A Civil Valedictorian: Chris Young (BASc ’14) speaks at graduation

Chris Young, newly admitted to the degree of Bachelor of Applied Science in Civil Engineering, was selected to give the valedictory address to fellow Applied Science graduating students in the Civil and Mechanical departments on May 27, 2014. His stellar academic record (top overall GPA of graduating UBC Civil Engineering students, second overall GPA of graduating UBC Engineering students, and seven scholarships during his time at UBC), his athletic accomplishments (a professional triathlete, he qualified for the Kona Ironman World Championships in both 2011 and 2012) and his fundraising efforts for the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada (he completed a 7,000 kilometre bicycle ride across Canada to raise funds for this meaningful cause) were all factors in his nomination.

Chris was approached as a candidate for valedictorian in early April. Although it did cross his mind that such an experience might be “terrifying,” he didn’t hesitate to accept the nomination, seeing it as a once in a lifetime opportunity.  He began to compose his speech while returning from a triathlon in California. While writing the address, he turned to the classic orations of Martin Luther King, Jr., George Bernard Shaw and Winston Churchill for inspiration, and drew from the writings of James Allen for a moving passage on the value of education and personal growth.

Hailing originally from the Okanagan, Chris took what could be deemed a rather unconventional path through university. After leaving high school, he undertook studies in Commerce at the University of Calgary, followed by stints in Earth and Environmental Studies at UBC-Okanagan and Bioresource Engineering at McGill, before finally settling in at Civil Engineering at UBC-Vancouver. Chris has evolved from a high school graduate determined to “get in and get out” of university with a degree as quickly as possible to a thoughtful, committed young scholar with both the self-awareness to know when it’s best to change course, and the fearlessness it takes to start over somewhere new. This evolution may serve as an inspiration to younger students struggling to choose a path and find their place in University. To those students, Chris offers advice: “When you’re leaving high school, you don’t always know where you belong. Don’t be afraid to change your mind – I did it several times.” Expressing no regrets over his longer-than-average undergraduate career, he continues: “It wasn’t my plan to go to four universities, but that’s what happened, and it’s been a fantastic journey…that wouldn’t have happened if I had stuck to my original plan.”

Chris expresses an affinity for nature, the outdoors and agrarian pursuits. “I grew up on a farm – I love being in the outdoors, the natural environment…and understanding how it behaves.” These interests, combined with undergraduate exposure to topics in hydraulics and hydrology, led him to the decision to pursue a Master of Applied Science degree in Civil Engineering with an Environmental Fluid Mechanics focus. He has been granted an NSERC CGS-M Award, and will commence his research under the supervision of Professor Bernard Laval. On graduation day, just prior to delivering his speech, Chris collected his last two undergraduate awards from the Department of Civil Engineering: an Academic Achievement Award and a Design Award (the latter awarded to Chris and his team of fellow design students). The Department of Civil Engineering extends it warmest congratulations to Chris, and is very pleased that he has chosen to continue with graduate studies in the Department.

When asked what drives him to achieve, Chris acknowledges his family for their support and encouragement over the years, without which he says he “wouldn’t have made it here today.” He also cites his favourite quote by legendary American runner Steve Prefontaine: “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”