Shad Valley – A Life-changing Month

By: Joseph Yang

Where can you go during the summer if you are seeking academic enrichment in science, technology, entrepreneurship AND leadership?  Where can you make life-long connections with top students from around the world, listen to motivational speakers, and meet university professors? There is only one program in the world that offers all of this: Shad Valley.

Shad Valley is an intense four week program that is hosted in one of Canada’s ten best-renowned universities, including Waterloo, Queens, McMaster and UBC, and is designed for top students around the world. While living on campus, Shads are exposed to university preparation programs including lectures, workshops, and projects. In addition to academic enrichment, Shads also participate in outdoor activities, sports, and music.

This summer, I was fortunate enough to get accepted into the Shad Valley Program after submitting a vigorous application that essentially resembled a mini university application: a transcript, a list stating my extracurricular activities, 2 essays, a creative page, and 2 recommendation letters. But after getting my acceptance letter in March to Shad Valley at McMaster University, I was unsure whether it was worth dedicating a full month of my precious summer. Well, it turned out to be the best month of my life so far.

On the first day of Shad, I arrived at Heddon Hall Residence at McMaster, my home for 1 month, and was greeted by a bunch of hyper and enthusiastic staff team and directors. Then, after dropping off all of my things in my room, I headed out to meet the other 47 Shads. Due to common stereotypes, I expected to meet a bunch of geeky Asian students with thick glasses who loved science and math (I’m not describing myself here, by the way). I was right. Around 50% of the Shads were of Asian descent, and most of them liked science and math. I was wrong about the geeky part. The other 50% of the Shads were from diverse backgrounds, including Native students, as well as two students from Saudi Arabia. I was very fortunate to have one of them as my roommate, and I was able to learn about life in Saudi Arabia. At Shad, aside from being exceptional at science, everyone possessed a special talent, whether it was in singing, dancing, arts, music, or sports.

A normal day at Shad ran from 6:45am until 11pm (or 12am if you were secretly watching Bruce Lee movies). After getting ready by 7:10am, we had breakfast from 7:30 till 8:30, where I usually got rid of my drowsiness with a cup of cold coke. Then from 9 till 11:30, we had two lectures from university professors on mind-blowing subjects like water purification, astronomy in Ancient Egypt, the concept of infinity, and insect sex. Then after lunch, we had workshops until 3. I personally found these workshops more pragmatic than the lectures since the topics were about the importance of passion, and they included chemistry labs and lessons on self-defence. Next on the list were sports, where we got to use the university gym facilities. After dinner at 5, we had a group project until 9. Between 9 and 10, we had choir rehearsals, and then free time until 10:30pm. Although I was wiped out every day, I always looked forward to the next day because at Shad, no two days were the same.

However, despite these hardcore non-stop daily activities, what made this program so unforgettable were  the people you got to meet. During our first dinner at Shad, our director announced that the average of all the students’ grades were around 93%. I was utterly shocked by this statement and it was just unbelievable to see how every single Shad was so involved in school and community and was able to balance it with their hobbies. In addition, a lot of the Shads knew the career path that they wanted to pursue, and they were extremely dedicated towards achieving their goals. They were astonishingly good at public speaking, and they were hard workers. And yet, despite all their academic and extracurricular success, they were all modest and humble.

After Shad Valley, I learned two great lessons that I will forever cherish: 1) Passion leads to success and 2) The only thing that can stop you from achieving your goals is you. Passion in a human is like gas in a car; it is the driving force that keeps you going. My Shad director said: “If you love what you are doing, you’ll get better and better at it and it will lead you to success.” Now with this new attitude, I decided to only partake in activities that I enjoy and to fully give myself in those activities. A simple way to check whether you are following you passion is to ask yourself, “Would I continue doing this activity even if I wasn’t getting paid to do it?” Second of all, after being exposed to all the great achievements by my fellow Shads, I realized that these achievements were the results of having self-confidence and a positive attitude. Everyone has the potential to achieve his/her goals; you just have to commit yourself first.

After my time at Shad Valley, I think I have changed my attitude and can now focus on being resourceful and working with whatever I have. Also, I was able to meet 47 other great friends from many different provinces and countries, and 10 great mentors whom I’ve stayed in contact with through Facebook and weekly phone chats. Finally, through Shad Valley, I was given the opportunity for an internship at Impact – a non-profit youth entrepreneurship group. Unquestionably, Shad Valley was a life-changing month for me, and it will surely guide me in the years to come.