Arch Award recipients
From left: Marie Delorme, Hakique Virani, Milton Carrasco, Helga Holst, Andrew Pearce, and Daria Venkova.

Nov. 4, 2022

Advice for UCalgary’s newest graduates from all-star alumni

The list may be long but, interestingly, no one mentions wealth as a marker of a happy and fulfilling life

Since 1985, UCalgary Alumni has honoured outstanding alumni for their exceptional careers, public service and significant contributions to their local, national and global communities.

The nomination period for our 38th annual celebration of visionary alumni runs until March 5, and, like previous years, we will salute six remarkable graduates who are, quite simply, exemplars. Categories range from early career successes to a lifetime achievement award, with more details on each category found here.

But back to the beginning: Of course, it was a starkly different world back in 1985 when Dr. Robert Thirsk, BSc (Eng)’76, Hon. LLD’09, MD, snagged our very first Lifetime Achievement Arch Award back (he later served as UCalgary’s chancellor from 2014 to 2018).

Thirsk and his colleagues graduated without the internet or talk of climate change and 3D printers, into a society that did not discuss matters such as equity, diversity or inclusion as widely as it does today.

A few months ago, a group of Arch Award recipients from the last three years gathered on campus to dispense advice to today’s students. What we heard was that the essential questions of life haven’t changed that much since Thirsk took to the stage, and later outer space.

That human experience is not defined by our relationship to business or money or technology; it’s about our relationships with each other, and some of those enduring relationships begin on this very campus. The time and wisdom of these exemplars deserves to be shared with all new grads:

If I knew then . . .

“I’ve never had a life plan, but I think what I’ve been good at, through serendipitous opportunities, is recognizing experiences that I wanted to have. And seizing those opportunities.” – Dr. Marie Delorme, PhD’12, Hon. LLD’18, 2022 Distinguished Alumni Award for Lifetime Achievement

“In your careers, you don’t always have to win every fight to make a difference. In fact, I think you should take on some fights that you know you’re going to lose.”— Dr. Hakique Virani, MD’01, 2022 Community Commitment Award

“There is so much to do and so little time to do it all. But try . . . and, along the way, stay humble, passionate and strive to find balance your life as best as you can. Your world is full of such important social change from equity and diversity to inclusion — vital matters that relate to people. Don’t forget that.” — Milton Carrasco, MEng’92, 2022 Career Achievement Award

“If you are good at something, you can do it anywhere . . . I moved to Lethbridge, where I’ve taught neuroscience for 37 years, and was told that my career would end if I left McGill in Montreal to go there. But it didn’t. At that time, I felt like I was a leaf being blown about, but I was young as you are . . . Stay flexible and be open to possibilities. Anywhere.” — Dr. Bryan Kolb, BSc’68, MSc’70, PhD, 2021 Distinguished Alumni Award for Lifetime Achievement

“Take pride in making everyone better, wherever you are. Invest in relationships and not for the sake of getting something out of them . . . Good relationships will pay dividends in ways you can’t imagine. And try to work with smart people who will stimulate and challenge you to grow.”— Dr. Bogdan Knezevic, BSc’15, PhD, 2021 Early Career Achievement Award

“We are here for a reason — to make a difference. Try not to forget that, especially when you are confronted by challenges . . . they are placed there to be taken. Don’t be afraid of challenges — treat them as opportunities, especially those that are big and strange and different. And become a lifelong learner . . . you’ll never be bored!” — Dr. Helga Holst, MD’75, 2021 International Career Achievement Award

“My career didn’t even exist when I was a student here in the ‘80s. In fact, I’d say I fell backwards into my career, which has left me in a wonderful place right now where I work with amazing technology and people who deliver movies [at Dreamworks in L.A.]. Also . . . be lucky. I know that sounds ridiculous . . . but, to be truly lucky, you need to be prepared for opportunities. Watch for them and continue to learn. Many of the skills I use today, I’ve learned along the way.”  — Andrew Pearce, BSc’84, MSc’88, 2020 Career Achievement Award

“You never know where your career will take you, so be prepared to keep evolving. When I graduated, we had punch cards at work and computers the size of a room that were far less powerful than what you have in your pocket. What you’ll do now is just a starting point on a path that will likely veer in many directions. Learn to leverage and grow and recognize that you have to be your own entrepreneur . . . Everyone should manage their own careers and directions in life. Set your own path.” — Jeff LaFrenz, BSc (Eng)’85, MSc’88, 2020 Alumni Service Award

“Take chances. Although I have just returned to school to take my medical degree after a three-year break [where an unexpected turn resulted in Venkova becoming the CEO of a startup, Creative Protein Solutions], I learned what it takes to become an entrepreneur and am so glad I chose that path. I now have a broader sense of the world and so my advice to you is take risks. If you stand to learn something, view that risk as an opportunity.” — Daria Venkova, BSc’18, MBT’19, 2020 Early Career Achievement

“If you’re not happy with the status quo, do something about it. I wasn’t and used it as an opportunity to create my own company, which led to spearheading one of the largest stakeholder groups in education in this province. I try to view setbacks as opportunities to create something new, different and innovative. — Dr. Sharon Friesen, BEd’86, MEd’91, PhD’00, 2020 Career Achievement Award

A repeated message from a number of these extraordinary alumni is: “If I knew then what I know now, I would have started even sooner.” Discover more about their career paths and thoughts on success and definitions of happiness.

Entrepreneurial UCalgary grads make an impact in health care, culture, law, business, the environment, and more. Read stories about Class of 2022 students.

A note for soon-to-be UCalgary Alumni! As you prepare to transition from student life, we encourage you to check out our Life Kit for Recent Grads – custom built to inform you about the programs, benefits and services available to you as a member of the UCalgary alumni community.