World Languages and Literatures, English, Convocation

Those sides of me and who I am: Honours student’s profound literary discovery and ambitions pushed to the limit

October 01, 2021

A story of involvement and growth featuring SFU World Literature and English graduand and Convocation student speaker, Mizuki Giffin

Mizuki Giffin graduates from SFU with an Honours degree in World Literature and a minor in English this fall, but the excellent grades she earned, the numerous paid and volunteer roles she held, and the awards she won aren’t the only highlights of her academic path. The brightest is more than an accolade. It’s so life-changing, it can’t be contained in a resume or CV.

In an interview prior to her convocation ceremony, Giffin shared how studies in world literature connected her with her cultural background in a way she hadn’t previously been able to. “I’m half Japanese,” she says, “but I never read a Japanese text before. I hadn’t really explored that side of my culture.”

Everything changed when she was assigned to read Yasunari Kawabata’s Snow Country in her second year of studies. “That was a really profound moment. I resonated with it in a way I hadn’t with any book before because I could see myself in it in a new, unique way.”

This introduction into Japanese literature and culture prompted Giffin to begin exploring her cultural background: “I took four Japanese language courses, various Japanese history courses, and ended up doing my Honours project on a topic related to Japanese literature.” Titled A Pointless Death, A Horrible Death, Giffin’s honours thesis examines representations of small animals in select Ainu oral stories. Her presentation was a triumphant demonstration on her transformational growth.

Calling from her parent’s home in Kelowna, B.C., Giffin poignantly points out that, “the opportunity to take Japanese language courses allowed me to connect with the Japanese side of myself and my family in ways I was never able to before. That’s been really memorable for me: to explore those sides of me and who I am.”

When asked how she ended up pursuing her degree in world literature, Giffin recalls that when she was applying to SFU, “I was looking through the list of all the FASS programs. I saw History, Linguistics, English, Philosophy, Sociology and Anthropology... I was interested in all of them, and then I got to the very bottom of the list. I saw World Literature, and I thought, that combines everything that I’m interested in. It seems like a place I’d want to be.”

Her attraction to world literature drove the rest of Giffin’s studies; it also proved to be the catalyst for a variety of incredible, career-strengthening opportunities. It all started in a first year World Literature course in which professor Mark Deggan encouraged students to get involved with the Student Conference. Giffin signed up as a photographer, but was quickly promoted to the position of assistant coordinator. She remembers that, “from there I got involved in the student union, through the union I got involved with The Lyre, through my friends at the union I got involved with the Student Learning Commons (SLC), and through that, I got the job as Engagement Programming Assistant (EPA).”

The domino effect of embracing opportunities leads to an enriched university experience and builds career connections after graduation. After finishing her final classes, Giffin was hired as a Library Services Assistant at UBC Okanagan and plans to pursue a Masters in Library and Information Sciences.

She continues, “I’m not just graduating with a bachelor of arts, I’m graduating with a resume full of experience and valuable professional connections that I couldn’t have gotten any other way. That’s what is so special about my department and this faculty: its commitment to helping students succeed in many ways beyond academics.”

While she is proud of her involvement and achievements, upon reflection, Giffin admits that she took on too much during her undergraduate studies. She realizes that she fell into the trap of never being content, always thinking she had to do more to prove herself.

“I tried to put on the façade that I had my stuff together,” she says, but “there were semesters where I was taking 17 units of courses, working four days a week, getting involved in the many ways I was... It weighed on me heavily. I neglected to take care of myself, to let myself breathe.”

Giffin wants to remind students that university can be challenging and turbulent, and that few people, if any, go through their academic career effortlessly. She emphasizes the importance of self-care. Taking a break or a step back is never a sign of weakness but an act of profound strength, a lesson she only wishes she had learned sooner.

“If you’re doing the best you can, remain open to new experiences, and ensure you’re enjoying yourself all the while, you’re already doing exactly what you should be.”

Mizuki Giffin is the student speaker at SFU’s Convocation Ceremony A on October 5, 2021. Please join us in congratulating Giffin for her many accomplishments, for contributing to the university in countless ways, for learning to prioritize self-care, for discovering Japanese literature, and through it, deepening connections to her family, and most importantly, to herself.

In the lead-up to Fall 2021 Convocation, SFU will share stories from our eight faculties about some of our amazing graduands.

SFU’s Fall 2021 Convocation will be held Oct. 5-8. It will be the university’s first in-person convocation since 2019. The ceremonies will be webcast on SFU’s YouTube channel for those wanting to join in from home and around the world. For more information about SFU’s Fall 2021 Convocation, visit Read more about our exceptional graduands here.

Be sure to share your convocation experience on social media by using the #MySFUGrad hashtag.