Academic Award for Julie Funk!

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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!

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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!

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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.

News from PhD grad Sarah Gibbons

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Recent UWaterloo English graduate Dr. Sarah Gibbons (PhD ’16) has just accepted a position as Writing Specialist in Writing Services at University of Guelph. While at UWaterloo she became involved with the Canadian Journal of Disability Studies, edited by her supervisor, Dr. Jay Dolmage, becoming Assistant Editor and Social Media Coordinator. Sarah’s dissertation, Disablement, Diversity, Deviation: Disability in an Age of Environmental Risk, was funded in part by an award from Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Resources Council.

Digital Art at the Critical Media Lab

On April 7, the University of Waterloo English’s Critical Media Lab held its annual exhibit, entitled =SUM(Things), at 44 Gaukel St. in Kitchener. The exhibit featured media and data-based projects and installations from students, including many Master of Experimental Digital Media (XDM) students, as well as staff and community members. Photography by Selina Vesely.

Greyfield/Brightfield by Julie Funk

Julie FunkJulie Funk

Master of Experimental Digital Media (XDM) student Julie Funk’s digital display Greyfield/Brightfield was inspired by the phenomenon of “dead malls.” Shopping malls with less than $150 in sales per square foot and a vacancy rate of more than 10 per cent are given a “greyfield” classification. In this project, users are asked to engage with the digital display, with their movements being used to control the color saturation of the screen, as a way to think about how the interface changes the way they interact with the space.

BasketCase by Caitlin Woodcock

BasketcaseCaitlin Woodcock

Inspired by local Mennonite communities, XDM student Caitlin Woodcock’s BasketCase is an experiment in digital abstinence. When a mobile phone is placed in the handwoven basket, a sensor measures how long it rests there. When the phone is removed, the screen displays a percentage comparing the length of time the device rested to the length of time it took to weave the basket (about 20 hours). This piece highlights craft-making as an alternative to technological productivity and as a way to combat the distractions of our devices.

mindflux, by Megan Honsberger


With the advent of wearable technology like fitness trackers, XDM student Megan Honsberger’s mindflux explores what it means to be online and continuously connected. mindflux attempts to reconcile the desire to unplug and the necessity of staying connected. The project combines a touch sensor on the bracelet with visualizations showing how often and when an individual uses their device.

#muslimban, by Megan Honsberger


XDM student Megan Honsberger’s poem is comprised of words from 18,000 tweets compiled 48 hours after U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order barring individuals from some countries from entering the United States. The tweets were mined using the hashtag #muslimban. The result is a collection of responses by many through a poem spoken by no one.

Sorting 63 Genders by Shawn Dorey

Sorting 63 Genders

XDM student Shawn Dorey’s game, Sorting 63 Genders, is a text-based adventure created in response to U.S. congressman Joe Walsh’s pre-election tweets. The game explores what it means for “a man to be a man, and a woman to be a woman.” Through the game, players attempt to live a binary life without others perceiving their genders differently. Sorting 63 Genders asks players to reconsider actions that might not initially be thought of as gendered and to explore the subtleties of gender expression.

The Pantheon of Dream by Amber O’Brien

The Pantheon of DreamThe Pantheon of DreamThe Pantheon of DreamThe Pantheon of DreamThe Pantheon of DreamThe Pantheon of Dream The Pantheon of Dream The Pantheon of Dream The Pantheon of Dream The Pantheon of Dream

The goal of Master of Literary Studies student Amber O’Brien’s game, The Pantheon of Dream, is to help an unknown dreaming protagonist unlock a memory. Players must create a narrative to help move the protagonist to various locations in sequential order to access this memory. The protagonist must contend with many creatures and beings, each representing an aspect of the mind or memory, who either help or hinder the quest.


The Architectures of Machine Emotion by Becky Anderson

Architectures of Machine Emotion

The Architectures of Machine Emotion shows how emotions might be recognized, identified and replicated by artificially intelligent machines. English Language and Literature doctoral student Becky Anderson printed visualizations from an open-source textual emotion recognition program onto polystyrene plastic sheets.

Originally posted on UWaterloo Arts.

New Quarterly wins 2 Gold Medals

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The literary magazine The New Quarterly, housed at St. Jerome’s at the University of Waterloo, won two gold medals, for fiction and poetry, at the 40th Annual National Magazine Awards, held last Friday at a gala in Toronto—the best showing by any literary magazine in Canada.

Poetry gold was won by Selina Boan for “(Good) ‘Girls Don’t Hitchhike’” / “Half/Brother” / “Meet Cree: A Practical Guide to the Cree Language.” Boan was a finalist in last year’s CBC Poetry Prize and she’s working on a collection of poems exploring her Cree and European heritage. Fiction gold was won by Richard Kelly Kemick for “The Unitarian Church’s Annual Young Writers’ Short Story Competition.”  TNQ also had two honourable mentions: Sharon Bala for “Miloslav” (Fiction), and Liz Windhorst Harmer for “My Flannery” (Essay).

If you aren’t familiar with The New Quarterly, this might be an ideal time to pick it up: the Spring 2017 issue contains the poem “Lines of Regret Written for Alexander MacLeod After a Too-Short Funeral Visitation” by UWaterloo English faculty member Dr. Marcel O’Gorman.

Four outstanding performance awards for English faculty

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Another day, another award announcement, in this case University of Waterloo’s Outstanding Performance Awards.  As Vice-President, Academic & Provost Ian Orchard wrote, “I am very pleased to announce the award recipients for 2016 and would like to take this opportunity to congratulate them for their outstanding contributions to the University of Waterloo.” Of the twenty-two award winners from UWaterloo Arts, four were from English: Drs. Bruce Dadey, Jay Dolmage, Jennifer Harris and Ashley Rose Kelly Mehlenbacher. You’ll have seen Jay Dolmage on our blog recently, in conjunction with his new book–written while also serving as undergraduate chair; likewise Ashley Rose Kelly Mehlenbacher was featured this week, announcing her receipt of an award enabling scholars who are relatively new to build a research team. Bruce Dadey has done stellar work in the classroom and behind the scenes–among other things he runs our Twitter account, though the labour involved in that pales to what he has accomplished on other fronts, including our department webpage. And then that last person is me. I’m happiest about my students and my work on early Black Canadian literature this past year.