Finding A Little Balance

If you could only tell one story about yourself, what would you tell? Is your story long, or short? Deep, or lighthearted? How would you break the ice?

I’d start with an introduction: My name is Zach and I’m in my third year at U of T, in the undergraduate Public Policy and Governance program. I also minor in Aboriginal Studies and Russian Language, just to keep things interesting. I’m from Calgary and more used to mountains and meadows than I am to towers and transit. Some of my ancestors were Cree and Russian. These roots guide my story.

Pathways through the trees.

Sometimes you find yourself in need of a guide, and that’s actually a good thing (photo taken by Zachary Biech)

But I’d go beyond the basics. I’d include other parts of my life, to paint a better picture. In short, my story needs balance. Actually, my story is about balance.

I’ll start back in grade school. I think I’ve always had some mental balance. I always found time to work hard for my marks. Don’t get the wrong idea, I had time to goof around too. In class. In front of teachers. Oops.

Before grade twelve, I lacked physical balance. I’d get home from school and eat a whole pizza sub or two for a snack. I wasn’t a shining example of athleticism. But after recognizing this imbalance, it was easy to change my ways. Ok, not that easy. My calves burn just thinking about the exercise regimes. Finding the willpower to eat healthy was even harder. Thankfully, I dropped over eighty pounds. It’s great although I miss binging on chips and milkshakes.

Next, I landed in Toronto. Imagine you’re an alien visiting another alien world even crazier than where you’re from. Now you know how I, a small-town Albertan, felt in big, bustling Toronto.  After wobbling around in this immense place like a goofball for a year, I read the writing on the wall. I needed emotional balance. Over the second year, I dealt with every emotion known to man (and maybe some unknown ones as well) and came out on top. My goofball score dropped dramatically too. I think.

A view out over the Bow River Valley in the foothills of southern Alberta

My old view from my home in Alberta (photo taken by Zachary Biech)

Toronto's impressive skyline on a bright clear day, from 18 floors up in a tower

My new view from my Toronto apartment (photo taken by Zachary Biech)

Afterwards, I still lacked something. Maybe you’ve felt the same way like you need to complete your soul’s inner circle. Profound, right? I simply realized I needed spiritual balance. So I worked up some courage, embraced my heritage, and dove headfirst into Toronto’s Indigenous communities including U of T’s First Nations House. Engaging was easy and I received the warmest of welcomes.

The vines and trees just outside the First Nations House building

Just outside First Nations House (photo taken by Zachary Biech)

Mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual balance were vital for embracing my Indigeneity and finding my personal, academic, social, and spiritual center at U of T. I even enjoy my other interests more fully, like music and cooking. If I could only tell one story, I’d talk about balance to show my perspective. But luckily, I have much more to tell! I also like listening and I think we can have a great time storytelling together.

How balanced are you?

If you could only tell one story about yourself, what would you tell?

Looking straight upwards at the big blue sky, through foliage and campus buildings

Finding centre at U of T is not as hard as you’d think; you just need to know where to look (photo taken by Zachary Biech)

 

New Discoveries: U of T Art Centre

During Orientation week I participated in an ask-an-upper-year panel as part of Kickstart Orientation that was held in the University of Toronto Art Centre (UTAC).

This was the first time I had been in UTAC and I was totally blown away at how great a space it was. Admission to UTAC is free so the other day I went in while killing time before classes to take a longer look. There are currently 3 temporary exhibits and 1 permanent exhibit to check out: one consisting of the photographs of Allen Ginsberg, one of the photographs of Robert Giard, one of the works of AA Bronson, and one consisting of Byzantine and Post Byzantine Icons from the Malcove Collection.

My favourite exhibit was “We Are Continually Exposed to the Flashbulb of Death”: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg (1953-1996)”. The photographs were amazing and there were timelines around the exhibit that illustrated his life as well as a recording of him speaking playing throughout the room. I also loved the healing tent (shown below) that was part of “AA Bronson: Life and Work” and had to resist the urge to crawl inside with a book.

I can’t believe that I didn’t know about this place for the past two years and I will definitely be going back very soon! AA Bronson, Tent for Healing, 2013 in the AA Bronson exhibit

Allen Ginsberg Exhibit: wide shot of the ginsberg exhibit wide shot of the ginsberg exhibit   photographs from the Ginsberg Exhibit close up of papers and  in the Ginsberg exhibit

Robert Giard Exhibit:photographs from the Robert Giard exhibit

wide shot of the Robert Giard exhibit

Have you checked out the U of T Art Centre in the past? What has been your favourite exhibit? 

On Majors, Subject POSts and Change

This was the first year I actually had priority enrolment and got into almost all my courses because: *drumroll* I got into my subject POSt!

I’m going into third year so maybe I’m a bit late, but picking majors and figuring out what you want to do is one of the most confusing parts of university. So I’ve decided to share my own subject POSt story, in the hopes that maybe it will help someone!

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It’s story time ~ Source: http://spacelordcookie.tumblr.com/

You see, I entered U of T with the intention of a double major in human biology and health studies. I then learned how subject POSts actually work and what on earth a type 2L major was and all that fun stuff. We don’t declare our program until 2nd year, which meant that I didn’t have to worry about that yet, right? Not quite.

I spent an entire year doing the general life sciences and social sciences prerequisite courses, which is where I realized one very important factor: I was not a science person. I find it interesting and I wasn’t horrible at it, but I didn’t love it. So there I was, at the end of my second year, having finished the first-year courses for a program I no longer wanted, and having to apply for a program that had specific mark requirements. Just my luck, at the end of subject POSt enrolment, I didn’t get in.

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Not getting into your program can elicit this reaction Source: http://britneyspearsgifs.tumblr.com/

After much panic, I finally got myself together and looked at my options. I sat down for an afternoon with the course calendar and poured through courses and programs and made not one plan, but several. I also got some guidance from every U of T student’s favourite place: the registrar! After painstakingly waiting out the priority enrolment period, I managed to get into most of the required courses for the majors I wanted to pursue so I wouldn’t fall behind.  I also took a couple of summer school courses to completely catch up. By the time subject POSt enrolment rolled around this year, I was prepared! I reapplied and got into a major that I love, and thus my course enrolment was saved this year! Yay Api!

Accurate re-creation of my got-into-my-major happy dance! Source:http://entirelypets.tumblr.com/post/87320623728/brown-dog-happy-dance-gif

Accurate re-creation of my got-into-my-major happy dance!
Source:http://entirelypets.tumblr.com/post/87320623728/brown-dog-happy-dance-gif

Although I hope that I don’t end up changing up my plans too much in the future, I realize that it’s a part of life. Some students will go on to study exactly what they always planned, and some won’t. What’s important to know is that you have options, and you have resources! It’s scary having my education in my own hands but it’s also reassuring to know that I’m not in it alone!

I want to hear your stories too, U of T! Let me know how you got through it! 

My School-Year Resolutions

Back in January, in the midst of all the New Year’s hype, I made the same general resolutions I always do: Eat healthier. Exercise more. Try harder at school. I’m not ashamed to say that I usually break them within a month, and continue on with my junk-food-laden, physically inactive, sleeps-through-lecture life.

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Add a box of Oreos and this is literally me. Source: www.ssandmann.tumblr.com

Well my friends, I sleep easy because my real resolutions start at the point in the year when I feel that my life is starting its next level: the school year!

It’s a ritual I’ve practiced since I was a little kid: Every year, I give myself the first day of school pep talk and think about my school year resolutions. What are my goals? What do I want to accomplish? What do I need to improve on?

After my rollercoaster ride of a first year here at U of T, I resolved to 1) Get more involved and 2) Attend ALL my lectures and tutorials. Sweet and simple. The result was an incredible second year, with better grades, more confidence and a happier Api (if that’s even possible).

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Happier than this?????

After much contemplation, here are my school year resolutions for third year:

1) Get help as soon as I need it. I have gotten a little better at this over the last 2 years. I attended the occasional office hour, I tried to ask questions at tutorials and I even got some guidance from the Academic Success Centre. But, I realize that running to the professor or TA one week before the final about a topic from the first lecture is probably not the best choice.

2) Relax more!  I’ve had issues with anxiety and stress in the past, so I’ve decided that I want to do something fun or relaxing to let loose every so often during the school year. I want activities that will cause me zero stress, like yoga classes at the Athletic Centre, or even one of the creative classes at Hart House!

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Unfortunately there are no rocks for me to relax and wistfully gaze off over the water on in the middle of the city.

3) Watch fewer TV shows.  Okay, this one sounds like one of those generic New Year’s resolutions, but hear me out. I am not a casual TV watcher. I am a fangirling, fictional-character-loving, Netflix-binge-watching TV show enthusiast. I have spent an embarrassing number of hours catching up on the week’s shows at Robarts (yes, even during exam season) and I think it’s time I put a stop to it. So please, if you ever catch me trying to stifle my laughter while staring at my laptop in a quiet study area, remind of this post and my public declaration to stop.

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My reaction when people tell me to stop watching TV. Source: www.cokelame.tumblr.com

So tell me U of T, what are your goals or resolutions for the year? Let me know down in the comments, or tweet me @Api_UofT!

A U of T Student’s Recipe for Success

I’d like to consider myself a borderline foodie, and as a result, I refuse to let the quality of my meals slip just because of a few trivial things like ‘exams’ or ‘homework.’ I have a few go-to methods and recipes to make sure that even when heading to Robarts at 8AM for a 12 hour study session during midterms, I’ll still be able to have a healthy and preferably home-cooked meal to eat. Apparently cake pops and Frappucinos are not part of a balanced meal.

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When it looks this good, anything can be a part of a balanced meal.

I’ve come to the realization that the problems with being healthy while busy (for me at least) can be narrowed down to a few issues:

  1. Money
  2. Flavor
  3. Time

Sometimes, it may just be easier to grab a cheesy poutine from the food truck, but I still try to make myself decent food despite these issues. After many failed attempts with expensive veggies, bland food and simply just sleeping in too late to cook anything, I’ve finally figured out a system that works for me. So here is one of my favourite recipes, along with some of my useful shortcuts to go along with it!

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Couscous Salad!

Let me take a minute to express my outright love for couscous. All you have to do is add boiling water, and it cooks in 5 minutes. Even if a 5-minute cooking time isn’t short enough, this is the perfect food to make in big batches on a Sunday night, for a daily grab-and-go during the week. It’s also super customizable. So if kale or celery isn’t your thing, you can add whatever vegetables you love (or whatever vegetables are cheapest to buy!). I have a flyer app on my phone called Reebee that gets me all the grocery store flyers, so I scan it to stock up on fruits, veggies, and anything else I might need thats on sale.

Recipe: Amounts can vary depending on how much you want to make but here are the general ingredients! Enjoy!

-1 cup of cooked couscous
-1/2 cup of chopped kale
-1/2 cup of scraped carrots
-1/2 cup of scraped zucchini
-1 tomatoe, diced into small pieces
-1 small onion diced into small pieces
-1 tsp chopped ginger
-salt and pepper to taste
-lemon juice
-2-3 tbsp of olive oil

Instructions: Sauté ginger, carrots and zucchini and kale in a large pan. When cooked to your desire, add salt and pepper to taste and set aside to cool. Meanwhile, mix together the tomatoes and onions with a little lemon juice, olive oil and salt. Once everything has cooled down, mix together in a large bowl and store in the fridge! This will save cooking time in the morning so you can be more relaxed. Or, you can always sleep in longer and rush out the door, but either way, you have a meal ready to go!

To make it extra special (this is where the flavor comes in), invest in some flavourful ingredients such as sriracha sauce, balsamic vinegar, sesame oil or fresh coriander (or other herbs). Most of these don’t go bad very easily and last in the pantry or fridge for a long time. It’s comforting to know that the $4 I spent on sriracha was well worth it.

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Just kidding, I never regret the sriracha.

Sometimes, even despite our best efforts, life can get too hectic to even make time for cooking (see: Finals week). If you ever need to find somewhere to eat on campus, there’s a app for iPhone and Android with the UeaT Campus Food Map! You’ll have all of the campus restaurants and cafés at your fingertips!

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Makes it easier to find Harvest Noon <3

So tell me U of T, what are your go-to healthy recipes? Let me know down below in the comments or tweet me your suggestions at @Api_UofT on Twitter!

Library Lovin’

Last week I had my very first (and maybe last?) summer school exam and I found myself once again spending a lot of time in the library. I’ve never been one for studying much in Robarts (although the 12th floor views are a big pull for getting there earlier and snagging a table in the window section of the St. George corner) so over the last 2 years I’ve sought out smaller, more visually appealing libraries. If you read my last post you’ve already gotten to see some of my favourite (outdoor) study spaces so this one will be some of my favourite indoor spaces!

Hart House • 7:00 am – Midnight • noise level varies hh

Hart House Library is a great space because it's so central on campus. Unfortunately every other student at U of T also thinks it's a great space so all the good spots are pften taken. Never fear though, you can normally find a spot onthe benches and chairs on the landing, or at a table in the reading room.

Hart House Library is a great space because it’s so central on campus. Unfortunately every other student at U of T also thinks it’s a great space so all the good spots are often taken. Never fear though, you can normally find a spot on the benches and chairs on the landing, or at a table in the reading room.

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Chairs and benches on the landing

This is on the landing at the east end of Hart House and I've never actiually studied here because it's always occupied but one day I will.

This is on the landing at the east end of Hart House. I’ve never actiually studied here because it’s always occupied but one day, if I’m lucky, I will.

Knox College Library • hours vary • quiet space

knox lib'

The perfectly inspiring place, especially when poring over history books. Look up and be transported to a bygone age of architecture. Make sure you check out the old card catalogues!

Emmanuel College Library (Victoria College) • hours vary • quiet space

This tiny library is so beautiful and only gets really full at the peak of exam season. To get here go to the third floor of Emmanuel College, in front of you will be the reading room (which I also love) and to your right is the library. There are divided desks throughout the main floor and some (but don’t quote me on this) up on the mezzanine.  DSCF2541DSCF2537DSCF2535

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The reading room opposite the stairs. People seem to sleep in here a lot.

Campus Getaways

I would pretty confidently call myself a city person. Ever since deciding to come to the University of Toronto I’ve wholeheartedly embraced city living and I cannot see myself living outside of a city anytime in my immediate future. That being said, I do come from a town that has a population of less than 10,000 people and is literally surrounded by farms and sometimes I really miss the quiet countryside.

What I love about U of T is that although it is right downtown there are still so many spots on campus that you can go where you can’t see (or hear in some places) any cars, or see any condos. These are some of my favourite little urban getaways on campus that I like to hang out in when I just can’t bear to see another taxi or bus.

Is your favourite getaway on here? Let me know in the comments!

I have named this the Vic Oasis, I don't know if it has a real name but I feel like Oasis is fitting. This gem is nestled between Pratt Library and Lower Burwash under a giant tree. The only downside to this spot is the people sudying in Pratt will be staring at you the entire time you're there.

I have named this the Vic Oasis, I don’t know if it has a real name but I feel like Oasis is fitting. This gem is nestled between Pratt Library and Lower Burwash under a giant tree. The only downside to this spot is the people studying in Pratt will be staring at you the entire time you’re there.

even if you turn around at the vic oasis you still can't really see any cars

Even if you turn around at the Vic oasis you still can’t really see any cars or many people at all.

If you get lucky and don't find Hart House quad otherwise occupied by a wedding party (I don't blame the wedding parties, I mean look at it) the tables are a great place to sit and read or just chill.

If you get lucky and don’t find Hart House quad otherwise occupied by a wedding party (I don’t blame the wedding parties, I mean look at it) the tables are a great place to sit and read or just chill.

hart house statue

I have so may memories associated with the Trinity Quad that it almost feels like my own backyard... almost. Sitting under the trees with a book is my favourite summer activity to do here. Trying not to fall as I cross the frozen tundra is my favourite winter activity here.

I have so may memories associated with the Trinity Quad that it almost feels like my own backyard… almost. Sitting under the trees with a book is my favourite summer activity to do here. Trying not to fall as I cross the frozen tundra is my favourite winter activity here.

I like the University College Quad in that it's very different from those of Trin and Hart House, it's wilder and has a lot more shade.

I like the University College Quad in that it’s very different from those of Trin and Hart House. It feels wilder and has a lot more shade and I just want to picnic here always.

Knox College is in between Kings College Circle and St. George Street. With two quads seperated by a cloister there is an abundance of options for study spots/general relax-in-the-sun spots.

Knox College is in between Kings College Circle and St. George Street. With two quads separated by a cloister there is an abundance of options for study spots/general relax-in-the-sun spots. I think I’ve speant more time here this summer than anywhere else on campus.

I really love this place.

I really love this place.

can you tell we're in the middle of the biggest city in Canada?

Can you tell we’re in the middle of the biggest city in Canada?

I take a lot of instagram pictures here (follow me @lifeatuoft)

I take a lot of instagram pictures here (follow me @lifeatuoft)

My Toronto Staycation!

I really wanted to go on vacation this year. Like really, really wanted to go. Earlier this year I had my sights set on trying delicacies in Europe, touring ancient architecture in India, or having a breathtaking stay in Nepal.

But, alas, as summer rolled around, I knew it wouldn’t be possible this year, because of the summer grind. Vacations are hard enough to plan without jobs, school, student budgetary restraints (that’s a nice way of saying I’m a broke college student) and other summer commitments getting in the way. I’ve accepted that my cool vacation in a country I’ve never been to still awaits me (in the near future hopefully), but I didn’t want to spend my summer without ANY vacation time at all.

To solve my vacation blues, I decided to go on some mini-adventures to fulfill my vacation needs right here in the city- a staycation!

Things Api would like during a staycation:

  • Somewhere to relax!
  • Exotic food I’ve never tried before
  • Pretty, historical architecture
  • Nice Views

My first stop of the week was to relax out at the Waterfront. It’s a quick subway ride to union station and a short walk to the ferries and the boardwalk. I decided to bring a book and have a seat at one of the benches, and it was probably the most relaxed I’ve been in a while. I returned to reality feeling a little better about my upcoming finals.

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Perfect day to relax!

Vacation spot number two was yummier than I expected. Toronto has endless possibilities when it comes to food from other cultures, but I wanted to try something something I’ve never had before. I ended up trying Kimchi fries for the first time and it was SO good! Kimchi fries are hand-cut fries with pulled pork, Kimchi (pickled cabbages), fresh leeks and a little bit of mayonnaise:

Some kimchi+pulled Pork yumminess <3

As U of T students, it’s fairly common to encounter pretty architecture, but I felt compelled to add it to my vacation list just because I need to see what else is out there (It’s not you Knox College, its me.) Therefore, spot number three was the Distillery District! This was probably the furthest spot from U of T, but its not so far out of the downtown core that it’s a difficult to get to. Truth be told, I’ve been to the Distillery before, but I just can’t get enough of it. I will use any excuse to take selfies with the twinkling lights at night time.

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I have about 20 versions of this picture because I take one every time I go #Guilty

My final vacation spot was…*Drumroll please*… The CN Tower! For one awesome view of Toronto, the ticket is totally worth it. If you look really closely you might be able to point out places on campus like UC, Convocation Hall and Varsity Stadium!

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Beautiful city, beautiful sunset!

Overall, my week has been awesome. It was nice to take a break from the regularly scheduled school programming. As the summer goes on, I plan to keep up my mini-staycations and visit somewhere different each week. So check out my shenanigans on Twitter @Api_UofT!

Until next time, U of T!

Being Graceful 24/7

I’ve been going strong with my ballet classes at the Athletic Centre, but I can’t believe I’ve completed a semester of pirouetting. Honestly, it still has not hit me that I will no longer be going to the dance studio every week to practice my dance moves—however, that doesn’t mean that the dancing has to be over!

Over the course of the semester, I learned to incorporate one of the toughest type of sports into my daily life. I practiced the art of strengthening my core by correcting my posture while in class, I kept up with my planking, and I stayed faithful to my warm up stretches. When I was not in the dance studio, I tried my best to incorporate every graceful aspect of ballet in between dance classes. Now, I call that discipline.

I remember attending my first class and having to depend on looking at the wall-length mirror for guidance as the instructor called out positions. Now I feel as if I’m on autopilot when it comes to going from one position to another—it’s slowly becoming second nature to me.

1st position, feet are angled opposite from one another while touching at the heels.

2nd position, feet are still angled opposite from one another, but this time a few inches apart.

3rd position, one foot is placed in front of the other while still angled opposite.

4th position, same as 3rd position, but this time a few inches apart.

Are you noticing the pattern here?

Last but not least, the 5th position, where feet touch each other again, but heel to toe.

Dancing does not have to be an optical illusion. -VIA MOILLUSIONS.COM

See, I got this. And I’ve improved with each class!

With practicing straightening my posture while in and out of class, I’ve also found myself focused dancing gracefully. I decided to look at my participation in ballet as something more than just physical activity. After all, ballet is both a sport and an art form. As time went by, I learned that balance within my core is key when trying to perfect the plié and tendu. I found myself more in-control than ever and I’ve been able to twirl around the dance studio with a little more self confidence. Most of all, I’ve been able to relax while going to this class, which was much needed considering how exam season is here.

I started this class with sore feet, but I think I’ve been able to toughen up after all of that practice.
I’m never going to be a professional ballerina, but hey, one can dream.

One can dream though! -VIA 5-SECONDS-OF-IDOLS.TUMBLR.COM

What have you done to prepare yourselves for exams while staying active?

—Amanda

A Final Farewell to U of T

For the past four years I have said goodbye to U of T in April. But it was a tentative goodbye, said with the knowledge that I was returning to the woes and joys of student-hood in September. Now, this April, today, I am saying goodbye to U of T for the last time.

To commemorate my time here, I went for a little walk the other day. Here’s some of what I saw:

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I remember when my parents dropped me off at those doors. I was nervous. I came in with boxes and bags and posters to hang on my wall. But beyond my edgy nerves, I remember the undeniable thrill of arriving. I was starting a new life, and I was making a new homeIMG_0095

When I discovered the UC Quad, I knew I was home. Standing on the low stone steps leading down onto the open green grass, and looking across at those sunlit archways, I remember how my imagination exploded with the possibilities at U of T. I dreamed up a whole life for myself, a whole new me, really. And it turns out, at a place as magical as U of T, dreams drift right into reality.

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My main stomping-ground in first and second year, Hart House Library. Curled up in a red arm chair, bathed in warm sunlight, a novel laying open on my chest—it may not have been the most academically productive space, but you can’t ask for a better setting for a studying induced nap.

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Yep, a secret, forbidden stairwell at Hart House. Where does it lead? I’ll leave that to the naturally adventurous…

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This room in Northrop Frye Hall! There are lots of wonderful reasons that make this room special. Peices of that university dream that I never really expected would come true. I’m sure, if you think about it, there’s a room somewhere at U of T that makes you feel the same way. If not, just you wait!

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The Isabel Bader Theatre is the most comfortable lecture hall at U of T. Trust me, it’s science! Not only did I have first year philosophy in this theatre, which I will never forget—because it’s first year philosophy—but the Bader was also home to The Bob sketch comedy performance. Here, in this theatre, I really got to be me, and a whole lot of other people, but mostly me.

Wow! What a great pleasure it has been to attend the University of Toronto. It was certainly the best, most fulfilling, most challenging, and most rewarding part of my life, to date. And it was extra special having the opportunity to share some of my experience with you, the U of T student community, this last year.

To all of you who ever read one of my posts, and to the whole of U of T, the professors, T.A.s, students, admin, caretakers, grounds workers, chefs, cashiers, and coat-check volunteers:

Thank You. It was diamond!

- Stephen.