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Selkirk College Valedictorians Personify Class of 2022

Bob Hall
By Bob Hall
April 22nd, 2022

An embodiment of the spirit required to overcome challenges of the last two years, the valedictorians representing Selkirk College’s Class of 2022 will provide a rousing send-off to peers at the Castlegar Campus on April 26.

In the first in-person ceremony since 2019, students graduating from all Selkirk College programs will walk across the stage and into remarkable futures at Convocation 2022. James Besa and Gagnjeet Singh have been chosen as this year’s valedictorians who will provide inspiring words in a pair of ceremonies set for the day.

“We are resilient and aim for greatness, despite having massive and multiple stressors within ourselves and our environment,” says Besa, a graduate of the four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Program. “Together, we conquered the challenges tied in with this COVID-19 pandemic. I’m sure that we will conquer the challenges that will come our way in the future, especially now that we have adequate knowledge, skills and attitude in our toolbox.”

Besa grew up in a small town in the Philippines and came to Canada in 2016 to learn more about himself and pursue academic goals. His mother migrated to Canada just prior, which helped pave the way towards Selkirk College. Starting in the Academic Upgrading Program to get the prerequisites needed, Besa entered the Nursing Program in 2017.

An outstanding student both inside the classroom and out, Besa’s warm heart and passion for learning fueled a four-year journey filled with success. He has become a leader both locally and nationally, currently sitting on the Canadian Nursing Students Association as the People of Colour Caucus Chair which initiates projects that allow nursing students from across the country to voice health and safety concerns.

Having just returned from his final five-week practicum in the northern British Columbia community of Iskut, Besa was on the frontlines of Indigenous health care which helped him further solidify his knowledge and experience. Working his way through post-secondary with jobs as a line cook, housekeeper, healthcare assistant and employed student nurse, Besa will now turn focus to his new career. He wants to work in local hospitals at first, with a long-term goal of becoming part of the team at the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland.

“Nursing is the art and science of caring for people from the womb to the tomb, so I get to know people from different walks of life in this ever-changing environment,” says the 23-year-old. “The people I meet daily tell me unique and remarkable stories about themselves, their point-of-view and their environment. It makes me learn more about myself and my environment even deeper, which I love the most.”

No Obstacles, Just Opportunities

Singh arrived from India to the Castlegar Campus for the two-year Post Graduate in Business Management Program just weeks before the world changed in early 2020. Already packing six years of post-secondary education, he left a stable marketing job in New Delhi to pursue a new direction in Canada. Choosing Selkirk College because of its rural setting, he wanted to fully immerse himself in a new culture. Singh arrived Castlegar on a snowy day in January and has not looked back.

“This place really connects with me, I love mountains and the flowing water,” says the 28-year-old. “Just as important is that my interactions with people of this community have been so good, I really feel accepted. That is the best feeling you can have when you move from one country to another. On paper there was supposed to be a big cultural difference, but I never felt that. I have never felt homesick because there were always people to support and help. That is why I love the region so much.”

In his first two months at Selkirk College, Singh focused his outside-of-class energy on volunteerism. He got involved in the student union, the Selkirk College Business Club and became a peer tutor.

“A big part of my success here was the volunteer work that I have done because it provides important connection to people,” he says. “Every time I connected with someone, I had something new to learn… a new story, a new experience, their perspective. Learning from others is what has helped me plan my journey in Canada.”

When the pandemic paused in-person learning starting in mid-March 2020, Singh did not let the chaos of the moment stall his desire to embrace fresh experiences. Though he missed the in-person connections, he made the best of a difficult situation by gaining more understanding about the online delivery model.  

“It was a change for us as students, but it was a significant change for the instructors,” Singh says. “Everyone was trying to adapt, so I did the research to make sure that I knew the best way to communicate in this new situation. That helped make the challenges less and it gave me an opportunity learn something new.”

Singh’s passion for community and enthusiasm for learning has enabled him to become a leader at Selkirk College. In mid-2021 he was selected as the student representative on the committee that hired new Selkirk College President Dr. Maggie Matear, a task that required months of dedicated work. He completed both an internship and co-op placement at Selkirk Innovates where he researched local economic development delivery models, worked with the regional mining sector and helped present findings at a national conference in Quebec.

With plans on staying in the Kootenays, Singh offers simple guidance to graduates and future students.

“When people see you putting in an effort, they try to match your efforts and that is when the work gets done,” he says. “You can’t sit back at school or life because that’s not how things happen. There is no harm trying and there is no harm failing. Every failure teaches you something and this is how I have been living, it’s something my dad always taught me. I am never afraid to try.”

Graduates in the nine different schools of study will be split into two different convocation ceremonies on April 26, one starting at 10 a.m. and the other at 1:30 p.m.

You can learn more about valedictorians James Besa and Gaganjeet Singh at selkirk.ca.

Categories: Education

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