One year later

Four Queen’s alumni discuss their time at school and the value of their experience as students

Credit: 
Photo Illustration by Arwin Chan.

Michele Charlton, ArtSci ’14

When I was in first year, I was often told by upper-year students that, “Queen’s is more than just a university”.

As I spent more time on campus, I slowly started to realize what this statement really meant.

Queen’s is more then just an academic institution; it’s a community fueled by tradition, and it’s a safe space to fail, to learn and to grow beyond the walls of our classrooms.

I graduated last June with a major in drama and a minor in film. I returned for a fifth year to work for the AMS as this year’s Campus Activities Commissioner.

The most rewarding part of my time at Queen’s was my out-of-classroom theatre experience. The opportunity to be a part of different productions that push the boundaries of what art is has given my time here more than just academic value.

Many of the classes I took in undergrad were theory-based. As someone looking to get involved in arts management, it was the practical opportunities provided by different clubs and department productions on campus that gave me the chance to practice and develop my skills.

During my undergrad, I worked on over 20 different productions with different theatre companies on campus, and every single one taught me a new lesson. Whether that was how to develop and execute a budget, how to manage a team of over 100 students or to always label your own role of gaff tape, what I’ve taken away from these experiences has completely shaped the direction my undergrad.

I always saw being part of a production as being part of something bigger than yourself. During my time as the production manager of Queen’s Musical Theatre’s (QMT) Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, we had a QMT alumna from 1986 come by the Rotunda Theatre to say hello.

As she walked into the front of house and down the first two steps of the Rotunda, she stopped, took a breath and said, “Wow, this feels like home.”

That following year, QMT entered its 45th season, which was also the year that I served as the club’s president.

During that time, we were flooded with alumni testimonials about their time with QMT, from memories of set disasters to closing night pranks.

I look back on these times and messages and I’m so grateful to have been part of something that — for so many people — was more than just another show or something for course credit. It was the creation of lasting memories, strong friendships and personal growth.

Some of my fondest memories of my five years at Queen’s revolve around my time working on different theatre productions. Unsurprisingly, these also were the situations in which I learned the most.

The Drama Department is lucky to have professors who engage with us outside of the classroom in real, practical settings. These experiences provided me with invaluable hands on experience in my career field, which has given me theconfidence and skill set to enter into the professional world.

Leaving Queen’s isn’t easy, but I look forward to walking back into the Rotunda years from now, and feeling just as I did the last time I was there.

Michele Charlton is the Campus Activities Commissioner at the AMS.

Nikolas Lopez, MA ’15

I arrived at Victoria Hall in the fall of 2010, ready to embark on a new adventure.

I was eager to meet new people and make Queen’s my home away from home. I’ve now been studying at Queen’s for five years, and am completing my Master’s degree in political studies.

While I could describe my Queen’s experience in many different ways, there’s only one quote that truly captures my time here.

During my frosh week, a friend of mine shared this with me: “The slower we move, the faster we die. Make no mistake: moving is living.”

Normally, you’d think that this quote — said by George Clooney’s character in the 2009 film Up in the Air — would mean to avoid the baggage that comes with social relationships. But the person who shared this with me had an entirely different meaning in mind.

Living slowly is important. Taking the time to learn from others, helping one another and growing together is fundamental to forming who we are as individuals.

The value of my Queen’s experience didn’t come from lecture slides or pages in a textbook. I found it in a community of people I was lucky to meet, and in experiences I had that were much bigger than the roughly 100 acres of land Queen’s campus sits on.

I was fortunate enough to meet some of my best friends in the world. Whether they were telling me about their time volunteering in a soup kitchen in Winnipeg or running a prison literacy program in Kingston, they were always doing something for others. It’s that selflessness that has had the most profound impact on me.

Like many others, I forged cherished memories throughout my time here as a Gael, as a volunteer for Queen’s Soul Food.

as a delegate to Queen’s Model Parliament and in student government. But it wasn’t until I got involved outside of the Queen’s bubble that I truly found my passion for advocacy.

While working at the Parole Board of Canada during my third- and fourth-year of undergrad, I learned about the systemic societal issues that lead to the incarceration of members of marginalized communities.

During federal, provincial and municipal election campaigns, I worked as a political organizer in Kingston’s north end. I heard distressing first-hand accounts of families struggling to make ends meet. As students, we can get so caught up in the stress that comes from writing essays and preparing for final exams. Too often, we lose sight of the bigger picture — so much of our actual learning takes form in our relations with others.

The value of my Queen’s experience is rooted in the people I have met throughout my time here. They’re the ones who helped me find myself.

While intellectual curiosity may have led me back to Queens to complete a Master’s degree, I have never let my education get in the way of my learning. Nor should you.

Nikolas Lopez is a graduate student in political studies.

Kaila Elders, ArtSci ’14

Looking back on my time at Queen’s compared to my life now has been a bit of a reality shock.

When I left my small, northwestern Ontario hometown of Fort Frances and emerged into the thriving, multifaceted, tight-knit community that is Queen’s, I started to think maybe this is what adult life is like.

I thought finding a community was as easy as studying a subject you’re passionate about, and pursuing any other interests through various extracurricular activities.

As an undergrad student, I was an active member of ASUS Lost Paws, the Queen’s Quidditch Club and many more campus groups. After graduation, when that community suddenly seemed harder to find, I realized how special Queen’s really is.

I took for granted the unique sense of belonging to a large, involved community while I was at school. An environment where new experiences are always available isn’t always present outside of Queen’s. These experiences gave my time here the most meaning, and I regret not appreciating it more while I still could.

One of these opportunities was the novice rowing team. I sometimes wonder how I justified not having time to join, and I’m disappointed I didn’t take that chance.

The post-grad world has opportunities, but they definitely don’t fall into your lap the way they seemed to at Queen’s.

So since they’re falling into your lap, so to speak, there’s no reason not to take these chances as they come. It’s best to join everything, be exhausted and test your limits. These are the moments that stand out to me when I look at my time at Queen’s. My experiences as co-chair for Lost Paws and as marketing coordinator for the Quidditch Club helped me find out what I wanted to do with my life after graduation.

I’m currently completing a diploma program in advertising and graphic design at Humber College in Toronto. While I’m passionate about my studies, I can’t help but miss the unique opportunity for community that grew up around me at Queen’s.

Queen’s was a little microcosm that exaggerated the reality of the world. Most people in my classes now commute to school, and don’t necessarily have the same chance to join a team or club or committee. The opportunities aren’t accessible the way they are to most students at Queen’s.

The diverse array of people I met and learned from in academic, extracurricular and social aspects of my time at Queen’s deeply impacted my general attitude and outlook on life. I now recognize the value of these types of opportunities, and push myself to try new things as they arise.

You’re in a unique position as a Queen’s student. You can actually experience life to the fullest; it’s just a matter of deciding to do so. That’s one of the things I learned at school, both from things experienced and things regretted.

Cultivating this type of attitude now can enrich your life in many areas later — be it your social life, your career or your own understanding of yourself.

Kaila Elders graduated from Queen’s with a major in English Literature

Lauren Witterick, ArtSci ’14

One of the best decisions I’ve ever made was my choice to study at Queen’s. There’s something very unique about the Queen’s spirit, strong sense of community and tradition. Studying here gave me many unique opportunities and allowed me to work with many amazing people. The combination of a demanding academic environment and rewarding extracurricular experiences characterized my time at Queen’s. It wasn’t always easy, but I believe the academic challenges I faced made the experience even more valuable.

One of my most memorable challenges was completing my undergrad thesis in aquatic ecology. I learned so much about the research process that year, and after working for eight months, nothing could compare to the excitement and relief of submitting my 41-page final paper.

I had the opportunity to take classes with professors who were leaders in their fields, whose passion and knowledge for their field of study was inspiring. I worked alongside many brilliant peers, whose energy and motivation to succeed was infectious. The workload was sometimes tough to handle, but that was all part of the learning experience. Studying biology, the majority of my courses had a large test or exam component. This meant I often had multiple heavily weighted midterms or assignments in a very short time span.

But the close-knit community at Queen’s, the friends I made and the extracurricular opportunities that I encouraged myself to participate in balanced any academic stress and added value to my time on campus.

I met many close friends through late night study sessions, struggles with statistics software and minimal sleep.

Another aspect that I found very special about Queen’s was the level of student involvement. The sheer number of extracurricular opportunities gave me the chance to continue activities that I loved, and to try new experiences.

I had the opportunity to travel to training camps with the Nordic ski team. I also performed in many recitals with the Queen’s Dance Club, planned events for the Biology Department Student Council, and spoke in the House of Commons as a member of Queen’s Model Parliament. These experiences were a valuable lesson in time management, balancing academics with meetings and practices and occasionally finishing up assignments backstage at a dance recital.

Overall, I loved my time at Queen’s. The combination of academic challenge and extracurricular opportunity allowed me to completely immerse myself in the Queen’s community and made campus feel like home. My love and pride for my school continued after graduation, which is something that continues to confuse my family and friends. Since graduating, I’ve found the research and time management skills I gained at Queen’s very useful in my current work environment, which is outdoor education.

There’s something special about Queen’s — something that is hard to truly understand unless you have experienced it.

Lauren Witterick graduated from Queen’s with a major in biology.

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