VFC Fellows and Staff 2015

Venture For Canada Valedictorian Speech 2017 (Class of 2015)

I want to start with a quote, one that I had written into my phone the morning of Fellow Selection Day as I was arriving in Toronto, over two years ago. It reads: “If you can’t be a good example, at least you can be a horrible warning.” At the very least, if I can’t make this funny, I will do my best to make it short — Scott told me to keep it under 45 minutes, but I’m confident if I talk quickly and you don’t laugh too much, we can all be out of here in 30. Just kidding, there’s no way we’re getting out of here in 30.

Tonight I want take a moment to reflect collectively on Venture for Canada. Venture. For. Canada. It’s a brilliant name for an organization that strives to do so much in the lives of young leaders, and I owe it greatly for changing my life. I’d like to reflect on three lessons I’ve learned over the past two years inspired by the name “Venture for Canada”.

So firstly, “Venture”:

A supervisor walks along a construction site where three bricklayers are working feverishly. She asks the first one what he is doing, and the man replies “I’m just doing my job. It’s hard work, but it’s a paycheck.” She asks the second bricklayer what she is doing, and she replies “I’m working hard to make a living for my family.” Finally, she asks the third bricklayer and she replies “I am building a cathedral. Wanna help?”

A venture is defined as a “risky, daring journey that might be dangerous or unpleasant”.

That might be the best way that I can think of to describe the last two years of my life. And no, I don’t just mean living with Dylan.

When I think of a risky daring journey that might be dangerous or unpleasant, I think of cathedrals.

When I joined VFC, I would have been content being the first bricklayer.

On the verge of being broke, physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted, and struggling to continue working on a company I started in school, I was ready to take whatever paycheck I could get.

I managed to find refuge in a quirky group of strangers and two founders who couldn’t promise me any form of employment. Seth Godin has a quote in Tribes about the incredulous joy you feel when you finally meet the group of people you were meant to be a part of, and I think I finally understood what he meant. Surrounding myself with ambitious, visionary young adults reminded me of what my vision of a cathedral looked like, and challenged me to go build it.

Now that we’re at the end of the VFC program, I wish I could go back and tell myself two years ago to stop laying bricks, and start building cathedrals. In the grind of the day-to-day, it’s easy to get caught up in the menial and miss the big picture. I hope that in each of your lives, you continue to look past the bricklaying and see the vision of the cathedral taking shape.

Working at Mosaic Manufacturing, a risky, daring journey in and of itself over the last two years, I’ve learned that cathedrals are not built overnight. Every great lasting monument is built brick by brick, painstakingly over the course of many years. Each brick must be carefully crafted, and you need a skilled, hardworking team to help with the heavy lifting. But if the vision becomes a little clearer each day, it is astonishing what cathedrals you may construct in a lifetime.

Ultimately, as each of you have been working to build the cathedrals of the companies, friendships, and communities you are a part of, you’ve been laying the foundation for a much more important project. The real cathedral you are building, is yourself.

I’ve also learned building a cathedral becomes much easier if you build the scaffolding first. Scaffolding is the support network that is going to catch you when things inevitably don’t go as planned. For each of you, I implore you to find your scaffolding, and hold it close. You’re going to need it where you’re going. Over the past two years, my scaffolding has been three things:

First, my incredible girlfriend Emma, who has lasted through 2 years of the start-up roller coaster by osmosis, talked through countless frustrated phone calls, and endured being publicly embarrassed in front of a room full of strangers whenever I have the opportunity.

Secondly, my amazing family, who continues to love me even when they definitely do not understand. I had to explain to them at least 3 times last week what Venture for Canada was, and why this presentation was kind of a big deal for me. I’m especially grateful they are here tonight, and hopefully they have a better understanding of the program now. There is a special category of love that entails loving through confusion, and I’m so thankful for their support through everything.

And lastly, the VFC Family, who in the midst of some of the highest highs and lowest lows, has shared in the messy, uncomfortable struggle, and grown tighter and stronger for it. I remember a series of phone calls with one Fellow in particular, who I won’t name, as we were both on the precipice of big changes. He was considering making a career change to pursue UX design in New York City, not to mention names, and I was considering leaving the startup I had been trying to build for the last year. We both came to the conclusion that we would never be happy piling bricks, and we needed to start building bigger cathedrals. If it wasn’t for the VFC scaffolding and the encouragements to dream of more, I would never have been able to take the leap and land this job I love.

In life, there will be many ventures: risky, daring journeys fraught with danger and discomfort but I encourage each of you to build the cathedrals worth crafting in spite of the risk. And when you find yourself exhausted from a day of laying bricks, and someone asks you what you’re working on, tell them you’re building a cathedral and you could use some help.

Secondly, Canada:

This is a term not so easily defined. “What does Canada mean to you?” is a much larger question than we have time for this evening, but let me pose a few thoughts:

In the wake of the 150th anniversary celebrations of our country, I have been reflecting on the essence of Canada, and what makes us unique and relevant in a connected, global world.

Ultimately, if I could summarize my hope for the future of Canada into one word, it would be “explore”.

Governor General David Johnston, in his book “The Idea of Canada: Letters to a Nation”, directs one letter in particular to Colonel Chris Hadfield, former commander of the International Space Station, and speaks of this spirit of exploration. He notes “the best way to grasp our true selves and our place in the world comes when we view ourselves from different perspectives.”

Venture for Canada does a remarkable job of attracting a diversity of perspectives as rich and as broad as Canada itself. With Fellows from both coasts, and numerous small towns and big cities in between, we have connected, shared, and traveled across this great nation, gaining a deeper understanding of each other and of ourselves.

But exploring doesn’t have to mean physically going somewhere to experience the world. An exploration, as I define it, is a journey in which you do not return the same as when you left.

Again, Mr. Johnston speaks far more eloquently than I ever could have when he says:

“We don’t necessarily need to ride the rapids of a raging river or blast off in a rocket into space to gain perspectives different from our own. We can do so by reading, travelling, and listening to others. Not as adventurous perhaps, not as perilous either. We can read to increase the number of our perspectives. We can travel to intensify our perspectives. We can listen to others and use their experiences and observations to expand and enrich our perspectives. In these ways, each of us can be an explorer.”

For inspiring a renewed love of reading, for offering a couch to sleep on in cities around the globe, and for many, many late nights, chatting, listening and sharing new perspectives, I have VFC to thank for this exploration over the last two years. It has been a vast journey, both outwardly and inwardly, and I can confidently say I have not returned the same as when I left.

As we look forward as a country, I think it also makes sense to reflect back on where we have come.

Not everything we have done as a nation in our 150 year history has been positive. We’ve made a lot of mistakes, hurt a lot of people, done a lot of damage. There’s nothing wrong with backtracking, retracing your steps or starting over; these are fundamental parts of exploring.

What others call “failure”, Canadians call “experience”. If we’re going to be better explorers, we need to support turning the ship around once in awhile, and giving it a second go.

One of the things that makes me irrationally proud to be a Canadian is that the most used word in our lexicon is “sorry”, not because we cower at conflict, but because we acknowledge that ego is less important than friendship. So as we forge new paths forward, we must be conscious to also repair the damage behind us.

In the foreword of his collection of “101 Letters to a Prime Minister”, Canadian author Yann Martel poses the following question: “What sort of mind, nourished by what, do we want our leaders to have?”

For each of the leaders and future leaders in this room, I hope the answer is a “well-read, global one, firmly rooted in the ethos of exploration, and who maybe apologizes a little too often”.

So keep exploring. Canada200 is counting on it.

And the final piece of Venture for Canada, “For”:

The last reflection I want to make tonight is on the simple preposition that joins cathedrals and explorations.

We are Venture For Canada. The “for” implies ownership, it implies participation, and it implies intention.

But most importantly, the “for” implies generosity, one of the VFC values I have come to appreciate most over the past two years.

To act for something is to commit energy towards another, with their intention in mind.

To do something for another is to be generous. And so to each of you, I encourage you to be generous; be endlessly generous. Give everything you can, with the entirety of your being. Give even when it hurts, especially when it hurts, and I promise you, it will return to you. I don’t know if I believe in karma, but I certainly believe in the goodness of people, and I’ve seen time and time again that when you extend a hand of generosity, good things happen.

Something as simple as a “hello” in the hallway at Fellow Selection Day can bloom into a beautiful friendship that lasts through several time zones and thousands of kilometers.

An emergency donation to a friend in need can extend a trip the crucial few days, and give a needed boost of confidence, for a final interview that turns into a dream job.

A simple home cooked meal in the constrained quarters of a Kingston dorm can transform a group of strangers with different backgrounds, cultures, skill sets and goals, into a community that cares genuinely for one another.

If there is a message I can leave each of you with tonight, it is to be generous in all that you do; with your time, your energy, your resources, your spirit.

Be generous by investing in the things you believe in. Whether it’s donating to charity, helping in the community garden, or something as simple as getting a latte from the local coffee shop instead of the Starbucks on the corner, be intentional with your actions.

As each of us graduates from builders to leaders, understand that our actions affect more than just ourselves. The seeds of habit we plant now will bear fruit not just for us, but for our friends and family, for our communities, and for generations to come. We have the opportunity, and ultimately the responsibility, to not leave things the way we found them. It is up to each of us to give a little more, to make the world a little better for having been here.

Your legacy will ultimately be determined, not by the cathedrals you build, no matter how big or impressive, nor by the journeys you travel, no matter how enlightening or broad; but by what you give, by who you serve, and by what you choose to leave behind.

So go on vast, sweeping journeys and learn more about the world, so you can give back more intentionally and with genuine purpose. And build grand, illustrious monuments so you can magnify your impact and reach more people. But do both with others in mind.

Give when you can, and even when you can’t, and continue to build great and lasting legacies.

And in the spirit of generosity, I thank each of you for being generous with your time, as I have undoubtedly gone over my time allotment, but there’s a few more things I want to say before you pull me off the stage.

I have been graced with overflowing generosity from this community in more forms than I can name, but I want to acknowledge a few of them.

To Scott, Pat, Sabrina and Kassi, the VFC Staff:

First and foremost, thank you for putting up with our bullshit. Coaching, training, educating and supporting a group of entitled 20-something millennials isn’t easy, but for your endless patience, thoughtful wisdom, bounding energy, careful organization, and intentional acts of service, I know each of us is forever indebted to you. Thank you for building an environment under which each of us could thrive, grow, learn, and achieve more than we ever thought possible.

To the friends, families, and members of the VFC community who are with us tonight:

Thank you for continuing to support this program, and each of the people in it. I want to speak for the 2015 class when I say that we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the amazing help we’ve gotten along the way. From workshops in cities across Canada, to donating space, time, energy and resources; from supporting us financially during our periods of fun-employment (thanks Mom and Dad), to coaching us through the emotional rollercoasters; from opening up your networks, to even hiring a few of us — you are ultimately the lifeblood of this program. We couldn’t have gotten here without you.

Finally, to the 2015 Fellows:

Thank you for making the last two years so much more packed with life than I ever could have thought possible.

Thank you for the generosity of a shared experience. We have shared in struggles, in victories, in job changes, promotions and moving cities, in dreams and visions for the future, in reflections and perspectives of the world around us, in admiring Danny’s sculpted body and wishing Isaac would bring back the man-bun, in laughter, in tears, and in every emotion in between; and we’ve grown tighter and stronger for it.

We are a community because each of you chose to open up to the promise of something new, of something untested and unsure, of this crazy vision for a program that could build bridges between ambitious young talent and hungry, growing enterprise, and you embraced the possibility and weighed the risk. We are a community because you chose to be part of a community. For making that choice, not just once when applying or at Fellow Selection Day, but every day, I thank you. I hope you continue to make that choice long into the future.

This group has taught me to wrestle with big dreams and aim for things far more ambitious than what I ever could have imagined. When I graduated university, I was headed straight for a stable life of piling bricks. You reminded me that I still have cathedrals to build, and that I’m the only one who is going to make that happen. Thanks for the wake-up call.

You’ve also taught me to seek out and embrace new perspectives, even when it’s difficult and uncomfortable. There’s a whole lot of the world left to see, and there’s only one way to get there: forward. Thanks for sharing your couches.

Finally, this group has taught me what it truly means to be “for” something: to give until it hurts, and then give a little more; to act and serve with intention; to be our truest, most authentic selves, to live life with intention and integrity, to serve the world and each other, and to view the future as moldable, as something within our power to change. We pushed each other to leave legacies we would be proud of, and to never compromise.

Thank you for sharing your visions of the future, for building cathedrals.

Thank you for sharing your perspectives of the world, for exploring.

Thank you for sharing your gifts, for leaving legacies.

I am so incredibly humbled to be amongst each of you and call you peers.

I’m deeply honoured, to call you friends.

Thank you giving me the honour of speaking for you today, and sorry it dragged on so long, it has truly been one of the greatest privileges of my life.

And so to end what has been nothing short of a whirlwind 2 years, I want to leave with a quote:

In the words of Margaret Mead:

“Never underestimate the ability of a small group of dedicated individuals to change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

As you begin what will be the next chapter in each of your long and storied lives, I will challenge you with this:

What cathedrals will you build? What explorations will you take? What legacy will you leave behind?