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June 2, 2023 | Alumni

The future is a blank and promising canvas: graduand Matthew Kieffer on the infinite possibilities ahead

By Chris Sasaki

Matthew Kieffer holding a large sports trophy

Matthew Kieffer celebrating a tri-campus, D-League volleyball championship. All photos courtesy of Matthew Kieffer. 

“You know, it hasn’t really sunk in yet,” says Matthew Kieffer about his Victoria College convocation ceremony on June 14th.

“But it feels good. I'm happy that I can look back and be proud of the effort I put in. And now that I’m graduating, I feel like there are infinite possibilities and that I’m prepared to go forward and see what's next. It’s obviously scary but it’s also really exciting.”

Kieffer is graduating with a double major in international relations and economics, along with a minor in visual studies in the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design. The eclectic mix of studies, painting and athletics is a reflection of his enthusiasm, energy and a strong desire to explore all possibilities.

Prior to convocation, A&S News spoke to Kieffer about his undergraduate experience and his future.

Matthew Kieffer smiling

What path brought you to U of T?

Before coming to U of T, I didn’t know what I wanted to do but I was excited at the idea that there were so many possible paths to take. So, when I got here, I took a whole bunch of courses. I was in the Gooch Philosophy & Ethical Citizenship stream in the Vic One program in Victoria College. I also talked to someone who knew I didn't want to close any doors and he suggested I try international relations and economics. That sounded like what I wanted because there were quantitative courses, history, political science. Plus, I decided to do a visual arts minor as well because painting has always been important to me.

tell us about your painting and the portraits of your grandfather that were part of a student art exhibition at U of T’s Art Museum?

My grandad, who suffered from dementia, passed away when I was in Grade 10. He was a very important figure in my life and his passing was my first experience with grief. I’d taken art classes since first grade and when he died, I turned to painting. And I produced a painting of him that really touched my family and that I still think of as my best work. And that was the start of painting as an emotional outlet. It made me think: How do I portray an emotion like losing someone really important in my life? That was incredibly difficult but that's painting: learning how to communicate those feelings. So, I don't see it going away anytime soon. I think painting will always be a key part of who I am and what I do. And the visual arts program at Daniels was a win-win: I got to continue to paint as part of my studies.

Colourful painting of a senior man
Matthew Kieffer's portrait of his late grandfather, John Canvin Brown.

You were also active in athletics. What sports were you into?

In first year, I was on five different intramural teams — hockey, Ultimate Frisbee, basketball and two volleyball teams. But that was too much so I pared it down to tri-campus and intramural volleyball, and that was fantastic. That’s where I felt the greatest sense of community at U of T. Plus, my last game was the tri-campus, D-League championship game — which we won! It was an exciting game and a great way to end my U of T athletic career. Though I got a call from the Varsity Blues volleyball coach later, asking if I wanted to try out for the team — so depending on what I do next career-wise, my U of T athletic career might not be over just yet.

What are your post-graduation plans?

It’s still a bit blurry so it’s like how I felt in first year. Right now, I can’t tell you whether I want to go into the private or public sector, or become a full-time artist. But the difference now is that I’m confident things will work out and that I now know how to figure out what I want to do. In first year, I thought my career and life plan would fall from the sky and be revealed to me — but that’s not how it works. It involves trying new things and talking to people. It’s going to take a lot of experimenting and figuring out what works, sometimes by trial and error, but that’s okay.

Painting of a street scene
One of Matthew Kieffer’s streetscape watercolour paintings.

What advice would you give yourself entering your first year?

There are two things: First, take care of yourself and be kind to yourself. Undergrad is not easy. There's a bit of romanticizing the late-night library grinds and not sleeping but that's not sustainable — and I’m speaking from experience. For many people, it's the first time living on their own and, on top of schoolwork, you’re trying to figure out how to be an adult. It's not easy, so it's really important to take care of yourself because you can’t do well in school if you're not doing well in life.

And second, be yourself — unapologetically. In high school, I was an introverted kid, always worrying that I wasn’t going to make any friends, so I was always trying to fit in. But at U of T, there are so many students and so many different communities. It's not about trying to fit in — it’s about being yourself, finding your true community, and finding what makes you happy.

Originally published by the Faculty of Arts & Science