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Renaissance College valedictorian Evan Di Cesare: A journey of resilience and discovery

Author: Tim Jaques

Posted on May 7, 2024

Category: UNB Fredericton

Valedictorian Evan Di Cesare

Evan Di Cesare's transformative journey at Renaissance College at the University of New Brunswick (UNB) epitomizes resilience, community and passion.

From Stephenville, Newfoundland and Labrador, Di Cesare is graduating this spring with a bachelor of philosophy in interdisciplinary leadership.

Through the sorrow of personal loss and the challenges of a pandemic-altered university experience, his adaptability and perseverance have strengthened.

He treasures the close relationships forged with classmates and draws inspiration from them. Embracing unpredictability and taking what he calls “meaningful risks,” Di Cesare has pursued numerous leadership roles and discovered his calling in teaching English as a second language.

He recently reflected on his time at UNB and his future.

Evan, tell us your story and how you ended up here today?

My dad is the reason why I came to UNB because he introduced me to the Currie Undergraduate Scholarship, which gave me the means to attend university to begin with. He worked with a Currie Scholar when I was in high school and he encouraged me to apply for the scholarship as well. My dad was always my biggest supporter of every milestone I reached in my life and I’ll never forget how proud he was of me every step of the way. Halfway through my second year of university, I found out he had gotten very sick and I had to leave school a couple of weeks early in the winter of that academic year due to his illness. He passed away early that summer. For a while, I wasn’t sure how I was going to continue my degree without him, but I cannot emphasize enough how incredible my friends and family are because they helped me get through that time in my life more than I think they realize. Now that I have reached the end of my degree, I feel so grateful for everyone that’s helped me get to this point and shaped the person I am now.

What are your values? How do they align with your goals and vision for the future?

Two of my greatest values are adaptability and perseverance. I think it is very important to confront your feelings head-on and not let them bottle up. Don’t let an obstacle keep you from moving forward even if at first it may seem impossible to overcome. I think the best thing you can do for yourself is take the necessary time to process your emotions, and not be afraid to confide in your loved ones to get you through difficult times. I know that I’m far from the only graduating student to have faced adversity throughout my degree, so I think it is essential to be gentle with yourself through difficult times and to know when to ask for support.

How did your UNB experience support or help shape those values?

UNB played a huge role in shaping those values. I went through a lot of changes in my life throughout university, including adjusting to university online, moving away from home for the first time, and dealing with the loss of loved ones. Despite the challenges I faced, not once did I feel like I was alone because during my time here, peers, faculty, and staff members have all helped me through every stage of those changes. Renaissance College is unique in that our small student body allows us to build close relationships with our dean. Dean Carol Nemeroff has been amazing in helping me get through all these challenges and genuinely has played a major role in making Renaissance College the second home that it has become for me. Overall, my UNB experience has not just supported my values but amplified them.

Who are you most inspired by?

I’m most inspired by my friends. I’m grateful to have surrounded myself with a circle of friends who are genuinely so kind and intelligent. It’s been amazing to see them grow alongside me throughout the course of my degree and to see the futures they are building, because I am so proud of them and am beyond grateful to be able to learn from them. I have friends in different faculties with a wide range of goals that they are working towards, and I think that’s what is most inspiring to me; I am inspired by people who are passionate about something and aren’t afraid to pursue that passion, regardless of what career path that passion may lead to.

If you had a motto, what would it be?

My motto would be, ‘It is okay not to have everything figured out right now.’ I think that in the earlier parts of my degree, I invested way too much time and energy into worrying about all the details of where I’d end up in the future. That kept me from appreciating where I was in that moment. At an end-of-year celebration dinner at Renaissance College a couple of weeks ago, one of my classmates who gave the graduating student speech said something very impactful that I wrote down. She said, ‘I hope that we find a way to worry less about what we want to do with our lives and focus more on what we want or need to be doing with THIS moment of our life.’ That really resonated with me. I try my best to make the most of where I am in the present moment, and have confidence that I’m creating a future for myself where I am happy and fulfilled with where I am.

Who are you now and who will you be in ten years?

I am a person who has a lot of passions and interests in life. I have so many places I want to visit, hobbies I want to continue exploring, and skills that I want to develop. I’ve already met so many people along the way who have made me who I am. My long-term plans could definitely change, which might sound scary to some. However, I am someone who loves unpredictability, and I find excitement in that. I hope that in ten years, I have checked a few more dream travel destinations off my bucket list, that I’ve met even more incredible people, and continued building relationships with the people I have in my life now. I hope that even if my goals in life have changed in ten years, I’ll still be passionately pursuing whatever those goals are.

What’s next?

Later this summer I’m going to be moving to Japan to work full-time as an English assistant language teacher with the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme (JET). I plan to work in Japan for two or three years, and then I want to pursue a master’s degree in teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL). I’d love to continue to teach abroad afterward, whether that be in Japan or elsewhere. Travelling and learning about other cultures is one of my greatest passions in life, so being able to build a career off that would be both very exciting and fulfilling to me.

Di Cesare will deliver his valedictory address in Fredericton on Thursday, May 16 at 10 a.m.