To the graduating class of 2020: you are the future we need

Graduation this year is looking a little different for everyone. To celebrate the hard work of the class of 2020, UBC Geography held a reception on Zoom on Thursday May 14th.

This speech was given by Christa Yeung, graduating this year with an Honours in Human Geography and a minor in Urban Studies.

Thank you Professor Jessica Dempsey, Professor Geraldine Pratt, and faculty, and staff at the Department of Geography for putting together this Zoom reception as a moment for us to reflect on an eventful year and abundant undergraduate and postgraduate career with our friends, family, and loved ones today.

I especially want to thank the class of 2020, all my wonderful peers, classmates, and friends for celebrating your achievements with me today.

As we begin to assemble the final pieces and thoughts from our time at UBC, I’d like to share a bit of my own reflection from my time at UBC, as it’s the story that I know the best.

When I first entered UBC six years ago, I felt quite uncertain… maybe much like how many of us feel these days. As I read troubling headlines about the school at the time and pictured myself amongst tens of thousands of other students that I’d never get to know, it felt unimaginable to identify myself with such a large institution, and tell people that I was a member of the UBC community.

These days I feel proud to say that I’m a Geographer.

And because I’m a Geographer, I think about place a lot, and what makes this place – the Department of Geography – feel like such a community to me.

In no small part, I think this is due to the familiar friends I see in the GIC that I talk to well after the classes we shared have ended, and the welcoming open door of the GSA office. Since the GSA office opened, it’s always been a delight to pop by and see Nic or other GSA members’ smiling faces.

These days, whether I’m reading something about geomorphologists or urban geographers, I sometimes feel a tingle of excitement when I see that word: “Geography”.

That said, given the diversity of all of our experiences as Geography students, I think this study means many things for all of us.

But for me – and I hope for you too – Geography at UBC has been a space where we have nurtured powerful critical thought, and creatively challenged, and worked to reimagine, systems and institutions which have failed many.

You – my fellow geography graduates  – inspire me because you ask, demand, and work towards a world where reconciliation or fossil fuel divestment among many more missions for equity and sustainability are a concrete reality.

In class discussions, campus and beyond, I’m so proud to learn amongst inspiring classmates who embody the changes they want to see, such as through the Climate Strike and the ongoing efforts of the UBC Climate Emergency, and activism in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en.

In the years to come we might not recall Tobler’s first law, but I think there’re a lot of lessons that have shaped us, and will continue to shape the way we work and learn in the world.

Whether they’re small lessons such as remembering to always save and back-up your files to the right drive as GIS classes made us learn the hard way, or projects we worked on that changed the way we read certain landscapes forever,

I hope you can take those tools, and that important energy of questioning and reimagining the world into all the spaces you impact.

I’m so excited to see the impact that all of you will make with the valuable learnings, tools, and bonds from your time at the Department of Geography as you begin to take the next steps in your life!

Finally, I want to borrow a few words from Professor Elvin Wyly whom I took one of the last classes of my undergrad with:

Yes, even though we’re in uncertain times, the certain thing is that you are the brilliant geography graduates that the present and future so desperately needs.

Thank you Geography class of 2020!