A message to the graduating class of 2020

It’s June and there are a lot of things outside of our control right now. The future is unpredictable. For the high school graduate who has university waiting on the other side of summer, it can be an especially anxious time. They should be feeling exuberant, but instead they are stepping out of the comfort of routine into the unknown, while the world seems to be set on pause. 

We reached out to our York School alumni to ask them if they had advice for the graduating class of 2020. Here is what they said: 

“We are navigating a really weird time. Over the course of your lifetime, you will experience other unprecedented global events. The goal is to not just prepare for this pandemic, but to develop coping mechanisms and other skills for resilience that will prepare you for whatever comes.”  – Dr. Darcie Dixon, class of 2006, behavioural scientist working in management consulting

You Have the Tools to Survive and Thrive

This intensity is not new, especially to those in the International Baccalaureate programme. The regime of your high school schedule prepared you for this. Routines and structure have been taken away from us, but there are also things we can control.

Our Time and Environment

You find yourself unexpectedly working from home. This is a lot like doing your homework. Humans need to have routine and structure. Making new decisions for every moment of every day takes too much of a toll on our cognitive energy. Think about when you are most productive, and build your schedule around that. Set up your desk where there is natural light and make sure your schedule signals to your brain and others when it is the time to work, and when it is the time to relax.” – DD, ’06 

Study Hard

“I cannot overemphasize the importance of hard work. There are a few natural geniuses in the world, but hard work trumps smarts when it comes to meeting your goals.” – Evan Silver, class of 2007

“When in class, be in the now. Note taking helps you collect your thoughts and remember important points since information coming in can jumble together when you’re learning on a video call. Also, when working on essays, get feedback from people whose opinion you value to get fresh eyes on what you’re working on,” – Lianne Menkes, class of 2014.

Take Care of Yourself – Stay Active & Sleep 

The Gord Downie Pier on Kingston’s Waterfront might not yet be open for beach volleyball, nor Montreal’s Plateau for bongos in the park, but cycling, walking, exploring neighbourhoods and nature are important and safe ways to activate your mind and body.  


“As a social species, we need interaction. Make the time to have meaningful connections with those who make you feel good about yourself, especially since some social media platforms can make you feel sadder.” – DD, ’06

If campus is open: “I think in first year it’s easy to fall into the party lifestyle and indulge a bit. So I think the biggest piece of advice I could give you is remember why you’re there. You have this amazing opportunity to learn from some of the brightest minds in Canada so just really take advantage of that.” – Jordan Shay, environmental lawyer and class of 2007.

Embrace the Extracurricular 

“I signed up for Queen’s Model Parliament, and through this experience got to participate in the Canadian parliamentary process as ‘minister of national revenue’ even going to the House of Commons. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.” – JS, ‘07

“Put yourself out there and take initiative. At The York School I was part of the school paper, and debate, both exceptional experiences.” – Byron Ashley, entrepreneur and class of 2008

The keys to success are still the same. Be true to yourself and do not stray away from your North Star. Remain curious. Be engaged. Get involved. Collaborate with others. Embrace and be open for learning.    

There is no crystal ball that can tell us how this pandemic, or anything else that comes our way, will unfold. What we do know is that resilience and adaptability are essential skills. We also know that learning is made real through experience, and with the right outlook, we can thrive. 

This year’s graduating class has all the tools needed to adapt, problem solve and succeed. Embrace the challenges ahead and you will flourish, however the University of your choosing rolls out their curriculum. 

“Once you leave high school, you start to realize how special a place it was.” – JS, ‘07 


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