OTTAWA -- Stepping through the doors into university can be an exciting time, it can also be jarring and some students may face stereotypes and barriers they never expected. However, one 2020 graduate faced those challenges to overcome adversity, making his voice heard on a world stage.

When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered a commencement speech to graduates across the country, on June 10, he praised the class 2020.

“The choices you will make both big and small in the next few years will decide the future of our country and of our world and I cannot think of a generation better prepared to set us on the right path forward.

Before Canada’s prime minister addressed the country, the first of two, one English another in French, two university graduates were invited to do so first.

Lana El Sanyoura, a University of Toronto student who graduated with a degree in cognitive and computer science, and Jordan Gray of Carleton University.

Gray who is of both Black and Indigenous descent, spoke of the adversity he encountered and noted that at one point, he was not sure if he would make it to the end of his studies.

“It is not always easy to succeed when discretion within the academy and beyond favours those who are not Black, not Indigenous and not people of colour,” says Gray.

However, his dedication, excellence and perseverance is not only marked by a moment alongside a world leader, but has him graduating with one of Carleton University’s highest honours for an undergraduate. 

To get here, it was a self-taught lesson; not giving people the option to dictate what his story was going to be. Those words rooted in lessons he learned the day he entered through the doors of Carleton University, to earn his degree in global and international studies. Gray wanted to look at a global perspective, but first, he would have to look at university life.

“Never did people look like me who is born both Black and Indigenous,” he says. “I figured at that moment okay I’m going to have to work very hard and it wasn’t enough to be a student who wanted to learn I had to be excellent.”

Gray’s determination to carve out a place for himself in university lead him across the globe. Ten research projects in five countries, studies at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands and research here in Canada.

“My very first research project was in Mi’kma’ki the land of the Mi’kmaq, was also the people I descend from and I got to go to travel around the east cost and learn and study.”

Gray’s an awarded scholar and Carleton University’s first student to attend the World Congress on undergraduate research. Gray’s pinnacle, his project on Indigenous languages and its need for preservation. Research that gained him an opportunity in New York City, to speak at the United Nations.

“I thought in that moment it was all worth it everything I had gone through up to that point to get to that point while I was speaking there at the United Nations to the president of the General Assembly in a room full of people. I said wow my voice matters and people like me matter and what we have to say matters.”

Standing next to the prime minister and delivering a speech to the graduating nation of 2020 was never in Gray’s plan. He says, sometimes that is just life. 

“Even despite everything that is going on at this current moment people all over the country are taking the time to actually celebrate and acknowledge and appreciate what we all have done,” Gray says.

“We can make it to the end people who look like me and more importantly people who look like them, can walk across the stage and be celebrated for how they think and how they speak and when they make it to the end, know that people like me were waiting on the other end for them to join us.”