Advice from a Governor General’s Silver Medal Award-Winner: Don’t Stress Yourself Out

What advice does the winner of one of the country’s most prestigious academic awards have for students who may want to follow in his footsteps? In short, don’t sweat it too much.

Photo of Richard Zhang with Charlie Keil and Donald Boere

Richard Zhang (centre) with Innis College Principal Charlie Keil (left) and Registrar Donald Boere (right) on June 15, 2018. Photo credit: Chiao Sun

Richard Zhang, BCom ’18, a Rotman Commerce and Innis College graduate, convocated last Friday as a recipient of the Governor General’s Silver Medal, awarded annually to the students with the highest academic standings upon graduation. The secret to his exceptional GPA? Zhang says it’s not all about studying. “I don’t think I do anything special compared to other students when it comes to studying,” he says. “While I care about school, I don’t take my studies overly seriously, stress myself out, or put unnecessary pressure on myself. If I had a strategy or tip, it would probably be that I try to have a good school/work – life balance.”

For Richard, part of that balance came from participating in student organizations that resonated with his interest in social entrepreneurship. Roles with Enactus University of Toronto and the Rotman Commerce Innovation Group gave him a way to blend his personal interests with his academic talents, which he further honed as an Associate with the Toronto Student Investment Counsel (previously the Hart House Investment Club). Outside of school, however, the soon-to-be investment banker found equilibrium in pursuing his hobbies of tennis, watching films, and reading up on 19th-century history. A recent trip to Europe allowed him to experience at least two of the three, when he was able to attend both the Cannes International Film Festival and the French Open.

Zhang’s success at U of T has certainly not been out of the blue. A native of Vancouver, he chose U of T because he was awarded a National Scholarship, which covered his tuition and fees for the duration of his degree. Professor David Goldreich, Director of Rotman Commerce, sees that choice as a great benefit to both Zhang and the Rotman Commerce Program. “Richard has been a terrific student,” he says. “He came here on this wonderful scholarship to U of T, developed his talents in class and shared them with others through his student involvement, and is now on the cusp of launching a successful career. We’re all really, really proud of him.”

Richard begins that new career this week as an investment banking analyst with Lazard, a global investment firm. When asked for his parting words of wisdom, Richard advises students to make the most of their undergraduate years: “University is over faster than you realize. Have fun, enjoy your time here, and get involved in the community.”