Unless you're on a direct path, say as a nurse, you face questions like 'what will you do in the real world after you're done your degree?' And it feels so good to say, 'Actually, this thing I've cared about my entire life and gotten a degree in has gotten me a job. If I want to continue this job as a career, I can.' It's an example of how if you follow your passion, it can lead to work you find meaningful.
A group of University of Lethbridge students wait with bated breath for the results of a referendum. Mikey Lewis (they/them) (BA ‘20) is among these students. Should this referendum pass, uLethbridge undergraduate students would pay two dollars each semester to help fund the arrival of one refugee student per year as a permanent resident and U of L student. Although the committee had already managed to sponsor one refugee on their own, Mikey and their friends wanted to ensure that the program could be sustainable and secure for years to come.
Finally, the announcement they have been waiting for arrives. The room fills with pure joy, gratitude and excited screaming as the levy passes. Mikey will remember this moment for the rest of their life, a reminder that by finding like-minded friends and support systems, significant change is possible, no matter your age. "We were all screaming, so excited that it would happen. And we did that together," Mikey remembers.
As a young student in the first Global Citizenship Cohort (GCC), a cohort of students that learn together in the Faculty of Arts & Science, Mikey helped raise money to support Syrian refugee families living in Lethbridge. Inspired by this project, Mikey and several other students reached out to faculty and worked to establish a World University Service Canada (WUSC) chapter on campus. "I came into university being someone who was passionate about social issues and truly cared about what was going on in the world but felt pretty powerless to make a real impact as an 18-year-old. Being involved in WUSC and the conferences and positions that came with it changed everything. Those experiences hammered home the point that by working with people who have the same goals and interests as you, it's possible to make a tangible and direct difference. It can be easy to sink into apathy with these issues, but I think it's a matter of finding like-minded people who want to make a difference and put in that time. I've carried that knowledge into the rest of my life. There are people in the world who want to invite you in and make a difference with you."
Mikey's work with WUSC is only one small piece of our shining student's legacy at the U of L. They graduated this past spring with a double major in anthropology and religious studies along with an honours thesis to cap it all off. Reflecting on their journey, Mikey has always gone above and beyond in civic engagement and volunteerism alongside academics. These involvements include developing new resources at the U of L for sexual assault survivors with the Re-Imagine Advisory Panel, tutoring at the International Centre, poetry and music clubs and working on political issues through the Campus Collective Centre (previously the Campus Women's Centre). Besides countless hours of volunteerism, Mikey also completed two applied studies, one independent study and three self-initiated co-op work terms. Mikey also presented their original research at North America's largest annual anthropological conference, the 2019 American Anthropological Association and Canadian Anthropological Society's Annual Meetings in Vancouver. "There were people whose books I had been reading my whole degree walking past my poster while I was talking about it!"
Despite their great success, Mikey remains humble and recognizes there is always more to know. "It's very easy to look at everything someone has accomplished and think it was more seamless than it actually was. I have some very patient friends who saw me metaphorically bang my head against the wall many times. In general, I'm someone who needs a lot of variety and challenges in my life to feel motivated to keep going with things. Being intentional about having a lot of things to work on, people to check in with and projects to flush out was ultimately really good for my mental health." For Mikey, keeping busy is preferred, evidence of the saying a change is as good as a rest. "Finding projects that resonate with me and have a clear purpose nourishes me," they say.
As someone who struggles with perfectionism, Mikey learned an essential lesson throughout university-that growth requires the space to make mistakes. "If you were to talk to first-year Mikey and compare them to fifth-year Mikey, first-year Mikey was a lot more of a perfectionist and felt like the world would fall apart if things weren't done exactly on time precisely as they were supposed to be. Part of what was so exciting about university was being able to watch myself grow year by year. Embracing change and rest are things fifth-year Mikey was better at doing. Taking an afternoon off if I needed it, even if I still have items on the to-do list," Mikey explains. Taking a rest is important. It is a chance to refuel, reflect and refocus. "As magical as the volunteering, social and academic aspects of university can be, it's also an amazing time to figure out more about yourself and who you want to be in the world after this experience. Taking time to reflect on those things and build more intrapersonal skills is important."
It can be easy to sink into apathy with these issues, but I think it's a matter of finding like-minded people who want to make a difference and put in that time. I've carried that knowledge into the rest of my life. There are people in the world who want to invite you in and make a difference with you
Mikey understands that volunteerism and getting involved are not always a walk in the park. They recognize that there can be barriers to finding like-minded supports, whether it's how people perceive you or your ability to access transportation. But it's important to do what you can to be open to the possibility. "Being honest and vulnerable about the things impacting you and the things you want to change is a big step. I'm consistently surprised with how many people you can meet."
Whether that's hanging out at the Campus Collective Centre or joining a club, there are already many organizations on campus where you can get involved to start building your network. Even if one or two aren't the best fit at first, you'll be two steps ahead. Mikey believes that finding people you resonate with is essential to creating change. "Working on getting through the discomfort that comes at the beginning of that process is so worth it. I met people from my first year to my last year, many of whom I know will be lifelong friends. Be open to those connections. If the in-person stuff is challenging, don't be afraid to engage online! Find the fan community, Reddit thread, Facebook group. The more people you find who are like you, the better." Mikey adds that while many professors want to help and most are willing to go above and beyond, that collaborative process begins with the student. "Professors want to help you and show you that care and knowledge, but they don't know if you want that unless you respond to their emails, go to office hours, speak with them after class, even thank them for the class. Then one day, if challenges come up, they'll know how much you care, and they'll probably be able to work with you to find solutions."
Mikey would like the uLethbridge community to be aware of their name change, as Mikey was previously known as Jamie in the uLethbridge community. Mikey's choice to share this piece of their identity took time. "Finding the confidence and support to get engaged with what you're passionate about can apply to other areas of life as well—finding people and learning who you can trust to open up with and connect with, whether that be professors or friends, or one of the amazing team working at the cafeteria. Having a conversation with someone facilitated every major time of growth I had," they add. For Mikey, understanding their worth and that they are capable, regardless of whether they are having a difficult day, was their key to success. Mikey knows that finding the right people to lift you and assure you of this worth is crucial, even when it can feel overwhelming to trust people more. "The more you open up those parts of your life, the higher likelihood of you finding those people you can trust."
After graduating, Mikey took a well-deserved summer off due to the pandemic, reconnecting with old hobbies such as creative writing, visual art and music. “It’s been a healing journey to reconnect with old hobbies and passions, while still being able to have video calls with friends.” But this break didn’t last long. Soon after, Mikey began working as the 2020-2021 Business Manager for The Meliorist and began a position at Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) in Coaldale. “I am running programming for youth facing social barriers in their small rural communities. I work with them to build confidence, social connections and well-being through arts programming. The work I did in university is very relevant to what I’m doing now, and FCSS recognized this when they hired me.”
Mikey recalls facing challenging questions, questions many university students receive unless they are on a more straightforward path. “Unless you’re on a direct path, say as a nurse, you face questions like ‘what will you do in the real world after you’re done your degree? And it feels so good to say, ‘Actually, this thing I’ve cared about my entire life and gotten a degree in has gotten me a job. If I want to continue this job as a career, I can.’ It’s an example of how if you follow your passion, it can lead to work you find meaningful. At my first job out of university, I actively apply the skills I learned in university, which is amazing. So be open to those possibilities. Think of the best-case scenario!” Mikey is hoping to pursue a Master’s degree in 2022, and we wish them all the best. Mikey, thank you for your fantastic legacy at the U of L.