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OCAD U Governor General Silver Medal

A Medal for Art School

Rachael Grad walking across Roy Thomson Hall stage at OCAD U convocation

The Governor General's Academic Award, Silver Medal was awarded to me yesterday from OCAD University during convocation at Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto. I graduated with a Bachelor in Fine Arts with Distinction in Painting and Drawing from OCAD University. Receiving the highest grades in the graduating class, like a Valedictorian I gave a speech at the convocation. Below are some of my remarks at graduation and a photograph of my certificate from the Canadian Governor General at Rideau Hall. Shown here is a photo of me walking across the Roy Thompson Hall stage where OCAD University's graduation took place. The actual Governor General's Academic medal is delayed (supply chain issues!) but should arrive in a few months...

Due to the pandemic and few real life events over the last few years, yesterday's graduation was the first OCAD U convocation in 3 years. We art school graduates were very happy to have an in-person convocation at Roy Thompson Hall, very close to OCAD University in downtown Toronto, Ontario. 

Graduation Speech at OCAD University's 2022 Convocation 

President Serrano, Chancellor Watt, Vice Provost Langill, and the OCAD U administration and faculty: Thank you for this honour. Being an art nerd and not an athlete, I’ve never won a medal or trophy. I’m thrilled to accept this award.

2022 governor general's academic award to OCAD University graduate Rachael Grad

Hybrid learning was the most flexible but confusing of all. I laughed hard the first time I saw a professor on a laptop, wheeled around during an in-person studio critique. The mix of virtual and real life quickly became normal. 

A year ago, I was wavering on whether I could finish my last year at OCAD U. After all the lockdowns and restrictions, tensions were high in the city. There were protests, hate crimes, and lots of pent-up frustration and rage. I was scared by the anger and hatred in the larger community. I felt overwhelmed and intimidated by the work required in thesis. I was tired and ready to further delay finishing my BFA degree.

Then I was awarded the Frances Lea Ziegler Scholarship. I looked up the donor and read that Peter Ziegler survived the Holocaust and was the only survivor from his entire family. His family story is sadly similar to my grandparents. The unexpected award and its serendipitous timing seemed like a sign for me to persevere in completing my drawing and painting degree. 

Like many of my classmates, who are immigrants and settlers here, I’m a first generation Canadian. My parents escaped from persecution in Europe and Russia. My father was born in a displaced person’s refugee camp after the Holocaust. He never met his grandparents who were all killed before he was born for being Jewish. My mother left the former U.S.S.R. where she wasn’t allowed to practice her religion under communism. 

Although this isn’t my first University program, I was the first in my family to graduate with a university degree. Some of my classmates have escaped war and persecution to be in Canada and attend OCAD U.

Thank you to OCAD U donors who may never meet the students they benefit. The awards and funding from generous philanthropists like Peter Ziegler give struggling students the financial and psychological boost to study and finish our degrees. There is constant rejection in the arts and creative fields. Your support gives artists the confidence to continue to work and thrive in creative pursuits. 

Convocation 2022 OCAD University with medal winner Rachael Grad

To the OCAD U faculty and administration: thank you for providing professional opportunities for students to show and share our work. University Department Chairs including Ilene Sova spearhead innovative group shows with student art, like the current collaborative project with the Ontario Archives and Ontario Society of Artists on view at the Ada Slaight Gallery on campus until next week.

Our art professors taught us to use every opportunity to plug our exhibitions!

Thank you to Professors like Veronika Szkudlarek for generously sharing your knowledge and wisdom both during class time and outside of class hours. You knew just when to introduce new concepts, theories, and artists to broaden our understanding, and when to reign in too many ideas and help narrow our focus. 

To the parents in the audience: congratulations on supporting your children through this challenging time. Thank you to all the parents who are here today, including my mom. [Hi, Mom!] I had no concept of how difficult it is to be parent until I became one. This pandemic hybrid university experience is not the one we imagined for ourselves or for our children. We graduates would not be here without the parents, siblings, partners, and friends in this audience.  

To my classmates: you successfully transitioned from in-person to online to hybrid. You adapted to constant uncertainty and changing rules, schedules, and requirements. Congratulations on making it through the confusion and graduating. 

A special shoutout to my mature student friends. There were a few of us in each class, which I found reassuring. It meant I wasn’t completely nuts to be back in school.

To the younger graduates: Your talent is awesome. Thank you for sharing your perspectives and teaching me about new technology and trends. I thank you for sharing your art and experiences. Learning from you and seeing your creative practice flourish was the best part of being at OCAD U.  

I am now better prepared for my children’s teenage years, though I’m still terrified!

Interacting with students from different cultures at OCAD U enabled respect and appreciation for a wide range of perspectives and opinions. While it’s easiest to stay within the confines of people similar to us, as we leave the university setting, I hope that we can continue collaborating, debating, and staying open to contrary ideas and viewpoints. 

Whether your plans are to start a full-time career, enter graduate school or travel the world, I can’t wait to see what you do next. I hope you keep up your creative practice in your preferred form. Whether it’s traditional painting and drawing, sculpture, film, writing, academic research, experimental art techniques, or a new media that you have yet to invent. 

Thank you for being my OCAD U classmates and congratulations. 

I was honoured to be interviewed in "Convocation 2022 by the Numbers," OCAD University (June 16, 2022)." 
In the OCAD University Press Release and news article, you can read my thoughts on: 
  • 3 things I loved about studying at OCAD U, 
  • 2 lessons learned at OCAD University, 
  • 1 piece of advice to future grads, and
  • My next great goal after graduation.

Hint: I'm continuing my art studies with graduate studies this fall at York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. I plan to start a Master's in Fine Arts (MFA) program in York University's Visual Arts departments. 

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