Matthew Sherwood photo/Telegraph-Journa

Former Graduates:Students not just a number at UNBSJ: valedictorian

by KARISSA DONKIN - Sunday, May 23, 2010

This article is courtesy of TELEGRAPH-JOURNAL

SAINT JOHN - When Taryn O'Neill graduated from Saint John High School in 2006, she made the choice to stay in the city to get her higher education.

She has attended the University of New Brunswick Saint John for the last four years, and graduated with a bachelor of science with first class honours in biology at the university's 36th spring convocation on Friday afternoon.

Reflecting on her decision to stay in Saint John, O'Neill said in an interview she appreciated going to school on a small campus.

"Your voice is heard at UNB Saint John. As a student, you're not just a number. You're a person," she said.

O'Neill delivered the valedictory address during the ceremony at the G. Forbes Elliot Athletics Centre. One of the things O'Neill talked about was the importance of making a difference in the community.

"As a student of UNB Saint John, I was fortunate to partake in exciting new community outreach initiatives," O'Neill told her fellow graduates. "It proved to me that we have so much to gain from our community because it provides us with a holistic view of society."

O'Neill served as co-president of UNB Saint John's Biology Society as well as an executive member of the Golden Key International Honour Society.

She has spent time raising money for the Cherry Brook Zoo, Clean Water for Haiti and the Animal Rescue League, among other organizations.

"My first year, I was really school-bound," she said in the interview. "When I walked through the hallways and the classrooms, I really didn't notice people and they weren't familiar. Through the next three years, it's like I knew everyone," O'Neill said.

For anyone who is nervous or anxious about going to university, O'Neill recommends they get involved in their community.

"The more you get involved, the better you feel and the more you want to go to school to begin with."

O'Neill's involvement led her to become a mentor at Hazen-White/St. Francis School this year.

She is one of 22 UNB Saint John students who spend time at the school with students in Grades 3 to 5.

"You get more out of volunteering than you give," O'Neill said.

Friday's convocation saw Robert Zildjian receive an honorary degree from the university.

The Boston-born Zildjian is the founder and owner of Sabian Ltd. Sabian is the largest manufacturer of cymbals in the world, with a factory in Meductic, near Woodstock.

"You all are New Brunswickers and you are world-known for persistence and determination," Zildjian said in his convocation address.

O'Neill was awarded the Lieutenant-Governor of New Brunswick Silver Medal for the Faculty of Science, Applied Science and Engineering. The medal is awarded to an outstanding graduate in each faculty. O'Neill also took home the City of Saint John Award.

Leah Richardson, also a Saint John native who graduated with O'Neill from Saint John High School in 2006, took home the UNBSJ Student Leadership Award for her volunteer work.

Richardson has been involved in starting up a reading program at the resource centre in Crescent Valley.

She has worked alongside O'Neill on many volunteer initiatives, including the mentor program at Hazen-White/St. Francis.

"Being a part of the community has just completely made my student experience that much richer. It's made this year a lot of fun," Richardson said.

Both O'Neill and Richardson will work as community engagement liaisons for UNB Saint John this summer.

They will continue their education at the Saint John campus in the fall, with Richardson also acting as vice-president external of the UNB Saint John student council. Both will continue to mentor at Hazen-White/St. Francis.

O'Neill will pursue a master's degree in biology, and is considering pursuing a doctorate degree when she is finished.

Richardson will use distance education to get a master's degree in nutrition. After that, she will be a registered nutritional consultant.