McMaster graduate credits connections for transformative undergraduate journey

A headshot of Malikca Lawrence

Malikca Lawrence is graduating from McMaster after four years of study in the Arts & Science program. (All photos courtesy Malikca Lawrence).

When asked to reflect on her four years at McMaster, Malikca Lawrence says she is struck by how each connection she made to another person shaped her experience and led her to where she is today.  

There’s the fellow student who told her about a volunteer opportunity that would help her realize her power as a mentor. There’s the social event where she met a faculty member who would later become her thesis supervisor. There’s the student club where she ended up meeting her best friend.  

And some of those connections started online: Like most of her graduating cohort, Lawrence started her university experience in a world disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

And while she says she has fond memories that include baking apple crumble with classmates during Welcome Week and late-night online study sessions with peers, she admits it was a less-than-ideal start to her time at McMaster.  

A screenshot of a Zoom meeting featuring smiling students. Some of them are holding up bowls of apple crumble.
Lawrence, along with other Arts & Science students, bakes apple crumble during an online activity during Welcome Week 2020.

“I enjoyed first year, but it still wasn’t that full university experience,” says Lawrence, who is set to graduate from the Arts & Science Program next week.

So, when her second year started, Lawrence set out to change that.  

“I was really craving some friendships, some connections, some community as well. So I signed up for three clubs,” says Lawrence. “I was just like, ‘Let’s go. Let’s do this.’” 

Those three clubs — the Black Students Association, Blackspace and the McMaster Association of Caribbean And West Indian Students (MACaws) — led to some enduring friendships and, in the case of the latter, staying connected to her Jamaican culture.  

Lawrence had moved to Oshawa from Montego Bay when she was 15. 

14 students, some of them seated and some standing, pose for a photo.
Lawrence and other members of the 2022-23 Black Student Association

Involvement in the groups also led to other opportunities. Like volunteering and providing mentorship for youth through two charitable organizations based in Hamilton — Empowerment Squared and the Afro- Canadian Caribbean Association.  

Lawrence was initially daunted by the task of mentoring someone, but soon found she had insight and wisdom to pass along to those younger than her.  

“You can really have an impact in people’s lives by just talking to them and helping them realize what their own dreams are, and trying to make that become a reality,” says Lawrence, who will receive the President’s Award for Student Leadership at her convocation.  

She helped make dreams a reality for others on a bigger scale when she started working as a communications assistant and student navigator at McMaster’s Black Student Success Centre (BSSC) in her third year.  

“It’s been amazing. It’s just opened my world up so much more,” says Lawrence. 

Two women, one in a convocation robe, smile and pose for a photo
Lawrence with Faith Ogunkoya, manager of Black Student Success at this year’s Black Excellence Graduation Celebration. “I still marvel at having had the opportunity to work with her,” says Lawrence. “She’s such a champion of, and very much empowers, students.”

In the role, she has helped connect students to job, volunteer and mentorship opportunities, as well as awards and scholarships. She also participated in the Black Student Mentorship Program and helps tour high school and prospective McMaster students through the centre 

And it was while she was working at a BSSC event that she met Assistant Professor Joseph Okeme, who later became Lawrence’s thesis supervisor.  

She hopes to continue her research, which is looking at chemical exposure differences between immigrant and non-immigrant populations, this summer.  

Lawrence says she’s grateful for the interdisciplinary and foundational knowledge her Arts & Science degree gave her as she weighs her options for what’s next in her education and career.   

But for now, she’s looking forward to celebrating and taking time to reflect on her accomplishments, the connections she made and the community she helped build during her undergraduate.  

And her advice for other students on their undergraduate journeys? Put yourself out there and talk to people — for those connections may just lead you to some unexpected, and fulfilling, places.  

“I definitely got into it because of the rewards that I was receiving from doing this work,” she says.  

“It doesn’t feel like work because I’m so passionate about it, and as much as I give to the community, I just always see how much the community pours back into me.”  

Click here for stories, videos and highlights from Spring 2024 convocation ceremonies and celebration events 

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