Vladimir Chindea is the valedictorian of Upper Canada College’s 2018 leaving class.
This is the speech he gave at the May 22 leaving class ceremony:
“Cherished parents and families, members of the faculty, administration, advancement, admissions, dear members of the platform party, Dr. Julia Kinnear, Mr. Evan Williams, Mr. Derek Poon, Mr. Matthew Johnson, Mr. Russ Higgins, Principal Sam McKinney and, finally, dear friends.
“Two years ago, when first walking in the quad under a clear blue sky, I could not have imagined this privilege of speaking before you today on behalf of UCC’s class of 2018. This opportunity reflects the spirit of this place. For this honour and trust, I cannot be more grateful. Merci beaucoup.
“But before I begin, I’d like to take a moment to thank a few individuals who are retiring from their crucial positions this year. Mr. Poon, I think that your smile is one of the first things that every single student remembers in his time at UCC because, with your warm presence and words of wisdom, it simply never leaves you.
“Mr. Williams, from the youthful energy you put into organizing so many activities to the sense of fairness you have when dealing with the most delicate situations, you’ve also had an incomparable impact on all of us.
“Mr. Sharpe, even though I did not have the chance to have you as a teacher, your daily ‘hellos’ in the halls and especially your speech from last evening speak volumes about the care that you have for us all.
“And Mr. Olds, I cannot count the number of students who told me about the positivity you’re spreading in the school. We wish you all the best moving forward and could not be more proud to be graduating with you this year. On behalf of the class of 2018, thank you.
“Dear friends, how could we encapsulate this feeling that we all share today? This bittersweet emotion which we have all felt during the last few weeks and months: torn between this will to defeat the IB and this desire to spend our last moments with these very special individuals we’ve come to know over the years. Well, anticipating this difficult moment to say goodbye, here we finally are: gathering together to celebrate before diving into the exciting but intimidating adventure that life will be for each one of us. Congratulations to all. Félicitations à tous.
“And as I did not know exactly how to address this common feeling, I was also very aware that we’ve all experienced UCC in a very different way. As some grew up on these grounds since SK, others joined us only a few a years ago. As some discovered their artistic passions or thrived on athletic fields, others faced unthinkable hardships that forced them to reinvent themselves. And as some could not have felt more included within this tight community, we’ve all gone through periods in which we could not have felt more alone.
“We have all experienced many different realities here, and these realities comprise the unique environment that UCC is, which has, at its core, its individuals.
“And as there is not enough time today to recount so many memories and ways through which the last few years have forged our characters, a thought crosses my mind to share with you a very personal story about a very special individual: my grandfather.
“When I went back to Romania four years ago, this place in the world that I often thought of as my golden land, I decided to spend a lot of time with this man whose age was quickly catching up to him. I asked questions. And despite my fragile memory, my grandfather shared so much about himself: how he lost his mother at an early age; how he had to take care of his younger brothers; how he had to work at an age when kids are supposed to learn to run after a ball; and he also told me about the place he was born — small village located some 20 kilometres from the city where I was born.
“I remember as if it was yesterday how I jumped on a bike with a cousin of mine and decided to go and find out where my family came from. I remember how this old and rocky road led me to this beautiful house of the past.
“And as I think about it right now, something really hits me because achieving this important step of our life that graduating is, our sight is directed to a future full of unlimited opportunities, trips and experiences. But taking this same old and beautiful road that I did four years ago, I believe that it is even more important to look behind us and to understand how our past finally led us to become who we are today.
“We must recognize the impact of these faces, smiles, tears, conversations, people, families and friends who, together, shape who we are. These strong relationships are so important, as they are continuously building an endless universe within ourselves.
“When I asked some of you what the bonds you’ve woven at UCC mean to you, I noticed a very similar reaction: a silence filled with fondness towards all these individuals we love and whom we call friends. These teammates who’ve got our backs when we needed it the most. These brave writers who shared their most intimate thoughts in Convergence, The Blue and White, College Times and Quiddity publications. These runners who’ve climbed the highest hills together. These debaters and MUNers who had to stand up and speak out during very difficult conversations. These house games that Wedd’s always ends up losing. These cutting-edge technology skills that some had the patience to learn.
“These swimmers who have pushed each other to go further and faster, breath after breath. These musicians who have blown us away with their powerful notes. These rowers who not only had to develop a crazy work ethic, but all mysteriously seem to be incredibly good guys. These actors, filmmakers and visual artists who not only scared and moved us with their passion, but drew us into the land of their imagination. These genuine individuals who understood that life isn’t all about expectations or standards, and who we’ve always enjoyed chatting with in class. These boarders whom we’ve seen being so diligent by day, but who also helped us go through the darkest nights away from home. These clubs in which we met our first friends and, finally, as we travelled from one place to another, these unique conversations about life.
“This being said, none of those relationships could have been cultivated without the dedicated support of the adults we’ve been daily interacting with. This teacher and house adviser who not only taught classes and shared what is the most essential in our educational system, life experiences, but also who sat down at all hours to help us overcome the limits we put on ourselves. This coach who not only pushed us to persevere and become the best version of ourselves, but who also acknowledged the real value of a team in our lives and created the conditions for us to seek human interactions with each other.
“This club supervisor who invested heart and soul into our projects so that not only our skills could flourish, but our passion driving them. The incredible individuals from the health centre, the Centre for Learning and the library who guided so many of our reflections, work strategies and literary suggestions. This university counsellor that believed in us and helped us get closer to our dreams. These adults who were and will forever be role models for all of us. And finally, these parents and families who have already and will unconditionally continue to support us in our most challenging hours and brightest seconds.
“Yes, when we close our eyes and think about UCC, it is these very special individuals and relationships that we feel deep in our hearts.
“But although we are able to recollect these positive memories, I believe that our strong relationships also led us to have some very important and challenging conversations. From speakers invited, but especially from students of different cultures and backgrounds who had the courage to walk up on stage at assembly and share about the hardships of their lives, we have absorbed the most impactful and powerful addresses embraced by the walls of Laidlaw Hall: about language, consent, sexual orientation, gender, race, class, privilege and our relationship with the ‘other.’ These invisible barriers that continue to unjustifiably divide our society. And I praise this community for the value that it has seen in including individuals having different perspectives within it.
“From the generous financial assistance program which firmly indicates the position of this institution regarding a future where equal access to opportunity can become reality, to the newly arrived Syrian refugee family that UCC sponsors, and the meaningful reflection about Canadian reconciliation with the Indigenous peoples of our country we’ve committed to pursue, it is remarkable to realize how much we all grow and how far we all go when listening to people’s different voices. Ultimately, we are all interconnected and depend on each other, and this is why we must be aware that this environment we’ve grown up in is far away from the reality that so many others are living. We must not lose contact with the real world.
“And speaking before you today makes me question what really differentiates an individual who comes from UCC and an immigrant who settled in Canada a few years ago. Is there any difference in terms of potential based on class, race and gender? Or are we, as human beings, all capable of striving for greatness? Are the barriers that I have acknowledged what keeps us from doing so? What if the difference that distinguishes a student who attends UCC from one who does not is simply access to this opportunity?
“So let’s embrace this pluralistic idea of relationships for the rest of our lives and let’s knock down these barriers. Let’s not be afraid to approach ‘the other’ and build these beautiful bonds with individuals who are outside our community, especially when tackling the greatest challenges of our time. Because no matter the field of study and work we want to pursue, from science and commerce to arts and rights, we are already facing the undeniable reality of climate change and the worldwide rise of populism and isolationism that stands up against this idea of relationships that we are celebrating today.
“I started this address by mentioning a golden land, but I have to admit that this golden land is not a country or a physical place anymore. It is something a lot more metaphysical. It is this state of mind in which, when closing our eyes, we can feel the presence of each other and relive our best memories. It is the time that we spend together that provides us purpose and happiness, and I find immeasurable value in it.
“I believe in the strength of unbreakable bonds, in the power of intangible friendships, and in the virtue of living authentic moments. So let’s breathe with the sincerity of our hearts to find out the poetry of our lives and, most importantly, let’s never walk alone.
“Thank you very much. Merci beaucoup.”
Here’s the video of Chindea’s speech.