The Art of the Possible: A Graduation Reflection

Hello! I’m Mackenzie Nicolle, and I hail from the Mennonite Mecca of Rosthern, SK.

I have almost completed a four-year degree in Social Sciences with a minor in communications. When people ask me what that means, because it’s a very nondescript name, I tell them that I have basically created an interdisciplinary degree minus the title. I have primarily focused on four things:

  • Psychology, because I am fascinated by how our brains work and how what we think impacts what we do;
  • Sociology, because I am fascinated by how society affects us and how we affect society;
  • International Development Studies, because I am curious to know how those two other things work in different cultures and contexts, and
  • Communications, which helps me to convey all of my thoughts and learnings to others.
Mackenzie Nicolle

Mackenzie Nicolle, just weeks away from completing her 4-year Social Science degree

CMU has given me the opportunity to both learn all of these things theoretically, but also in lived-experiences, and I think those are the things that stick in my mind the most as I reflect on my last four years here. Here are some of the things I learned.

In my Intro Psych class, I often had the same guy sit next to me, and we later became friends. It was fascinating to watch him in class, for where I have a really hard time not being interested in the classes I’m in, as soon as the lights of the lecture hall was turned off, he fell asleep instantly. Every time. I probably poked him three times a class so that he could pay attention. And yet there were times where he would seem to remember details of what Prof. Delmar Epp talked about even when he seemed to be asleep. The human mind is a miraculous thing.

In my Sociology of Religion class, I got to do one of the coolest projects of my whole degree. My team and I went to the Greek Orthodox church across from CMU for a month, and simply analyzed how the church functioned from a sociological perspective. We learned when to sit and when to stand, we learned the rhythm of a liturgy in Greek, and we learned about how hospitable that congregation is as they served us spanakopita in their basement. By contrast, a group of us then went to another church more closely aligned with the Anabaptist faith tradition, and I was shocked by how uncomfortable I felt there. I learned that I felt closer to the rituals of Greek liturgy than I did to alter calls in my own language.

In my time living in residence, I have had the beautiful opportunity to sit across the cafeteria table from many diverse groups of people. Some days I am sitting with students from six different countries, learning about the traditional names of their home communities and their favourite food that their moms used to make. Other times, I’m sitting across from Canadian students who have had life changing experiences in other countries through programs I’ve never heard of. International Development can truly begin at home when you start analyzing your own biases and ways of perceiving the world.

In my current communications course, Christianity and Mass Media, I have spent the past month on a project trying to summarize my thoughts of the past four years by trying to understand why CMU matters. I have had the joy of interviewing six people from this community and listening to their hardships and triumphs.

And over and over again I was told that this place matters. This place invites people to explore their curiosities. This place is a community that values people beyond their productivity. This place allows people to delve into their faith with hard questions, and provides guides to get to the other side. We are learning how to deconstruct what we think about the world, and trying to find new ways of being.

To quote James Magnus Johnston, we are learning about the “Art of the Possible.” And if that’s what I’ve learned through a four-year Social Science degree, I think that’s pretty incredible.

Mackenzie Nicolle is a 4th year Bachelor of Arts student focusing on Social Science

Look for the Helpers

As a Communications and Media student, I spend a lot of time looking very carefully at the news. I listen to the radio, read the newspaper, and probably spend a little too much time on social media.

It’s what I love to do, but if you, like me, spend too much time reading the headlines, you know the accompanying feeling of hopelessness that can come along with it.

Gun violence, famine, and borders. Death, disease, and destruction. It’s enough to make one want to throw their TV out the window, lock the doors, and draw the blinds.

But there’s a quote by the one and only Mr. Fred Rogers, of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, that I like to remember when I feel this way, and it goes like this:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping’.”

I was walking around campus after class, and I came to realization that Canadian Mennonite University is a school that is equipping its students to become helpers.

My friends in the science faculty will be the helpers fighting climate change and sickness.

Our English majors will one day write the books and poems that inspire us to go on and look for beauty in this world.

I cross paths with the counsellors and music therapists of the future, and play volleyball with the business leaders of tomorrow who are learning how to run a business that creates profit while respecting people and the planet.

I hear the beautiful music throughout the halls that comes from my friends that have chosen to live their lives making a joyful noise, and I rub shoulders in the cafeteria with people who will one day become the pastors of our churches.

I meet students who create their very own interdisciplinary degrees, who will do some job that doesn’t even exist quite yet, but it’s a job that’ll need to be done.

Our professors and faculty, who read the same headlines that I do, see us as helpers as well, whether they’ve watched Mister Rogers Neighborhood or not. They’re not scared. They have hope.

Mr. Rogers

If they didn’t have hope for a brighter future ahead and better headlines in the news, they wouldn’t be here, sharing their knowledge and experiences with their students. They wouldn’t share their testimonies in chapel, invite students into their offices for meaningful conversations, or care so much about their jobs.

And they care so much.

And you, dear donors, you see hope for the future as well. You’re investing in the next generation of helpers you’ll see in the news. And we are so grateful for all the opportunities that your donations give us that help us to become better helpers.

And me? I’ve decided that I’ll be the one writing the headlines of the future. Holding that camera. Doing that interview. Telling you the stories of the helpers that you invested and believed in. Sharing that hope that I feel every-day that I’m at this school. Becoming a helper in my own unique way.

Looking at the world around us, it can sometimes be hard to see the helpers. 

But if you take a look at CMU, you’ll see them everywhere. And that gives me hope.

– Chloe Friesen, 2nd year Communications and Media student

What You’ve Heard About CMU? It’s TRUE!

Shpeel (definition): slang often a sales talk or pitch; to speak, usually at length, to present a position or rationale for some course of action or belief on the part of the listener(s).

If you’ve ever been to a CMU Open House or Campus Visit Day, or have even witnessed one in action, you’ve heard the classic “Come to CMU” shpeel.

“The class sizes are SMALL. There’s a wonderful sense of COMMUNITY. Marpeck Commons is NEW and WONDERFUL and FULL OF SUNSHINE and GOOD COFFEE.”

Chloe kickin' it on the bridge
ready to spheel

I’m here to tell you that the shpeel is true. No lies here. As someone who’s given tours of this beautiful campus of ours, I’ve heard these words come out of my mouth many, many times. So many times that sometimes I start forgetting why I’m saying them. Sometimes they sound too good to be true. And then I take a look around me and remember.

For what we have to offer, CMU is grossly underrated. So I’m going to keep doing my shpeel until everyone knows why I love this tiny university of mine.

1) The class sizes are SMALL

Studying with friends in the sun

Some of my favourite classes have been the one’s with the fewest people in them. I like to think back to my Creative Writing Poetry course, where I’d meet with eight of my classmates twice a week to share our poems and critique them together. I produced some of my best work in that class, and I know for a fact that my poems would have sounded a lot worse if they had been written in a lecture theatre. The faculty to student ratio is 1:18 (even for first and second year students). You really get to know your professors and classmates, and I think that those close relationships have encouraged me to do some of my best academic work.

2) There’s a wonderful sense of COMMUNITY

Fun with friends

I remember my first day on campus. I was nervous, stressed out of my mind, and knew almost no one. That all changed when I went to my faculty advisor meeting. We sat in a small circle, ate pizza, and before there was any discussion about classes or schedules or academics, we learned about each other. 15 minutes into my first day, and I was already part of a little community where I felt welcomed and supported. There are students in that meeting that I’ve never had a class with, but I still know their names and we say hello to each other on the way to our separate classes. Walking across campus and not stopping to greet a friend or neighbour is almost impossible, but it’s the BEST. It sounds cliche, but CMU is my home, and the people here are my family.

3) Marpeck Commons is NEW and WONDERFUL and FULL OF SUNSHINE and GOOD COFFEE

folio café coffee with a book

Facts. Marpeck Commons was opened in 2015, and it was entirely paid for by donors, nothing came out of students’ pockets (there goes that community spirit again). It houses CommonWord (CMU’s book/gift shop, that also sells perogies and noodles, of course), folio café (amazing coffee and friendly baristas, and featured in an article called “15 Winnipeg Coffee Shops You Should Go To At Least Once In Your Life”, but I prefer to go everyday…), CMU’s library (spacious tables, comfy reading chairs, floor to ceiling windows, and sweet librarians: what’s not to love?), as well as a public learning space for the community to gather and have public conversations. Oh, and it’s got a cool bridge that goes over Grant Ave. (cheers to keeping warm while crossing the street!). It’s a place you can spend hours in and not want to leave.

There’s a lot more I could tell you about CMU. I live here. I learn here. I grow here. So I’m going to keep on giving my CMU shpeel until everyone I know (and even people I don’t know) sees CMU the way I do.

If you’d like to experience CMU for yourself, I encourage you to stop by during our Open House on Wednesday, March 26 from 10:00 AM
3:00 PM. I’d love to give you my shpeel in person.

– Chloe Friesen, 2nd year Communications and Media student

“We Are Family”: Performing in the CMU Opera | Guest blogger: Katy Unruh

City Workers in Love snuck up on me. I had no idea what I was getting into when I auditioned for this little comic opera by Neil Weisensel. With a concentration in Vocal Performance, I knew I needed the credits, but I had no idea the hours I put in to earn them would be some of the best, the most fun, most rewarding of my years at CMU so far.

If you’ve never been involved with the production of an opera, I’m not sure I can truly communicate the massive effort it takes. As both a cast member and a production assistant on this show, I got to know it from every angle. I learned my music, and by osmosis, almost everyone else’s. I memorized how to move and when, painted set pieces, made props, took notes in rehearsal, put together costumes, and the list goes on.

But what a list of tasks and projects doesn’t show is all the relationships which were built and shaped through the work on this show.

Katy performs in City Workers in Love
Katy (third from left) performs in City Workers in Love

First, there was my character. I had to discover who she was: her past, her mind, her relationships, even her physicality. She is still in my head—even now I find myself listening for Mavis’ reactions to the things I encounter in my daily goings-about. Mavis taught me new ways of seeing people with grace and to take myself less seriously sometimes.

Then there’s our director. Without David Klassen this show would never have happened! He brought light and warmth and patience into our rehearsals. He expertly saw potential in each cast member, a set design in a poster and an empty stage, and movement in stillness. He made the Laudamus Auditorium on Friday afternoons a safe space, giving us permission to feel and move and make mistakes as we learned about ourselves, our abilities, and each other.

And where would I be without my fellow cast members? One of the recurring lines in City Workers in Love, the mantra of the street crew, is, “We are family.” Over the course of the year this became truer and truer. In our small yet hardy cast, each voice mattered greatly and each distinct personality coloured the atmosphere. The more we learned to blend our voices and our natures, the closer we became. To sing is so deeply personal in the first place—your instrument is your body, your self—and to share that personal work in such intense circumstances speedily forges a bond that’s not easily broken.

In the last two weeks of preparation I hit my stride.  Every moment I could spare was spent on opera, either in a determined rush to put together the final details or contentedly dwelling in the joy of the process. This show left its mark on me. Even as I write this I still find bits of paint stuck in my hair, and I feel almost like a proud mother, changed and affirmed by a product of my effort which took on a life of its own.

Katy Unruh is a 4th year Bachelor of Music student focusing on Vocal Performance and Music Education

The Breakfast Club – CMU Edition

Remember that final scene in The Breakfast Club? The one where Mr. Vernon finds the essay the kids wrote about who they thought they were?

“You see us as you want to see us… In the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain…and an athlete… and a basketcase… a princess… and a criminal. Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, The Breakfast Club.”

And then Judd Nelson raises his fingerless-gloved fist as he marches across the football field to the tune of Don’t You (Forget About Me). Iconic.

If I’m being honest, I played the character of Mr. Vernon for a long time. I wanted so badly to have that one word, that simple definition that would tell others who I was. Sincerely yours, the Volleyball Player. Sincerely yours, the Artist. Sincerely yours, the Student. I was Mr. Vernon, asking myself “who do you think you are?” and expecting a convenient definition.

But obviously, Mr. Vernon is the antagonist of the film.

CMU was my Breakfast Club. The group of quirky oddballs in detention dancing in the library and scurrying down hallways who taught me that I am so much more than a simple term.

breakfastAt CMU I feel utterly undefined. I’m not just a volleyball player, or just an artist, or just a student. Those terms just scratch the surface of who I am. Here at CMU, I’m encouraged to explore and celebrate my passions and quirks that make me extraordinary.

CMU helped me write that essay to the Mr. Vernon I once was. I saw myself as I wanted to see myself. In the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what I found out was that I cannot be defined by a simple word or phrase. Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, So Much More.

(Now do yourself a favour and play Don’t You (Forget About Me), don some fingerless gloves, and march yourself to a nearby football field with your fist in the air. Or just imagine it, that works too…)

– Chloe Friesen, 2nd year Communications and Media student

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