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Celebrating Graduation in the Midst of A Global Pandemic

Q&A’s with Cogie Cogen

View the Class of 2020 Global Valedictorian Speech here!

Where are you from? What place do you currently call home and why?
I grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba my up until I left for university. I attended Oak Park High School, where I served as Co-President of the student council. For my first year of university, I attended Huron University College (an affiliate college to Western University), while still living in Winnipeg. I now live in London, Ontario, where I attend school at Huron. I frequently come back to Winnipeg for visits over my reading weeks, and breaks.

What are you passionate about? What are your hobbies?
Something I am passionate about is working towards making my communities more environmentally sustainable through my everyday actions and what I do for work. On a personal level I enjoy eating and learning to cook new plant-based dishes, and I hope to one day live in an off-grid tiny home or a converted bus. Some of the work I do within my community include, serving on the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada Youth Advisory Council, being an Ocean Bridge Ambassador with Ocean Wise, and I started a club at my school called Western Environmental Business, which seeks to educate student on how to become sustainable business leaders. I will also be attending the United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya. My passion for the environment came from attending the International Climate Strike back in September of 2019. The movement in Winnipeg was incredibly empowering and left me feeling like I needed to take action to make my community more sustainable. It excites me to see both young and older people working towards environmental sustainability in all sectors. I see this happening in school, universities, government and private sector more and more. On my spare time enjoy playing sports and being out in nature. Basketball, ultimate frisbee, and skateboarding are sports I enjoy the most. I play ultimate frisbee at a high level, competing on Western Universities varsity ultimate team.

How did the idea for this project come to you?
I had seen other videos dedicated to the Class of 2020 that students created for their school or country. But because this pandemic is global and is affecting everyone,I wanted to make a video dedicated to Class of 2020 graduates around the world as we are all in this together. This is how the Class of 2020 Global Valedictorian Speech came to be. The entire video took about a month to create. The first thing I did was apply for a grant through Canada Service Corps. They got back to me within two days. With this money I made an Instagram ad that I promoted all over the world asking people to answer a set list on questions. After a couple weeks I had around 80 submissionsfrom 17 different countries. Part of the video I filmed in front of Oak Park and in my house getting into the grad gown. I organized all the footage, so it matched the flow of a valedictorian address. I sent all the footage to my friend Reis who also goes to Oak Park. He edited the entire video. Once the video was done, I uploaded it to YouTube and my Instagram.

How did your community react to your project?
The video received over 16,000 views and 530 shares on YouTube and Instagram. The video makes me emotional every time I watch, even though I created it. After releasing the video, I had many parents, teachers and students reach out to me to tell me how it gave them a sense of connection and hope during Covid. The Metro, Global News Winnipeg, CBC, The Jewish Post, and Western University’s Student Newspaper, and eight other news networks all reach out to interview me and showcase the video on their platforms. I was thankful to have the support of my friend Reis who helped to edit the video.

How has the project impacted you in your everyday life?
The project was most definitely out of my comfort zone. Prior to creating the video, I had never directed anything or reached out to youth on a global scale. I was nervous that the project wouldn’t work out. From writing the script, to reaching out to youth acrossthe world to submit clips, to getting the video assembled and edited, there were so many pieces that had to come together. The project has given me the confidence in myself to do large-scale projects an dtake on meaningful risks I wouldn’t have taken on prior. I have also directed and edited more videos for various projects in school and for work related positions. At the end of the Class of 2020 Global Valedictorian Speech, that read, “Life is not about getting to the final destination, it’s about the journey.” I have applied this mindset while in university, as I am prioritizing growing and making new memories, instead of only attending school for the degree.

Were there some bumps along the road or things you may do differently in the future?
Overall, the process was smooth running. The whole video was made virtually, and all Covid-10 protocols were followed. Once I figured out how to coordinate all the virtual pieces, everything ran seamlessly, compiling the video. By accident I misspelt my email on the initial post asking people from around the world to submit videos…oops. However, I was able to edit the caption on the post, to include the proper email. A challenge I had was getting the video shared outside of Winnipeg and my friend network. To overcome this challenge, I reached out to a couple news networks in Winnipeg. After getting on air with a couple networks, a bunch of other ones across Canada started reaching out to showcase the video.

What would you say to a youth who is thinking about doing a #RisingYouth project?
If you considering applying for a #RisingYouth grant, I 100% encourage you to apply, no matter how big your project is, even if it is helping your immediate community. The staff at #RisingYouth are super helpful if you have any questions, and there will help you with the budgeting if this is something you are nervous about. Everyone who has started something, or ran a project of some sort, had their first at time too. Rising Youth is the best organization you can work with, if it is your first time starting your own initiative.

Also, if you can always reach out to an adult to help you with your project and grant application, if you are nervous.



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