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Part of a special feature celebrating the success of Memorial's graduates. This feature coincides with spring convocation 2017.

By Janet Harron

Success means different things to different people.

For some it’s a high GPA. For others it’s landing their dream job.

For Michael So, who is graduating with a BA in communication studies and a minor in math this spring, success is completing his degree after 11 years and paying his tuition himself.

Community builder

Born in Kowloon, Hong Kong, with a form of ADHD, Mr. So came to St. John’s, N.L., with his family in 1994. Well known on Memorial’s St. John’s campus — Mr. So throws himself an annual birthday party in the University Centre — the 31-year-old describes himself as someone who always likes to make new friends.

Conscientious and a hard worker, Mr. So is the first to acknowledge he wouldn’t be walking across the stage at the Arts and Culture Centre on May 30 without the support of many, both at Memorial and in the wider St. John’s community.

Kelly Neville is a case manager with the Student Wellness and Counselling Centre at Memorial.

“Michael is a very kind and genuine soul who gives his all to others to make things better for them,” said Ms. Neville, whose role was to help Mr. So with both his academics and wellness.

“He is a very hard worker in his academics and his job and loves being a good friend to all he meets. It’s been a pleasure working with and knowing Michael.”

Michael So flashes a victory sign
Photo: Submitted

‘Friend and advocate’

According to the Blundon Centre’s Kathy Skinner, support for Mr. So has come in both formal and informal ways. She offers the example of biology professor Margaret Caldwell.

“Margaret Caldwell taught Michael in 2012 and remains his friend and advocate — she’s always there for him,” said Ms. Skinner.

“In 2013 Michael was taking a linguistics course and struggled with it. Margaret jumped in and arranged for her daughter Catherine to tutor Michael throughout the semester.”

Going above and beyond has been a constant for faculty and staff who have crossed paths with Mr. So over the years.

“He always contributes in useful ways, including asking questions when other students won’t.” — Dr. Kurt Korneski

History professor Dr. Kurt Korneski is one such example, although he says he personally doesn’t feel he treated Mr. So differently than anyone else.

“Michael has his quirks and doesn’t have a filter but he always contributes in useful ways, including asking questions when other students won’t,” said Dr. Korneski.

“And his fellow students have been as helpful and kind to him as he is to them. The whole classroom environment is a result of that positive relationship.”

Strategies and support

Mr. So also acknowledges the help he received from math lecturer Beth Ann Austin, as well as his academic advisor, Chris Hibbs.

“If it wasn’t for Chris’s assistance in helping me to select courses, I wouldn’t be graduating now,” said Mr. So.

Among the strategies Mr. So has employed to achieve his degree are regular visits to professors, participation in study groups and using physical activity to help address anxiety.

“I would go to the gym and work out, play ping pong or walk on the track,” he said.

Michael So plays the piano in the University Centre.
Michael So plays the piano in the University Centre.
Photo: Chris Hammond

Other extracurriculars include playing the piano and working at Always in Vogue. His favourite hobby is fishing.

“I was born in the year of the ox. Therefore, fishing at Bay Bulls is always lucky for me,” he said with a laugh.

He also acknowledges the support of his parents, the staff members at Always in Vogue, the Halloran family, the Baird family, Angie Farrell, Darren Newton and Naomi Cousins.

“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”  – Confucius

When contemplating the completion of his undergraduate degree and what he has accomplished in that time, Mr. So quotes from the philosopher Confucius:

“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”

For Mr. So, Memorial is much more than the sum of its parts.

“Faculty and staff members at Memorial saved me — everyone here took me from hopeless to hopeful.”

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