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Valedictory address to the Asper BComm (Hons) Class of ’17

May 2, 2017 — 

Eric MacLise, valedictorian of Asper’s BComm (Hons) Class of 2017, delivered the following address to the Graduation Dinner on Saturday, April 29. Eric served as Commerce Students’ Association (CSA) VP of Operations for 2016-17. 

I was looking up valedictorian speeches this week. It seems that traditionally the valedictorian is the individual who finishes with the highest grade point average, and I just wanted to disclose that couldn’t be further from the case in this scenario. I had five exams this week, and honestly some of them were touch-and-go. We haven’t got the marks back yet, but I’m actually worried I could be the first valedictorian not to graduate. And I guess this speech is my last university assignment. Pretty surreal. So in true university fashion, I wrote it the night before.

Dean Benarroch, faculty, tonight’s corporate sponsors, family, friends, and the class of 2017: This is an incredible honour to speak to you, and thank you for having me. And Dean Benarroch, you mentioned this is your last Asper grad and student event as Dean, and on behalf of the graduating class I wanted to thank you for your support and involvement these past years. For the students graduating tonight on the five-­year track, we were also the first class that Dean Benarroch welcomed to the school as Dean at the BComm First-Year Luncheon, so you’ve come full circle with us tonight.

I wanted to also thank my parents and both of my grandmas, who are here tonight. My grandmas actually showed up to grad last year too; they were like, “I thought this was a four-year degree, what happened to you!? Your parents did it in four years!” My parents are both University of Manitoba Commerce grads, and they actually met in Commerce, they had lockers beside each other in fourth year. I’ve had a locker each of the past two years and still have no date tonight.

Now to answer my grandmas’ questions, let’s set the record straight: No matter what you hear, a Commerce degree is five years. There are the rare few who finish in four, and power to them, but what’s the rush, right? You have the rest of your life to work. People we know that graduated in four years, they’ve began their careers, they have a year of work experience and $20,000 in the bank… So what? Big deal. Well, $20,000 would actually be pretty nice right now. We’re at an interesting time in our lives. For many of us, we’re heading into the first summer in almost 20 years where we aren’t going back to school at the end of it. If you’re working this summer, it’s not a Co-­op Term, it’s your career. And for some of us, that’s good riddance to be done with school. But for others – I know myself, I’m a creature of habit – that’s a bit of a shake-­up.

I’ve always been someone who has enjoyed his comfort zones. My mom always jokes, when I was younger, each year that I completed of grade school, people would ask, “So Eric, are you excited for Grade 4!?” And I would say, “No, I want to stay in grade 3!” I liked my teachers, I liked my classmates, I got accustomed to things. But I would start Grade 4 and pretty soon I didn’t want to leave that either.

And I feel comfort zones get a bad rep. Quotes, motivational expressions, often regard comfort zones as the bane of our existence – the barrier keeping us from achieving our dreams. And I feel this is a little misguided. That interpretation is a stressful mindset to maintain, always pushing yourself outside some behavioural construct. Never being in a comfort zone sounds like a very uncomfortable way to live. My interpretation of comfort zones are places we feel secure and natural, a place where we feel confident to be ourselves, and develop as individuals until we are ready to leave. They’re not necessarily about settling or mediocrity; they’re just where you need to be right now. I think for all of us in this room, when we imagine our dreams and aspirations with our career, our families, we’re picturing an idealized comfort zone.

And as we’re developing, we are always moving in and out of comfort zones. When we first came to university it was intimidating. It was big and scary, we didn’t know where anything was, we didn’t know anybody. But I know for myself, and I imagine for many of those celebrating their graduation this evening, over the past several years, the Asper School has become a comfort zone – a place we could be confident to take risks and try new experiences.

Not immediately though. I remember my first day in Asper. I had just finished calculus in St. John’s College. I looked at my phone to find my next class: Business and Society with Howard Harmatz, 140 Drake – in 15 minutes. Which, at a brisk jog, is barely enough time to make it from St. John’s College to the Drake Centre. I arrive, the only seats open are in the front row. I take my seat, and class begins. Howard immediately turns to me, and I thought, Oh my god, my professor is Breaking Bad’s Walter White. And Howard turned to me, he asked if I had a cat, and I said “yes,” and he asked if would I be sad if my cat died. And I don’t remember how that story ended, but I know Howard somehow elegantly related this to theories of Management 2.0. I took two classes with Howard, but after that first day I never sat closer than the third row.

And after Howard taught us all about Organizational Strategy, then we took Organizational Theory, and then Organizational Behaviour, and when you take pretty much the same class three times, you start to get comfortable. But no, I had the pleasure of taking two classes with Howard and quickly learnt to respect how he challenged our preconceived notions, made us think, and had us write and talk about our opinions. And what more can we really ask for out of university education than that, so thank you, Howard.

And with each semester we had more classes in Drake, and with each class or group project, we gained another friend to say hi to in the halls. And soon we’d spend our spares in Drake. We ventured up to the third floor study area. A poster for a student group event caught our eye: there was a vice-­president speaking at the marketing club’s meeting, and, more importantly, they were serving chicken fingers. We remember arriving at our first Business Banquet, trying to find a conversation circle to affiliate ourselves with. As a faculty and a university, we shined shoes to raise money for Cystic Fibrosis. Pretty soon, it would be rare for us to leave the Asper building for anything.

And it’s not that we weren’t challenged. By “comfort zone,” I mean an environment where we felt supported, always by our family and friends, some of whom may be with you tonight, but also by our peers, and faculty. Whether that’s Mary Brabston, and her dedication as faculty advisor to JDC West and the CSA, or Lukas Neville teaching us how to talk our way into a little more money in job negotiations. Or Brock Cordes offering life advice when we needed it most, like when my good friend and fellow graduate George was battling a bronchiolar infection with two gigs coming up as the frontman of his band – Brock caught wind and wrote a cold remedy for the ages: Expectorant, Echinacea, Ginseng, Vitamin C, a hot tub, and a hot toddy! And for those that aren’t aware, a “hot toddy” is known as a hot whiskey in Ireland. “Go to bed and stay there for 12 hours,” Brock said. George sang like an angel.

This support created an environment where we were comfortable taking risks, whether that was student leadership opportunities, international exchanges, academic case competitions, new venture challenges, or jumping into a pool of ice water in November for charity. Our comfort zone was always expanding while during our time at Asper.

And then, at a certain time, it’s time to leave. And that time is upon us. And although we’ve left Asper, no matter what each of us pursues over the next several months – travelling, work, further education – we’ll still be learning, we’ll definitely be growing –  because we’ve left our comfort zone. And that’s something to celebrate.

And if you’re feeling nostalgic about your time at Asper, me too. But that’s also something to be proud of. You feel the nostalgia of leaving something because it was such a good experience. Whether that’s school, relationships, jobs, if you’re emotional about something ending, it’s because of all the joy and fun-­filled times you had there.

Not only has Asper grown into a comfort zone, a place where we could be confident to do our best and most fulfilling work, but it has also helped us develop the skills, and the connections, to succeed in the next challenge, and reach the potential within each of us.

And in finding that next challenge, follow your happiness. And that might come with some butterflies, some risks and challenges. But if you pursue your passions, you will eventually find yourself in your comfort zone. And where else would you really want to be.

With that, let’s raise our glasses – here’s to leaving our comfort zone, and finding a new one!

Congratulations to all of you. Wear this pin proudly. Thank you very much for the opportunity, and I hope you enjoy the rest of the evening.

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