I sit down with Sarah on a damp afternoon. By now, it's been a few weeks since she’s returned back home and finished school. Her graduation ceremony waits for her at the end of May, but all her goodbyes have been said. To her University, to her second home, and to all her friends.
I know that a few weeks ago, speaking to her at the time of her farewells, she told me she felt immensely sad. And I know Sarah. We speak nearly every day. She’s not a sad person. But from my personal past, I can also very well understand where this feeling had come from. I’m sure that anybody can. We’ve all had to finish a really good book at some point in our lives.
Sarah has now completed her final year at Queen’s University in the Smith School of Business. She has an exciting job waiting for her in the fall but before then, an adventure to Asia. I envy Sarah because she can officially check off her undergrad from her life's to-do list, while I’ve still got another three years to go before I can say the same. To hear of her melancholy, I am undeniably intrigued. So, on this damp afternoon, I press on.
“I think my overall feelings towards it all can be summarized with three words: excited, scared, and proud,” Sarah carefully tells me, now that she’s had the time to let her emotions simmer. I’m somewhat surprised at how quickly her feelings of sadness have evolved, but then remember that Sarah is remarkably swift at adapting.
“I’m excited because starting a new chapter is exciting. I don’t know what to expect from it, but what I do know – having a cool job, being downtown in one of my favourite cities, and getting this start to my life – is very exciting.
“Scared… leaving the comfort of what’s been home for the past four years - that’s frightening. School has been kind of like a separate world from the real world. Especially in Kingston, which is very much a University town, we all live near each other and school, groceries, everything we need is within walking distance. But now that I’m graduating, I’m leaving this comfortable, nurturing environment and heading into the real world. And I don’t know what’s ahead.
“And finally, I’m proud because I’ve actually made it through the 4 years. I’m honestly amazed that I did it.” (I quickly interrupt the ever-humble Sarah to remind her that not only did she make it to the end, but she also managed to get a job right out of school)
“I’m also proud of what I’ve gotten out of the experience. I’ve made friends that I wouldn’t have met otherwise because we’re all from different towns or provinces. I’ve also been a part of some really great extracurriculars.”
I ask Sarah about the friendships she’s built in University and how she plans to maintain them. We both reflect on how there’s something different about making friends when you’re that little bit older. As a child or even a teenager, you become friends with the people around you mostly out of convenience. The more you grow and develop as a person, you might find less in common with these people, and these friendships start to dissolve all while you establish new friendships, more from selection, based on common interests and genuine amicability.
“Except for you, me, and Maggie. I mean we haven’t lived in the same city, let alone country for years and we’re still such good friends,”
I’ve known both of them since I was 11 years old, and the two have known each other even longer. In fact, I’ve recently found out was a childhood friendship ignited by the fact they both cried a lot (sorry guys, I had to). Nothing can beat this sisterhood.
“These days keeping in touch with people is so easy. We’re really lucky to have access to all this technology. But I’m also quite grateful that a lot of my friends will be working in the city near me, so it will give me more of a chance to see them.”
I ask Sarah to elaborate a bit more on her extracurriculars, as I know they have been quite influential on her University experience:
“My biggest extracurricular at school was the Vogue Charity Fashion Show,” This is an annual Queen’s event in which a fashion show is put on, featuring talent in the school, but additionally showcasing dancers, singers, musicians, and performers of all kinds. It’s amazing how many people contribute to this weekend of shows. Each year, a general show theme is selected and all profits go to a charity of the team’s choice.
“In my first year, I was a choreographer and dancer in the show. I liked this a lot because it allowed me to keep dance in my life while still going through my first year transitioning out of it. It also gave me a taste of VCFS and what it was like to be a part of it. I really loved the environment as well as the charity aspect of the organization.”
This past March I saw the show and can say for myself it is truly impressive. Sarah tells me how VCFS is a big deal in the Queen’s and Kingston community and attracts quite a lot of attention and audiences that come back each year.
“Eventually I grew into doing more executive roles, with a brief hiatus in my 3rd year when I went on exchange to Belgium. Then this last year I was a co-president and honestly, it was the most fun I’d had. It was the cumulative focus of my year because I became a part of the entire process. Everything that happened was so special – I got to work with such a diverse team of people who were exposed to the show. I got to make a lot of important decisions and be a part of the behind the scenes action. We really got to make it our own. We took a lot of the feedback given to us from past presidents and previous shows but still tried to make changes where we felt necessary.”
The charity picked this year was the Canadian Mental Health Association, Kingston branch. The theme for the show was “Visionaries” in which they had an iconic figure representing each area of the arts. Each fashion design, choreographed dance, and musical performance then had to somehow revolve around that icon. Overall, they raised a remarkable $62,000 for the organization, which is the most that’s ever been raised through the VCFS. Sarah also tells me the Kingston branch of CMHA is one of the smallest in Canada so the money they’ve raised for them will actually have a sizeable impact.
“Vogue was definitely the highlight of my undergrad. I had such a great time,” Sarah tells me. “I felt that it was a really good creative outlet for me. It included all these aspects – dance, fashion, philanthropy – that I love to do.”
And now, Sarah passes on the torch to next year’s team. I ask her how she feels about it all:
“It’s definitely bittersweet. The show for me was such a climax in my year, but even afterwards there were a lot of loose ends to tie, so it wasn't really over right away. Now we’ve picked the new president and helped them pick their exec. team. I know that it will be hard next year when they pick their theme and charity – maybe that’s when it will hit me. But at the same time, it will be so interesting to see what they will do to bring it to the next level.”
I love how Sarah lights up whenever she speaks about Vogue. It was her cherished baby this past year and her passion for the event is evident. Undeniably, Sarah has accomplished so much in the last four years, I ask her how she feels this last chapter has shaped her:
“Naturally you grow up a lot at University. Up until I left, I had grown up with the same people, friends, family, and overall familiarity. Then I came to Queen's and was exposed to so many new thins that you’re sort of forced to grow and learn.
“Starting business, I had no idea what to expect but through my professors and extracurriculars I learned so much. It’s funny because when you reach the end of it, you kind of forget how challenging everything was. All the assignments and work, and just the overall transition into university was a challenge. But I think that helped make it all worth it. You come out of it looking back at how much you’ve earned from it and how much you’ve enjoyed it.”
What makes Sarah so inspiring is, again, her ability to adapt. However, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen her resilience at work. Sarah used to be a ballet dancer as well, having done it her entire youth, but stopped after graduating high school. I ask Sarah how she finds the end of her University chapter in relation to her last concluding chapter, the end of ballet.
“I suppose it’s similar that in both cases I didn’t and don’t really know what to expect. It’s this idea that you’re leaving something you’ve grown to be comfortable with. But I think this time I feel more excited for it and am more ready to venture out into this new world. It’s hard to look at the unknown and accept your fate but we face these types of transitions all the time. Take school as an example. You move from elementary school to high school and graduate from there. For myself, the transition out of ballet was the hardest one, but I’ve learned from it and know that nothing I face will be as hard as that. The more you deal with transitioning, the more comfortable you get with it, like the change from riding a tricycle to a bike – it just takes time and practice.
“When you’re younger, you feel like you’re following a straight line, but then at some point, life throws a curveball at you. Now I’ve realized that life isn’t exactly linear so I’m becoming more open-minded to whatever might happen. I guess this is just what happens when you grow older and experience more of the world.
“Any kind of change is really hard. It’s hard to see something you care about come to an end. But change isn’t bad. It’s scary, but it’s not bad. It’s almost always worth it. You have to embrace it, with baby steps, by doing what makes you happy while pursuing that new direction.”