Being asked to be the final keynote speaker at graduation is an honour in itself. When I was asked to deliver the final keynote for the 2021 Capilano University graduation reception ceremony, I felt honoured and excited to deliver a speech on resilience to a room full of bright and resilient individuals who have soldered their way through the turbulence of the past year, and are off to start the next chapter of their lives. 

As a guest speaker at the graduation ceremony, I was able to discuss the importance of emotional resiliency, and a few lessons that we’ve learned through this pandemic. Although this graduation speech was originally intended for the class of 2021, I believe that the message in this keynote may also apply to some of you. While we were all in different places in life at the beginning of 2020, no one can deny that the pandemic has all impacted us significantly, and we were forced to build our emotional resilience to cope with these changes. Times are still changing, and we’re all still tackling and adapting to the best of our abilities. 

What’s important though, is that you persevered, and that COVID-19 didn’t knock you down. In times of adversity such as this, you faced your biggest obstacle head on, and soldiered on. So, here is my personal message to the graduating class of 2021, and to you, who made it through the pandemic.


Congratulations to the class of 2021.

When I think about you, what I see is a classroom full of emotionally resilient individuals.

What a journey we’ve all been on….

I think what gave us all some level of comfort is we were all in the same insane storm, but we were definitely not all in the same boat.  Some of you may have been in motor boats or super yachts while others only had one oar.

But regardless of your circumstance, you have managed to successfully navigate and persevere through the challenges and waves that COVID-19 presented and with your grit and determination, you continued to show up to all of your virtual classes and made it here today receiving your degree or diploma.

Balancing Laptop and Phone
Girl anxious about crowds because of the pandemic

If we’ve learned anything from the pandemic, it’s that we need to be ready to respond to anything the world throws at us.

So, let’s take a quick look back on your last part of your educational journey.

COVID-19 has exceedingly tested us. You had to create the ultimate balancing act which encompassed school, work and daily life. Learning, working and living at home, under one roof was difficult.

You have gone for months and months without seeing your classmates, instructors, friends and perhaps for some of you, your families.

Staying up late on a laptop

When the pandemic hit, and you were forced to change the way you learn. 

You were then obligated to stare at your computer screens for hours and hours. And It was so easy to get distracted during remote classes, especially when cameras are off and the lure of social media was just a click away.

Let’s face it – you were overworked, overstressed and extremely tired, worrying not only about your school work, but also your physical safety and emotional wellbeing. Being in classes for 3 hours at a time is exhausting. And we all know, Zoom fatigue is a real thing.

You had to turn some unique places in your home into your classroom and for many of you that may have been your couch or even your bedroom. You might not have had the proper workstations, from your noise levels being out of control or your internet being spotty – these are far from ideal learning conditions.  

But still, you were required to take your education into your own hands and develop new cognitive strategies to learn, stay engaged, and retain the information imparted by us instructors and find ways to support your own learning. 

Napping on the couch while working
Interviews during COVID-19

And now, you may be feeling the pressure of graduation and what employment opportunities may look like for you in the future. For many of you, the first part of your education was offered in person – the ladder part was virtual and as you begin entering the workforce, this will probably be in reverse.

You will likely be entering the workforce virtually – and as the pandemic ends you will need to enter (at least part of the time) the physical office, learning to adapt and flourish with all of these changes.

As you enter the workforce, these emotionally resilient skills you have been forced to learn along the way will be essential going into any work environment.


Grads you have all felt the emotional strain –  the isolation, uncertainty and unrest in the world.


Right now you might still feel lost, worried or upset, but trust me when I say – like all emotions, this too shall pass.  Feelings are not final or facts.  They are just feelings. Not good or bad, right or wrong, just an emotional reaction to a person, thing or situation. Learning to be bigger than your emotions is critical for success in school, business and life. All of us need to learn to be an observer of our emotions and take the emotional charge out of situations. 

Sad girl looking out of the window


Emotional Intelligence is the ability to use the information provided by emotions to act appropriately in the face of daily challenges. Basically, it’s about being intelligent about your emotions. And there are 15 EQ competencies we all are trying to master. The key is you need to learn how to recognize what you are feeling, tap into what’s behind those emotions, and acknowledge how your feelings impact your behaviours. 

As you get better at recognizing and understanding your emotions, you gain the power to control them instead of being controlled by them.

EQ Competencies By Generation

The challenge is for Gen Z’s and even Millennials, you don’t have the same emotional make up as us Gen X and Baby Boomers.  Studies show that the younger generations have lower independence, problem solving, and stress tolerance.  

Why? Because you grew up with technology and perhaps for some of you, your parents giving you all of the answers.   But because this pandemic was happening in real-time for all of us, Google did not know the answers.  You had to figure out what worked for you and create a plan.

COVID-19 gave you the impetus to be stronger than your feelings. It gave you a chance to develop a more positive outlook for the future to persevere through this storm.

While the education system tries to ensure that all students learn the essentials and mainly focuses on your technical skills & cognitive intelligence (your IQ) – what people can see, the stuff above the water line.  All too often, there is very little emphasis placed on the building of soft skills, or emotional intelligence, in schools or for that matter, in workplaces.

COVID-19, probably the biggest disruption in your lives, gave you an opportunity to focus on your emotional education (your EQ) and go underneath the surface, learning how to:

    • Adapt well to change, and be optimistic.
    • Have empathy and be attuned to other people’s emotions and concerns.
    • Work well in a team, virtually, in-person or a hybrid of both.
    • Think clearly and solve problems under pressure. AND
    • Recognize and cope with stress.

The good news is your EQ will continue to rise as you get older. But graduates, I do encourage you to continue to develop your emotional intelligence skills.

In fact, the World Economic Forum states that these are the top ten skills that will be needed in 2025.  Many of these skills, you were forced to learn – like active learning and learning strategies, complex problem-solving, resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility, to name a few. 

As Millennials and Gen Z are predicted to make up at least 60% of the global workforce by 2025 – You will be taking over the world of work – own your power and skills.

The good news is your EQ will continue to rise as you get older. But graduates, I do encourage you to continue to develop your emotional intelligence skills.

In fact, the World Economic Forum states that these are the top ten skills that will be needed in 2025.  Many of these skills, you were forced to learn – like active learning and learning strategies, complex problem-solving, resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility, to name a few. 

As Millennials and Gen Z are predicted to make up at least 60% of the global workforce by 2025 – You will be taking over the world of work – own your power and skills.

Your learning at Capilano University has come to an end but your journey is just beginning. So where do you want to go? 

Will you be starting your dream job?  Do you have a new idea the world needs to see? Will you be going back to school to further your education? Will you travel the world? or Will you start your own company or social movement?

This is just the beginning of your life. The world is yours.

Excited Girl

So graduates – I believe in you.  We believe in you.  Don’t lose your grit, determination, or emotional resilience.  You worked so hard for this and pushed forward despite the setbacks and adversity.  You have graduated during a global pandemic, something that very few can say they have.  

You will at times look back, and glance at your past and all that you have been through, and relish in the fact that you did it.  You persevered. You were mentally tough. You were bigger than your emotions. You made it!

And your future is bright, untapped, and is yours to create.  So look ahead and determine what you want this part of the journey in your life to look like.   And then go make it happen.

Globe saying "Your Journey is Beginning"

So although this year might not be the typical graduation where you get to walk across the stage, grab your degree or diploma, hug your classmates, throw your graduation cap up, or take pictures with your family and friends, YOU are still graduating. 

Graduating into a world that needs your gifts and talents, now more than ever.

What I don’t know if you realize is you have just begun working on your emotional education.  These past few years have been a lesson like no other, and you have learned to enhance your emotional resilience, and I encourage you to keep exercising your emotional muscles and recognizing the unique value that you bring into the workforce and what you offer the world. 

So, although this pandemic will come to an end, there will be many other changes you will face in your life, good, bad, and ugly. And the fact that you have learned probably one of the most important lessons in life, to be resilient and adaptive,  will be a life lesson that will carry you far.  

Continue to build your resilience and become agile leaders, you of all people know, it takes intentional preparation, and it will be a necessity for your future.

Graduation is not defined by your cap and gown or by that sheet of paper.  Graduation is defined by your determination and courage to take the next step in an uncertain world.   And you did it today!  And I hope you continue to live with tenacity and build those emotional muscles as you enter your new beginning.

Congratulations to the class of 2021!

Illustration of Carolyn in a Graduation Robe

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