This past September, I was selected as the guest speaker from the Appleby College Alumni Community to speak at the Homecoming Chapel Service. I was so thankful I had the chance to share my story with current Appleby students and faculty. Below is my address:
“Home. A word that means so many things… a form of shelter, where your loved ones are, where you grew up, where you currently live. Home is wherever you would like it to be.
Today, I’d like to take you through my story: all the places that I’ve called home, what I’ve experienced and what I’ve learned. Today, I will share parts of my life that are very personal, but an important part of who I am.
My name is Celeena… and this year, I am celebrating my 5-year reunion of my Appleby graduation. All I can say is, where on earth does the time go? And I’ve only recently begun to appreciate the actual value of time. How important it is, and how quickly things change.
This brings me to the first place I can truly call home: wherever my family is. About a year and a half ago, my younger brother passed away in a tragic accident at the age of 19. We were best friends and he just understood me. I’m sure many of you can relate that losing someone you love is devastating. There is not a moment that goes by where I don’t miss him and of course, I do wish we could be growing up together, like things were supposed to be. What I will say is that losing him taught me so much about life and has put things into perspective. Since his accident, my relationship with my parents and older sister has gotten stronger and I know he would be happy about that. And now, I am doing everything I can to carry on and live life for the both of us… with double the amount of excitement and strength, because that is exactly what he would have wanted me to do. My family and my time with my brother means the world to me. Home is wherever my family is.
Home for me, is also here. Appleby College. Not only did I learn here… I lived here, made lifelong friends here, got into trouble here, talked my way of out trouble here… pretty much, I grew up here. And this school is another extremely important part of my story.
I started Appleby in Upper One and truthfully… I wasn’t in a good place. I wasn’t motivated and school to me was just time wasted. I got into trouble, did the bare minimum, chose extracurriculars based on what my friends were doing, and didn’t care to get involved.
Somewhere along my time near the end of Upper School, something clicked. Maybe it was my Round Sqaure trip to Peru, my newfound passion for learning and speaking Mandarin (which I may add was my best course), a Prefect who encouraged me to apply to be a Peer Counselor or the leadership role I began to take on the Swim Team. Whatever it was, after a year of coasting, I made an active choice to open my eyes and appreciate this amazing place. I hope you all figure it out before I did. Because, it is here at Appleby, at those harkness tables where I first discovered that my voice could be powerful. It is here, in Mr. Grant’s economics class and Zuke’s International Business where I first discovered my fascination with “business”. It is here where I learned that though little, I could be a force to be reckoned in the swimming pool. This school and what it offers really turned my life around for the better. And I think that’s what made my Appleby experience so special, not only for me, but for everyone who witnessed it.
As the Head Prefect of the class of 2008. I can also proudly say that it is at this school where I learned that absolutely anything is possible. Being Head Prefect is still my biggest accomplishment and was an honor. Many of my accomplishments actually are thanks to the person who I became at this school. Home for me is here.
Home for me, is also, The University of Western Ontario where I headed to “fingers crossed” get my undergrad in Business. It’s really hard to imagine life outside of these doors, or gates I guess. But let me tell you, it’ s insanely exciting. Take Appleby and multiply it by 1,000 (literally) and there you are. At the beginning, I was intimidated. But because of the strong foundation I developed at Appleby, I was able to find the perfect balance, between working hard and experiencing the other great aspects of University. After my 2nd year, I got accepted into the Richard Ivey School of Business and there I challenged my classmates and learned a lot about myself. I also landed job at LoyaltyOne, a large marketing firm in downtown Toronto where I just recently celebrated my one-year anniversary.
As an analyst on the Business Development team, I help build pitches to for executives to present to new prospects. More recently, I’ve even been given the opportunity to travel with the team and join in on the pitch meetings. Being in a boardroom is somewhere I never thought I could thrive. But with the support of the people around me, I have found that instead of fearing those meetings, I now look forward to them. I feel privileged that I can do things like walk up to the President of LoyaltyOne US like I did earlier this week tell him that I am speaking here today and to my surprise seeing how insanely excited he was knowing that two of his sons would be here listening. And that my VP, even during our busiest time of year, was so supportive of me taking this day off and coming to speak to you all. I feel valued and appreciated at my place of work, and that is special. Home for me is LoyaltyOne.
For me, Home is the most comforting word in the English language. It’s quite funny actually… my friends often ask me where I am and I usually answer… “I’m at home”. But those who know me well know that could mean so many things… so they’re constantly asking “which home Celeena”. But hey, I feel lucky that I can have so many homes as each has played a pivotal role to the person I am standing here today.
Coming back to this home has brought back so many memories… of hanging out on Colley Flats, of Relay for Life and pretty much every moment of my Senior Two year. Treasure your memories here because sooner than you know it, you will be celebrating YOUR 5 year reunion. You have no idea how much this place actually prepares you for the rest of the world. Appreciate the time you spend here.
In light of my 5 year Appleby Reunion, I’d like share my top 5 pieces of advice … things I wish I would have known when I was in your shoes.
1. Don’t worry if you don’t have it all figured out. I truly have no idea what I want to do with my life next week, let alone a year form now. But, I wake up happy with myself, and grateful for the people in my life. Just have fun here. Work hard of course, but make sure there is a good balance. When my friends and I think back to our time here, we have so many hilarious memories. Yes, we learned a ton, but we also had a ball.
2. Appreciate your teachers. I will never forget Mr. MacFarlane tutoring me in chemistry every single week and seeing absolutely no improvement. Now this had nothing to do with his tutoring skill and everything to do with how my brain was wired. My point is, not once did he tell me that chemistry wasn’t for me. Not once did he give up on me. You will never find the same quality of teachers than those you had here. Make sure you tell them how much you appreciate them.
3. Don’t sweat the small stuff. I still remember not getting home form leader and thinking it was the end of the world and looking back, I wish I didn’t get so upset over it. My failures have taught me MUCH more than my successes.
4. Stay strong and take care of yourself. Take it from someone who has truly had their world shatter. There is some crazy inner strength inside each and every one of you. When you think you have hit rock bottom, keep climbing. You will be okay. I promise.
And lastly, number 5. Never ever forget those places you’ve called home.
Thank you all for letting me be here today, thank you all for letting me come back home.”