Meet Social Sciences valedictorian Harjot Shoker

Smiling headshot of Harjot alongside text that reads: You did it! Valedictorian Faculty of Social Sciences Harjot Shoker

Wanting to be successful and working hard to achieve your goals is a good thing, but when 'hustle culture' takes the front seat in your life, it becomes immensely toxic, says Harjot Shoker.

Faculty of Social Sciences valedictorian Harjot Kaur Shoker graduates June 15 with an Honours Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. We asked Harjot, who is going on to study for an MSc in occupational therapy at U of T, a few questions about herself. Here’s what she had to say.

Why did you choose McMaster?

McMaster is well known for its academic excellence and sense of community, so I had no doubt I would find a second home here. I have seen the positive impact that research and community initiatives at McMaster have had on a global level. Taking that leap of faith and accepting my offer to McMaster has genuinely been of the best decisions I have ever made.

What’s next for you?

I will be pursuing a Master of Science in Occupational Therapy at the University of Toronto, which I can use to help remove barriers and gaps that exist between marginalized communities and the health-care system.

As a first-generation Sikh-Canadian who had to navigate the health-care system at a young age, I recognize how systemic barriers such as financial challenges, cultural differences and language barriers limit access to health care. I look forward to the opportunity to use my career as a way to help advance and promote an equitable approach to health care in the future.

Can you share a great piece of advice you’ve been given?

My parents have always said to me and my siblings: “You can’t control everything that happens to you, but you CAN control the way you respond.”

It’s important to recognize that sometimes life is just out of our hands, and it is impossible to have everything fall into place. Rather than letting an issue take over my everyday life, I chose to invest my time and energy into community initiatives, and things I enjoy that broaden my horizons and provide a greater perspective of life.

Now that you’re graduating, what’s your advice for students?

The greatest investment you will ever make is in your health. As students, we often neglect our well-being for our academics, and make it a priority over everything else. Although it can be difficult to balance school, mental and physical health, it is important to take breaks to recharge and rest your mind and body.

Tell us about a good memory from your time at McMaster.

One of the best memories from my time at McMaster had to be in first year. To put into context, I was placed into an apartment residence (shoutout to  Bates 414), with five girls I did not know. I was unsure of what type of situation I was going into, but eventually, my roommates became my best friends and we navigated our experience of not only our first year at university but also the challenges of our first time living away from our families together.

The best memory has to be us, roommates just sitting on the carpet in our apartment’s hallway. Despite the fact we had our own common room, we always ended up congregating on the hallway outside our rooms. We would just laugh endlessly for no reason, which quickly turned into random singing and dancing sessions.

These individuals who were strangers to me at one point are now long lasting and forever friends of mine.

What’s an accomplishment you’re really proud of?

Being selected to be valedictorian 🙂

To be chosen to represent my classmates by such a distinguished selection committee and to be vouched for by my professors, and peers is such a feeling of pride. And seeing the reaction of my parents when I told them the news was the best part of it all — I felt incredibly proud of myself.

Tell us about a prof or mentor figure or someone who made a difference for you in your time at Mac.

During my third year at McMaster, I was feeling burnt out and felt a lack of passion in my degree. That summer, I enrolled in Ahmad Firas Khalid’s course, Politics of Pandemic, and it truly reignited a light in myself and made me passionate about what I was learning. I continued to take every single one of Dr. Khalid’s courses. I truly look up to him in so many ways, and to see that as a professor, he genuinely believed in my success meant the absolute world.

If you could have a superpower, what would it be?

If I had to choose just one superpower, I think it would be to stop time. As students, we are constantly told that your four years of undergrad fly by so fast — and it was not until now that I realized how true it really is. By having the ability to stop time, I’d be able to live in the present moment. To notice the world around myself, such as the small things and to genuinely be thankful for them.

Life is short, and it is so important to enjoy what’s happening now and live for today.

What’s an important lesson you’ve learned so far?

It’s easy to get caught up in the fast-paced lifestyle and to constantly fall into the loop of “hustle culture.” I’ve learned that wanting to be successful and working hard towards achieving your goals is a good thing, but when this ideology takes the front seat in your life, it becomes immensely toxic.

No matter how focused you are on your goals, you must learn how to slow down and stop the grind when you need to.

 While at Mac, did you receive donor-funded financial assistance (e.g., a scholarship, award, bursary)? Any thoughts on the importance of giving back to your alma mater to support future generations?

I’ve been very fortunate to receive the 2022 Epilepsy Ontario Scholarship to which is afforded to students enrolled in postsecondary education with epilepsy who have overcome barriers and who continue to demonstrate resilience in coping with the challenges of epilepsy.

Finances are just another barrier on top of many others to folks with diagnoses like epilepsy — which is why scholarships like this are so important to help eliminate barriers that can be solved.

I hope to give back to the future generation and help students with epilepsy reach their full potential.