Category Archives: Undergraduate Students

Academic Award for Julie Funk!

Screenshot 2017-06-07 13.51.11

Congratulations to Julie Funk, who will be awarded the Department of English Award for Distinguished Academic Achievement at the upcoming June convocation. You may remember Julie from an earlier Words in Place interview, where she discussed what surprised her most about her time at UWaterloo. While Julie graduated in fall 2016, the award is only given annually. We are fortunate that she is still around, however, continuing her excellent work in our MA program.

Convocation time!

Screenshot 2017-05-30 10.48.06
How many other opportunities in your life will there be to introduce your family to your professors while at least two of you are wearing robes? Take advantage of this one immediately following the 10:00 a.m. convocation ceremony (Wednesday, June 14, 2017).

Our new English undergraduate and graduate alumni and their families are invited to a post-convocation celebration in the SLC Great Hall. Enter the hall and look for the English Language and Literature sign. English faculty and staff will be on hand to congratulate you and wish you all the best for your future. There will be complimentary desserts and refreshments–and after convocation I promise, they will be very welcome. No reservation required. We look forward to seeing you!

SLC – Student Life Centre

200 University Avenue West

Waterloo, ON N2L 3G1


Valedictorian Amy Zhou–one of ours!

Screenshot 2017-03-10 13.06.46

We are so thrilled to congratulate Amy Zhou, UWaterloo English and Economics, who has been named valedictorian and will be speaking at convocation this year. I asked Amy if she might consider contributing a post to our blog, and she kindly agreed. Read on to find out what she didn’t include in her speech, how she wasn’t sure she’d make, and where to hear more from her! And special thanks to Amy for this guest post!–JLH

Valedictorian speeches are hard to write. There are tons of Wikihow and “How to do it” articles online that are supposed to help (and to be honest, I used one as a starting point) but, all the same, they’re hard to write.

I agonized over mine: I meticulously parsed words and sentences, scratched them out and bit my lip while wondering are these experiences shared enough and is it effectively celebratory?

I ran through my speech in the unfinished boiler room of my student townhouse. I had lugged my full-length mirror downstairs and propped it on a plastic container to watch my lips form words and to make sure my smile carried to my eyes.

My first run-through, to my horror, clocked in at seven minutes long.

Seven minutes! I panicked, They’ll cut the microphone at that point!

So I started cutting, scratching thick black lines through memories, verbs and sentences.

I paused over “We made it!”. I cut it.

My reasoning was that it was implied, simply by the fact that the valedictorian would be addressing a room full of people who had “made it”. If they were in that audience, I reasoned, they’d already made it, and they’d know that they had made it. It’d be redundant if I included it.

And yet—in the talk-off (when all of the valedictory nominees gave their speeches to a panel and to each other), I heard the phrase over and over from my peers.

We made it. We made it. We made it.


Convocation is flashy. It’s showy. That’s obvious enough to anyone who has ever seen photos of people at their convocations on social media. We wear big black gowns that easily double as Hogwarts cosplay (I’ve friends who used their high school gowns for the premiere of Deathly Hallows II), and hoods that are colour-coded to specific faculties and programs. Our steps echo loudly as we walk down loud aisles to an enormous stage, we shake hands with the President, and cameras flash.

It’s entirely symbolic, and thus, in the way that most symbol-laden things are, a little kitschy and totally cheesy. I’m sure that we all have friends who skipped their own convocation because they’re corny, “extra”, and a waste of time.

I crossed out We made it! on the hard copy of my speech and I deleted it off my electronic copy, but if I were to do it over again, I’d pause more before I scratched it out.

Crossing that stage and taking your diploma is a clear symbol that you’ve made it and we don’t have a lot of opportunities to celebrate that act of making it in such clear and loud imagery. Sure, there’s a sigh of relief when your official standing comes out on your transcript, and you see that “Degree Awarded” on your unofficial transcript, and there are the likes and comments of congratulations that come popping on your newsfeed when you post your grad photos on Instagram or change your profile picture on Facebook. But I don’t think there’s anything as present as crossing that stage to show that you did it, that you made it through. It’s a symbol recreated over and over in movies, novels, and personal pictures saying many things, but one thing especially loudly:

You made it.

Of course, this symbolism of crossing the stage and grabbing your diploma—it doesn’t speak to everyone. Its celebration and joy can be communicated through a variety of different fora, be it in your own private ceremony, with your own loved ones, at a restaurant, alone—anywhere.

To me, it doesn’t matter where it is, so long as you do something to acknowledge that you’ve done it, that you’ve made it, because it sure as hell wasn’t easy.


I’m very conscious of the period in my life when I thought I wasn’t going to (couldn’t) make it to the end of the year, let alone the end of my degree or even the rest of my life. It was, as I’ve called it before, the black hole era of my life.

“I was worried you weren’t going to graduate,” my Mom admitted to me at breakfast, some weeks ago. We were joking about that black hole era now that, thankfully, it’s far enough away from my present reality that we can joke about it—now that I wasn’t calling home crying home everyday, lying awake in the darkness and sleeping through the day. Her tone before this was joking, but this admission was coloured at the tips with that worry and concern that loved ones clutch to themselves and try not to let you see.

A statement like this would have set me ablaze with anger at the end of high school. How dare you even suggest that this was a potential possibility, I would’ve fumed, Of course I’m going to graduate. Of course I’m going to be on Honour Roll.

But now, at the end of my undergrad, I paused.

“Me too,” I admitted. And it was true: every semester seemed to present some fresh crisis of a class for which I felt woefully unprepared and didn’t deserve to be taking (it was usually an Economics class). Some semesters even presented me with emotional disturbance, Jobmine stress, existential despair. I slept through a job offer because I was so depressed. I dropped my thesis and one of my Microeconomics classes when I couldn’t take it. I sank a lot of emotional energy into people who didn’t want it. I fell into whirlpools of circular thoughts and questions asking who and what I was that I could never seem to answer or escape. I took on too many extracurriculars because I didn’t want to be alone. I was desperately lonely.

But I made it through. I’m here. I’m here, I’m here, I’m here.

I made it, almost entirely thanks to the support and love of people in my life.

This final act of making it– these motions of crossing the stage, accepting your diploma, shaking hands, and smiling at the camera- it’s as much as an act of celebration, of thanks, for these people in my/your/our lives. I wouldn’t be here without the support of my parents, without the ears and laughs and kindness of my friends, without the belief of my professors and employers.


In the end, all this is to say that this essay is kind of a spoiler: I’m not going to say “We made it!”. I actually did cross it out of my speech, and I kind of wish I hadn’t.

But don’t think, on the day of convocation, days (!!!) from now, that I’m not thinking it: my gratitude and celebration for this act of having made it (both mine and yours) will be infused in every word I say because we’re here, we made it, and this period in our lives, this messy, scrambly period right after the completion of our degrees when everything is bittersweet, exciting, scary, and full of potential is your time in the spotlight and your time to celebrate.

So congratulations, my fellow English and Arts graduates of 2017: we made it.

You can read more by Amy at her blog.

From Science to English: Alumnus Hoi Cheu

Hoi at CBC_Canada_Reads
Alumnus Hoi Cheu came to the University of Waterloo to study science–but one course later, he had started on the path that led him to become a professor of English at Laurentian University. Read on to find out which UWaterloo professor taught that course, and what Dr. Cheu is doing now!–JLH

JLH: Can you share how you came to study English at UWaterloo? Was it an obvious choice or route?
HC: Attending Waterloo’s English program was not an obvious choice. When I applied, I was a science student from Hong Kong. I got into Waterloo because I had an A+ average in mathematics and sciences. At Waterloo, I failed the English proficiency test and attended what was then called “the Writing Clinic.” I took English 109 with Dr. Murray McArthur, loved the class, and ended up in English Literature.

JLH: What stands out from your time here?
HC: Waterloo’s program is relatively small in a hugely successful university; it enjoys having world class innovations without the rigid constraints common to larger institutions. Its flexibility can also become adaptive care for students. For example, as an international student, I needed extra time to read difficult texts and complicated theories. My professors devoted many invaluable office hours to work with me. In my third year, I started to get ahold of the methods used in literary studies, and I received my first A+. Because of that little success, my professor invited me to attend his graduate course, and the program was flexible enough to allow the paper for that class to fulfill my undergraduate thesis requirement. In the program, I learned about poststructuralism, the new rhetoric, bibliotherapy…. All of them were cutting-edge ideas 30 years ago in 1987. Now, some of them have become the standard, and others are just beginning to flourish.

JLH: You also did a Masters in English at UWaterloo: how did that shape your understanding of graduate school and the possibilities?
HC: The MA program at Waterloo started my academic “split personality”: on the one hand, I continued the hard work of my undergraduate years on poststructuralism and James Joyce, which would become my doctoral thesis; on the other hand, I learned about bibliotheraphy from Dr. Joseph Gold, which would become my current practice in applied literature and arts-based health research. I presented my very first paper at Congress and developed my doctoral thesis topic before I graduated from Waterloo’s MA program.

JLH: Can you tell us a bit about your current research?
HC: My current research focuses primarily on the application of arts and literature in health and medicine. I have three major projects, funded by the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR), the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), and the Ontario Ministry of Health respectively. They are all interdisciplinary, interprofessional teamworks: the first conducts a meta-study of arts-based health research in Canada; the second develops a social work program to engage arts and literature for helping youth at risk; the third tracks the stories of rural physicians who are graduates of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine. All these longitudinal studies began around the time I completed my book in 2005, and they are bearing fruits at the publication stage.

JLH: Finally, once the semester is over what books do you look forward to reading?
HC: This year I invented a new course called “Science Writing.” All texts in this course are written by significant scientists who have successfully communicated mind blowing (if not life changing) ideas to the public. Although my research projects will take up most of my time in the summer, I look forward to the in-depth study of books like Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Published in 1962, this book almost single-handedly changed the public opinion on pesticide and led to the ban on the use of DDT for agriculture.

Photos: English Student Society Symposium

Friday, March 31st was the UWaterloo English Student Society Symposium. The theme was the Secret Garden. There was food! There was fun! There were presentations by students on their research and academic work!

Thank you to the English Student Society for organizing such a fantastic event.


Best kept secret: spring courses

Screenshot 2017-04-11 14.20.10
Shhh… quiet as it’s kept, we have some amazing offerings for spring. Want to study graphic narratives? Then check out the special topics course English 494. Or maybe you read the artsonline story on English 408C, Rhetoric of Digital Design, chock full of student testimonials about the strange and unexpected ways they honed their understanding of how technology impacts the human condition. Well, the course is being offered again! Or maybe you have a pesky older brother/sister/uncle who you are tired of fighting with over holiday dinners. You might consider English 409A: Rhetoric of Argumentation. And then there’s Shakespeare (English 363), because it’s summer, we are so close to Stratford, and it’s Shakespeare. For more courses see our webpage.

Reporting on the English Awards!

Screenshot 2017-04-11 13.49.28
Our annual awards ceremony, held March 31st, was well-attended as usual. The event attested to the incredible diversity of research being conducted in UWaterloo English. Joseph Stapleton won a prize for writing in rhetoric for his essay “O.J. Simpson and the Construction of Hyperbolic Reality”; Laura Bayer received an award for an essay on Dionne Brand’s novel What We All Long For that drew on the work of Spanish artist Remedios Varos. Likewise, Devon Moriarty’s award-winning essay considered “When Rhetoric, Science and Reddit Collide,” while Ian Gibson took up the novels of Cormac McCarthy through Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle to explore quantum mechanics as a novelistic strategy, in the processing capturing a Beltz Essay Prize. Judges spoke of the difficulties in adjudicating awards. Dr. Victoria Lamont described feeling at one point that she had a “seven way tie.” For more about the awards and winners, see the full listing below. More photos are also available online.
Screenshot 2017-04-11 13.51.05

Undergraduate Award Winners

Grade Average Award Winners
Second Year Spring:  Kate Stericker
Second Year Fall:  Joanna Cleary
Third Year:  Kayley Marner
Fourth Year:  Isabelle Cote

Academic Awards
Walter R. Martin English 251 Award:  Masha Janjuz
Award in American Literature and Culture:  Alex Rollinson
Canadian Literature Prize:  Kathleen Moritz
History and Theory of Rhetoric Award:  Sarasvathi Kannan (runner-up); Theresa Shim (winner)
Rhetoric and Digital Design Award:  Trevor Nielsen (runner-up); Theresa Shim (winner)
Rhetoric and Professional Writing Award: Dominique Kelly, Elizabeth Scott, Erin Taylor, Christine Williams (group prize)
Andrew James Dugan Prize in Literature:  Alexandra Siebert
Andrew James Dugan Prize in Rhetoric and Professional Writing:  Joseph Stapleton

Co-op Awards
Quarry Integrated Communication Co-op English Award: Danielle Bisnar Griffin
Undergraduate Co-op Work Report Award: Carla Rodrigo

Creative Writing Awards
Albert Shaw Poetry Prize:  Zainab Ahmed-Yassin Mahdi
English Society Creative Writing Award for Poetry:  Joanna Cleary
English Society Creative Writing Award for Prose:  Chris Masterman
Graduate Creative Writing Award for Prose:  Lacey Beer
Graduate Creative Writing Award for Poetry:  Masa Torbica

Graduate Award Winners

Grade Average Awards
MA:  Julie Funk
PhD: Ian Gibson

David Nimmo English Graduate Scholarship:  Justin Carpenter
Jack Gray Fellowship:  Rebecca Anderson, Devon Moriarty
Graduate Co-op Work Report Award:  Andreea Perescu

Academic Awards
Beltz Essay Prize, MA:  Laura Bayer
Beltz Essay Prize, PhD:  Ian Gibson
Rhetoric Essay Prize:  Devon Moriarty
Graduate Professional Communication Award:  Devon Moriarty
W.K. Thomas Graduate Scholarship:  Jessica Van de Kemp

Teaching & Professionalization Awards
TA Award for Excellence in Teaching:  Kaitlin O’Brien (runner-up); Nicholas Hobin (winner)
Lea Vogel-Nimmo Graduate Professionalization Scholarship:  Ashley Irwin