the wash of relief after writing an exam, or the vibrant autumn trees around campus. Soak it all in.

— Amal Khan, valedictorian for the Faculty of Science, graduates June 15 with an honours degree in Life Sciences. She’s going to return to McMaster to work on her MSc in Global Health, with an eye on improving health justice and equity on a global scale and investigating upstream approaches that target socioeconomic systems impacting inequities, power dynamics, and resource allocation.

circular headshot of Meghan NemethI think first-year can be a lot to take in, and it offers so much that everyone’s experiences can really vary, but the best advice I can give would be to keep showing up. That could mean showing up to class, or showing up for your friend’s birthday party, or discovering new ways to show up for yourself.

Taking the first step to show up – whatever that means for you – opens a whole labyrinth of opportunities for you to figure out.

University is meant to be fun; it’s meant to be an exploration of knowledge and finding your own identity in that pursuit. So, take the time you have here to learn, make mistakes, grow, and connect, I promise there’s something here for everyone to discover.

— Meghan Nemeth is valedictorian for the Faculty of Science. She graduates June 15 with an honours degree in Environmental Science and is pursuing more environmental field work in conservation, restoration ecology, hydrology, petrology, and fluvial geomorphology. In her time at McMaster, she worked at the McMaster Greenhouse, volunteered at community gardens and participated in outdoor invasive species removals.

circular headshot of Elizabeth WongI think that the best advice I could give a first-year is that it’s ok to not have it all figured out. As a first year, be prepared to be asked what you’re doing in your future and what you’ll be specializing in when you first meet people in your classes. There’s a lot of pressure to have your whole career and life figured out once you get to university. The transition to university affects everyone differently and some people know exactly what they want in the future but some are still figuring it out. Don’t be afraid to chat with new people and to experience new things so you can expand your perspectives. You may find yourself on the right path from the get go or you may find yourself wanting to change paths. Remember your path is yours and you can take as little or as long as you need to find your path.

— Elizabeth Wong, valedictorian for the Faculty of Social Sciences, graduates June 14 with a degree in Labour Studies and Political Science. She has previously served as an MSU exec and is a sitting trustee for the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board and an intern for the federal government.

Circle headshot of Salsa Sarhan The best advice I would give is to take advantage of all the wonderful opportunities on this campus and surrounding it. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone, because believe it or not we are all in the same boat: Try out for that intramural team, sign up for that club that peaked your interest and speak out during your tutorials.

There truly is something for everyone with the abundance of clubs (academically and socially), sports, and community events.

—  Salsa Sarhan is valedictorian for the Faculty of Social Sciences, graduating June 14 with a double major in Political Science and Labour Studies, with a minor in Public Leadership. She’s going to continue her work of community engagement and outreach as a “Youth Engager” position in the City of Hamilton Youth Division team and is considering working in media marketing or communications 

circular headshot of George FaresThe best advice I would give a first-year student would be to never fear setbacks. Nobody is perfect and there’s no reason to burn yourself out trying to reach impossible goals. The best thing to do is to stay calm, and take your adventure through first year day by day. I’d say to prevent setbacks as best as you can, try to make friends so that you can help others and they can help you too! University is not a journey you need to go through on your own.

— George Fares is valedictorian for the Faculty of Engineering, graduating June 13 with a Bachelor of Technology, Automotive & Vehicle Engineering Technology. He’s working on a Master’s degree in applied science in mechanical engineering under Prof. Ali Emadi

circular headshot of Akosua Asafu-Adjaye FrimpongFirst of all, I would say take the time to build good study habits in first year. As you settle into the rhythm of things, get acquainted with the kinds of courses you are interested in (or what you would potentially want to major in), and invest in discovering the style and nature of the courses, as well as the study habits that best suit you. Building this foundation in you first year is very important: it will go a long way in setting you up for success in subsequent years.

The second piece of advice would be is to be open to taking risks and trying new things. Be ready to explore and learn new things. Don’t be afraid to take on leadership roles, join clubs and make meaningful connections. These opportunities have a way of honing your skills and developing you as a person!

— Akosua Asafu-Adjaye Frimpong is valedictorian for the Faculty of Humanities, graduating June 12 with a BA Honours in Justice, Political Philosophy and Law, with a minor in Sociology and a minor in Globalization studies. She is looking forward to a bright future in law and politics.