Life of a SHADuate, Day 366 | SHAD 2016 Series

Jul 30, 2017 • Matthew Wang

life shad2016

~ 8 minute read • 1512 words

SHAD 2017 just ended. I wasn’t a part of that “graduating class”, but a lot of my friends were; I caught up with them and asked about how it was. And for the wide majority of them, the answer was a resounding “awesome”. I was super happy for all of my friends when they heard they got into SHAD, and I’m excited that they got to experience the same (mostly) awesome program that I did a year ago.

It’s been a full year since my first day after completing SHAD, and I just want to reflect a bit on what I’ve learned, but also on what makes the program so great. I think it’s no coincidence that almost all of my friends loved SHAD, that almost all of the people who attend SHAD say it’s a “life-changing experience”. So, let’s get it started in here!

Popping The Bubble

Straight out of the gate, I want to re-iterate something I say all the time: technical skills that you learn at summer programs shouldn’t be the reason you do them. Yes, it’s good to learn how to format a business paper, or know how cellular respiration works, or understand digital signal processing (though that last one, jeez it’s hard). But those skills aren’t exclusive to going to your specific summer program. For example, at SHAD @ Mac, I learned a lot about modeling viruses and the practical applications of doing so, such as learning about vaccination breaking points or mapping a similar equation to a viral video/song. But, that’s not something that I couldn’t have learned from the internet, or reading a book, or just some other program.

There’s things that you learn at SHAD that are, I think, exclusive to that kind of program. For most people attending SHAD, this’ll be the first time that they are “abroad” for a long period of time, and living with other people their own age. Couple that with the kind of people you’ll meet at SHAD: recruiting is done intentionally so that you’ll have a diverse campus with people from different places and different skillsets. It means that you break out of the “bubble” that you had going into SHAD. I talk about breaking your bubble all the time (it’s a common theme in my 15at15 series), and I really think it’s an important thing to do. As a teenager, your life experience is limited within your bubble. It means you can’t understand other people’s life experiences, and it puts a cap on how much you can experience and learn.

I’ve had many bubbles in my life, and I’ve broken through these with specific decisions that I mostly don’t regret. Before I went to UCC (my current high school), I lived in a stereotypically asian neighbourhood in Markham. Everybody’s parents were engineers, doctors, lawyers, or some other middle/upper class white collar job. Everybody wanted to be an engineer or a doctor, and everybody’s parents wanted the same. All of my friends were Chinese, we all liked the same stuff, and we really only knew this kind of life.

Going to UCC was life-changing. Nobody there was like my friends in Markham: they were significantly richer, whiter, and more athletic. They listened to different music. They liked completely different things. They treated life with a completely different attitude. At first, it kind of sucked. But at the end, it was eye-opening. I learned about different kinds of people, I made different kinds of friends, and I started a different chapter in life. I still have my many criticisms of the school, but I can’t deny that it popped some sort of bubble.

SHAD did the exact same thing. I hate realising this, but I’m often in permanent cringe of past me, and me before SHAD is no exception. Grade 10 was a pretty good year for me, and I ended up being quite a bit cocky, and kind of an asshole towards people who I thought weren’t traditionally “intelligent”. I debated everything, and was kind of annoying in general.

Now, I’m not going to say I’m perfect now (I still unfortunately retain some of those characteristics), but SHAD forced me to change myself through the kinds of people that I met. Firstly, SHAD made me sit down, and be humble. People called me out for being a dick, and rightfully so. I became significantly more self-aware of my flaws, and people helped me change them. I met people who weren’t traditionally “intelligent”, but were still awesome: it broke my bubble of friends, who were for the most part people branded as “intellectual”. I failed and learned more about social interactions, and about how “winning a debate” wasn’t how you made friends. I had a new mentor (our program director), who helped me become more aware of what I was saying and what it meant to who was listening.

I think I’m a better person now (though I’ll need a second opinion). I’ve been told that I’m more “chill” now, which is a good thing (I guess?). I’m less argumentative, and I’m more accepting of bad luck and failure. I’ve tried to further expand my friend group outside of my “pretentious smart people” friend group. I still have noticeable flaws that I work on, but now I’m more self-aware of what they are. It isn’t necessarily a traditional bubble pop, but it’s a new me nonetheless. SHAD popped that bubble because of the people that I met there. That’s not something I can find on the internet.

Oh, and also the people are generally cool. This is bleeding into pretentious territory, but I do think that SHAD does a pretty good job in recruiting some of the smartest kids in Canada. Not necessarily traditionally “intelligent”, but smart. Maybe they’re good at math, or maybe they play 8 instruments. Maybe they’re a coding wiz, or maybe they can juggle while on a unicycle and rap. Maybe they’re a chemistry god, or maybe they’re really funny. I think that’s another part of the bubble that you pop. You realize that people with unconventional talents are still talented, and appreciate them for it. In 40 years, nobody’s going to remember if you won a physics contest in high school. But everybody will remember your god-awful puns.


I know for a fact that some of my friends experienced the same bubble pop. They met new people, and they became a new person. That’s why I’ll keep on recommending SHAD to everybody I know. It’s a transformative experience, taking in any input and making them a more positive person. That’s an obvious assertion, and I know exceptions to the rule. But I think that SHAD truly is an awesome program. It makes better kids, and it does it through a mechanism that you won’t be able to self-teach on Khan Academy. I’m proud to be a SHAD Fellow, even though that name sounds super pretentious. The trials and tribulations I endured, and my friends endured, made them better people. I think that’s what really counts.

I’m catching up with more of my friends that did SHAD, and I can’t wait to hear their experiences. Each one is different, and it certainly isn’t going to be the same as mine. One friend met their now girlfriend, another became more confident in themselves, and even another discovered their sexuality. This year, I had an interesting group of friends go in. I had my super awesome debate partner, I had one of my first friends at UCC, I had a future debate club head who I only recently became close friends with, I had an ultra-conservative nut, I had a typical bookworm, I had a socially awkward but lovely guy go in. Each of these people will have become different by the time they get out from SHAD. I’m excited to see them, better or worse.

Uncommon Purpose

I have a friend that says that “Find your uncommon purpose” is a ridiculously pretentious slogan. And it is. But I think it has some truth to it. Finding your uncommon purpose is analogous to popping your bubble, just framed differently. Popping your bubble allows you to discover more of the world around you, and subsequently more of yourself. That gets you closer to your purpose, or what you want to do in life.

I don’t know how to end this blog post. I don’t think it’s over; I’ll continue my analysis of my past self and how stupid he was for many more years to come.

The year after SHAD, in my eyes, sucked. I’ve moaned about it before, but I wasn’t nearly as successful as I wanted to be, I didn’t get what I really wanted, and I didn’t do most of what I should’ve done. I’m a little angry at myself, and definitely angry at some others. I’m most certainly not happy about this year.

But, writing this blog post made me think about SHAD, and how much I’ve grown as a person.

And for now, I think I’m happy.

This was: Life of a SHADuate, Day 366 | SHAD 2016 Series

Jul 30, 2017 • Matthew Wang

life shad2016

~ 8 minute read • 1512 words