Valedictorian Discovers a Landscape of Belonging

April 20, 2022
A graduate of the Post Graduate in Business Management Program, Gaganjeet Singh is one of two Selkirk College valedictorians who will represent the Class of 2022

Selkirk Convocation 2022 takes place on the Castlegar Campus on April 26. One of two Class of 2022 valedictorians, Post Graduate in Business Management Program graduate Gaganjeet Singh is a student leader who set the bar for peers with his determination and passion for community building.

Though he left his home in India alone in late-2019, Gaganjeet Singh’s post-secondary journey in Canada has been defined by the welcoming community embrace he has received in the West Kootenay over the last two years.

Chosen as Selkirk College’s Class of 2022 valedictorian, Singh will graduate from the Post Graduate in Business Management Program as part of the annual convocation ceremony on the Castlegar Campus on April 26. The first international student from India to be chosen as valedictorian, Singh will walk across the stage with peers at Convocation 2022 and into a bright future in his adopted home.

“I have never said that I liked Castlegar, I have always said that I have loved Castlegar,” says the 28-year-old. “This place really connects with me, I love mountains and the flowing water. Just as important is that my interactions with people of this community have been so good, I really feel accepted. That is the best feeling you can have when you move from one country to another. On paper there was supposed to be a big cultural difference, but I never felt that. I have never felt homesick because there were always people to always support and help. That is why I love the region so much.”

Students from more than 70 programs at Selkirk College will graduate with the Class of 2022. Singh and his peers have endured the dark clouds and uncertainty of COVID-19 over the last two years with remarkable courage and determination. Instead of caving to the pandemic pressure, learners have found ways to keep moving forward towards reaching a vital educational milestone. 

“When people see you putting in an effort, they try to match your efforts and that is when the work gets done,” says Singh. “You can’t sit back at school or life because that’s not how things happen. There is no harm trying and there is no harm failing. Every failure teaches you something and this is how I have been living, it’s something my dad always taught me. I am never afraid to try.”

Then… The World Changed

Singh grew up in the suburbs of New Delhi and when he made the decision to study in Canada, he left a stable job in marketing to pursue his dreams of a new beginning. Already packing six years of post-secondary, Singh chose rural British Columbia over larger centres because he wanted to challenge himself.

From the moment he stepped off the plane in Castlegar on a wintery day in January 2020, Singh felt the warmth of a rural community. His first living arrangements were at the former Flamingo Hotel in Castlegar where an older couple who lived next door checked in on day-one and continued to make sure he was settling in for the next couple of months.

With confidence in his new surroundings, Singh enthusiastically got to work building networks. His humble approach was aimed at volunteerism where he became involved in events and efforts taking place across the college community.

“A big part of my success here was the volunteer work that I have done because it provides important connection to people,” he says. “Every time I connected with someone, I had something new to learn… a new story, a new experience, their perspective. Learning from others is what has helped me plan my journey in Canada.”

In mid-March 2020, the momentum Singh was building came to a screeching halt when COVID-19 put a sizeable dent in normal. The shift to online learning and restrictions on in-person activity caused uncertainty throughout post-secondary, but Singh did not dwell on the barriers. He looked at Zoom and the path forward as another chance to refocus in a positive way.   

“It was a change for us as students, but it was a significant change for the instructors,” says Singh. “Everyone was trying to adapt, so I did the research to make sure that I knew the best way to communicate in this new situation. That helped make the challenges less, it gave me an opportunity learn something new.”

Helping Build the College Community

Despite the unusual nature of the last two years, Singh’s list of volunteer and community activity is extensive. His passion for community and enthusiasm for learning enabled him to become a leader at Selkirk College. When not in class, he spent time with the student union, business club, as a peer tutor and sat on the housing committee. In mid-2021 he was selected as the student representative on the committee that hired new Selkirk College President Dr. Maggie Matear, a task that required months of dedicated work.

Aside from his work in the classroom and in the community, Singh completed both an internship and co-op placement at Selkirk Innovates where he researched local economic development delivery models, worked with the regional mining sector and helped present findings at a national conference in Quebec.

Clearly in command of his personal time-management, Singh points back to his mentors at Selkirk College for continually providing the spark. 

“I’m blessed to say and I take in pride in saying that every instructor I have had, they have supported me way too much,” Singh says with a big smile. “I would not have been here without that support because it gives you confidence. If people with so much experience are backing you, then maybe there is a reason. That has kept me motivated to always try and always move ahead.”

When informed that he would be representing the Class of 2022 as valedictorian, Singh’s humble nature was on full display.

“This is not about me, it’s about everyone who I have been in contact with over the last two years,” he says. “Each person has an equal and important role in me getting to this point.”

With a heart and mind full of gratitude, Singh’s two-year journey in his new home is symbolic of what it has taken to find success amid unmatched adversity. Singh has given plenty over his Selkirk College journey and in return found a place of belonging.

“Coming here, I have never felt like I left my home,” he says. “I have always been considered a part of the community, from the day I came here until today. That is the reason I don’t want to leave the region. It has given me so much already and whatever I do, I want to give it back to the community. When you come to a new place and somebody makes it feel like home, that is the best feeling. That is what Castlegar has done for me.”

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A graduate of the Post Graduate in Business Management Program, Gaganjeet Singh is one of two Selkirk College valedictorians who will represent the Class of 2022 at the convocation ceremony on the Castlegar Campus on April 26.

When the post-secondary education system shifted to online learning in March 2020, Class of 2022 valedictorian Gaganjeet Singh focused on adapting to the learning environment on Zoom. Seen here representing students at the Virtual Community Celebration in November 2021, Singh looked at the shift as a way to develop a new communication skill.