The Road Goes Ever On and On: A Graduation Retrospective
Graduation is an interesting time here at Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts. With four intakes per year and six-month or one-year long programs, this means we have four commencement ceremonies per year, too. As a staff member, it's easy to watch the year fly by in cycles; we start with the first day of class, through training, midterms, advanced classes, finals, and finally, graduation. Repeat that thrice more, and you're already at the end of the year! Any alumnus of the Institute - myself included - can tell you that while the beginning seems daunting and the end is barely a blip on the horizon, it sneaks up on you unexpectedly. Before you know it, Chef Julian is hosting a rowdy crowd and you're shaking hands with instructors, receiving your diploma, and heading out into the "real world." Our latest graduation took place just a few weeks ago before our Christmas closure, and I had the great fortune of attending and seeing another crop of students walk across the stage, diplomas in hand. After six months (or even a year for many), you really get to know every student. Not just their name, mind you, but their personalities, too - little quirks, habits, their strengths and weaknesses, their senses of humour. Because of our small class sizes and the intensity of our full-time training program, students truly become a tightknit unit - a family comprised of students from all around the world, whose backgrounds vary from those fresh out of high school to career changers and everyone in between.
Elisabeth, the valedictorian of her morning Baking & Pastry Arts class, shared a fantastic (and fittingly pastry-related) analogy in her speech on December 20th. "Like ingredients in a recipe, each of us has a different backstory unique to us and our experiences," she said, addressing both her fellow classmates as well as their loved ones in attendance. "The great thing about PICA though, is that even though we all came from different places, we can all come together to create a whole that is better than the parts. PICA is the mixer, if you will, that brings all of us together. Like flour, butter, or eggs, on our own we may appear fairly unassuming and ordinary. But mix us all together, and you get something extraordinary!" She added that they have now "finished the first part of our apprenticeship and are entering the real world, where we will continue to learn and teach others."
From the morning Culinary Arts class, Margaux shared some uproarious, hilarious anecdotes from her classmates' experiences. More importantly, though, she mentioned Chef JJ's "dedication to teaching and passion for food" as well as Chef Katsu's "impeccable knife skills and attention to detail," and how he ultimately became "a true friend and mentor." She added further words of wisdom, this time from Chef Tim, where she explained that "coming out of this six month program, we are not only given a diploma, but we are also given an empty bucket. It is up to us to fill that bucket with skill and knowledge that we acquire throughout our experiences in the industry. Once we fill that bucket with skill and knowledge, it is our responsibility to pass that bucket on to generations to come."
Our dedicated chef and restaurant instructors are one of the many factors that sets PICA apart from the pack. Not only do they equip students with skills in the kitchen; you cannot put a price on the amount of life skills and advice imparted by staff and teachers who know each student by name, and care for each individual's personal success. The best part of graduation is that students grasp the importance of passing on the mantle. You can see the passion in their eyes and their eagerness to dive in, further their skills and experience, and share it with others. In my eyes - seeing a new set of graduates venture out with this zeal means that we've done our job, and we've done it well. Yesterday was the first day of new classes, and thus the cycle repeats once more with a new set of students. While I write this article with a tinge of sadness at seeing students go, knowing that they'll go far in the next chapter of their lives reassures me that we'll hear from them again - as restaurateurs, personal chefs, bakers, caterers, and more! As the (in)famous Semisonic song goes, "every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end." So to all of our graduates new and old - your journey has only just begun. The PICA chapter of your book has closed, and now it's up to you to write the rest of your story. Here's to a new year, new beginnings, and a new step towards your successful futures!