Abhishek Gupta, a spring graduate of the outdoor adventure naturalist, had gone back home to Punjab, India when he received the news that he was selected as the valedictorian of Algonquin’s Pembroke campus on June 12, 2020.
“I had mixed feelings about it,” he said. “It made me feel special and honored at the same time. I felt the pressure of being a valedictorian which meant I will be representing the entire batch of 2020.”
Gupta, 32, came to Canada in 2018 after finishing a Masters in business administration in New Delhi, India.His new diploma allows him to unite his previous education with his passion for the outdoors.
“My dream is to open a nature school where learning is the by-product of playing in nature, where the screen time is replaced by green time,” he said.
Since the graduation ceremony was delivered remotely, and he was asked to deliver his speech from it from a place that showed that he was clearly in India.
“I actually spent days travelling through the Himalayas, plains, villages and farms to find a spot,” said Gupta. “It was almost impossible recording outdoors as there were many things that are beyond my control but I still enjoyed the whole process as it gave me a reason to travel and explore.”
While preparing the speech he said he was just satisfied with a hunch that he knew he’d found his essence of his speech. “I felt like I had something to say and I am going to say it from my heart,” he said. “I am going to thank the people for giving me such an amazing time, for giving me knowledge.”
The interviews took place in April 2020 which required the candidate to write a valedictory address and present it to the committee. Jamie Bramburger, chair of the Pembroke Campus valedictorian selection committee said that Gupta’s message was inspirational and a reflection of the experience the students have at the campus.
“The speech focused on the caring campus community while also providing a global call to action for our graduates to make a difference in the world through the pursuit of their dreams,” said Bramburger.
The final nomination is based on its content and message to the graduating class, the candidate’s ability to speak publicly and engage with the audience.
Gupta shared his story, what he learned and a message for the graduates in the current situation, learning remotely.
Ian Pineau, professor of leadership, had taught Gupta different courses during three semesters. “What stood out most throughout the entire course was the consistently high standard of all elements of his work,” said Pineau, who also taught him risk management and student directed field trip course. “This includes academics but possibly even more importantly his ability to get along with everyone, his time management skills, his willingness to learn and take on new challenges.”
Gupta interned at the YMCA-YWCA Camp Otonabee in Dunrobin as an out-tripper for students during summer 2019.
“I can use the entire nature to teach the students the concepts they learn through textbooks about science, ecology, plants, animals, earth, atmosphere and so much more,” said Gupta. “The best part is to see their transformation within two weeks and I could see their growth and how independent and confident they became. So this experience motivated me to pursue my interest in outdoor education.”
He had contracts from four different organizations after the completion of his program but they were cancelled with the then-new outbreak of COVID-19. He will come back to Canada in December.
“The entire process gave me confidence that I can trust my instincts. It made me dig deep to bring the best out of me that I wanted to share with others. It made me realize that we are just limited by our own thinking, we can achieve big only if we think big.”