What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?

We posed this question and you answered in earnest. Here are just some of the myriad and moving ways in which UBC alumni have shown courage, embraced uncertainty, and leapt — quite literally — out of their comfort zones.

Reaching new heights

I learned to fly a plane in my fifties in both Canada and the US, despite every instructor making me cry.

~ Cathalynn Labonte-Smith, BFA’86, BEd’05


Eleven years ago, I put 45 pounds of paragliding gear on my back, bicycled from my home in Kitsilano to the base of Grouse Mountain, hiked up to the Peak, and glided down, finally returning home via bike. A lot of things could’ve gone wrong, but it ended up being a very satisfying and exhilarating day (all captured in this short documentary).

~ Bill Nikolai, BA’80, MEd’86, MLIS’08

Bill Nikolai paragliding with a panoramic view of Grouse Mountain beneath him
"Paragliding definitely puts me in touch with the tenuousness of life. We can easily drift through things we do every day without thinking about our demise, and I think it’s healthy to go there sometimes.” ~ Bill Nikolai in ParaGrinding. Photo courtesy of Bill.

Training for Everest and summiting Aconcagua in Argentina (~6,950 metres).

~ John Yagi, BSc’75 (Pharmacy)


Bungee jumping in -20 degrees Celsius. It was winter time, snowing, and extremely challenging.

~ Cindy Seto, BA’22


I took a flight in a Spitfire plane in August 2023 over southern England from Biggin Hill in Kent. I took control of the plane several times and did two Victory Rolls (under the control of the main pilot). The Victory Rolls were something else — one was not enough, so I asked for a second! It was an experience of a lifetime.

~ Pamela Hagen, PhD’14

Pamela Hagen (who is seated behind the pilot in the photo on the left) enjoys the experience of a lifetime in a Spitfire plane. Photos courtesy of Pamela.

Challenging the inner critic

When considering bravery, many envision a valiant, life-changing effort, but I believe the most underappreciated form of bravery is the kind we can participate in on a day-to-day basis simply by disrupting the mundane. Overcoming your imposter syndrome and denying the negative self-feedback loop in your head is not only difficult, but courageous.

I did this recently by forcing myself out of my comfort zone and taking up Brazilian jiu-jitsu at the ripe age of 29. I was frankly terrified to try it as I was worried I was out of shape, too “old,” and that I would be one of the few, if not only, women in class. Now, I’m six months in with a few stripes on my belt, and I’ve never been more confident in myself.

Often, we’re our own biggest obstacle in moving forward, so be brave by doing something that scares you once in a while, and you might be surprised by the growth you can experience.

~ Alexandra Kelley-Chessman, BA’17

Alexandra Kelley-Chessman (right) demonstrates a hip throw with her sparring partner Emily, who is also a UBC alum. Photos courtesy of Alexandra.

Showing up every single day

I’ve always had social anxiety. Basic social cues elude me. I react to jokes a few seconds too late, always make references just the wrong amount of niche. Worst is what to wear to any sort of event — the phrase “business casual” is the bane of my existence.

I’ve studied abroad in four different countries, paying my own way and planning every step. When I first moved to Vancouver, I’d purposefully go for walks at night downtown to inure myself to living in a city after being in rural areas and small towns for most of my life. I’ve done most of these things to feel brave, because so many small things — social things that most “normal” people seem to find fun — terrify me.

I recognize that I need to engage in a part of society I barely understand in order to make lasting connections. Most of my friends are people I’ve had to reach out to, had to brave the chance of being rejected. I value the people in my life more than anything. They make being brave worth it.

Being brave is making those leaps of faith over and over again, putting myself on display. Bravery is being ghosted after all social cues and messages signified enjoyment. It’s wondering what I possibly did wrong, wondering if I should ask what I needed to improve about myself before moving on, trying yet another group: a book club, a crafting corner, an animal shelter volunteer group chat. Putting myself out there, willingly being vulnerable and open, is my version of bravery.

I’ve made peace with the fact that I’m an odd duck. I’ll never get that Hollywood moment where things click together and I find myself the life of the party. I'll never truly understand social media or have the right accounts at just the right time. Realizing that I’ll always be out of the loop, and potentially the butt of the joke, but continuing to throw myself out there, to be uncomfortable for the sake of engaging with the world, is bravery that I work at every single day.

~ UBC grad, MLIS’23

Crossing countries and continents


I moved to Harare, Zimbabwe, alone when I was 21.

I had just finished an English degree at UBC and was looking for a writing job when the dot-com bubble was bursting in Vancouver. So I got connected with the Commonwealth of Learning (an intergovernmental organization) out of UBC and landed a job as an editorial assistant at an African non-profit.

I was 21 years old and hopped on a plane by myself, having never met anyone on the other side, and it was one of the best experiences of my life.

~ Jennifer Lee, BA’01

Turning a breakdown into a breakthrough

I grew up on autopilot, doing what was “best” for me without question.

I got into UBC, earned good grades, chose a “practical” major in Finance, and secured a solid first job. But three years after graduation, I felt empty.

I couldn’t shake the visceral feeling, the intrusive thoughts of wanting more — more of what exactly, I couldn’t tell you.

I was told my life would be good, but why didn’t it feel good? Life doesn’t owe me a thing, I know. Maybe I’m just entitled. I didn’t know what I wanted. But I wanted more.

On October 23, 2023, I broke down. I cried ugly tears and finally confided in my partner. Looking back, that was my greatest act of self-love, altering the trajectory of my life. Up until that point, I had been wary of showing my true emotions, what I perceived as “weakness.” I was terrified of appearing vulnerable and was cruel to myself.

But opening up and being vulnerable made me realize that I wasn’t alone. It was the bravest thing I've ever done because it shattered the façade of strength I had built around myself.

In the process, I discovered that many of my friends felt the same way — stuck and unsure of their paths.

Acknowledging and accepting my feelings was the first step toward changing how I felt. It took immense courage to face my internal battles head-on.

I realized that I was unfulfilled and lacked purpose. I had been suppressing myself all these years, doing what I was supposed to do.

Not anymore. I gained the courage to stop seeking permission and to explore my curiosities. I started inhaling self-help books, working out regularly, and focusing on becoming 1% better each day. These small, consistent actions built up my confidence.

Eventually, this journey led me to create GradSimple — a free resource to help college students and graduates find their way after graduation. Through GradSimple, I aim to show others that it's okay to not have everything figured out.

I've never been happier, and I feel like I’ve finally found a purpose to live for.

~ Tyler Yip, BCom’21

Persevering against the odds

I continued pursuing my dreams of becoming a doctor despite a difficult diagnosis at age 20 and the challenges that laid ahead after this diagnosis. I continue to push for this dream every day, and I am grateful for the unwavering support I have received, for my determination toward this dream, and for the self-advocacy I have demonstrated in different circumstances.

Some dreams are worth fighting for and this is one of them. :)

~ Maryam Momen, BSc’20

Becoming the eye of the hurricane

The journey towards making the decision to have brain surgery to remove a tumour in 2023 was an odyssey of learning for me.

I was scared that I would not survive (two of the three others in the recovery room with me did not survive), or if I did, that I would come out with a deficit (my sight was significantly affected) or no longer be who I was.

I was unsure what the right decision was. But what I did know was that my decision had to be the right decision for me.

How did I decide? First, the surgeon told me that there were no wrong answers, that whatever I decided would be right for me. Second, the advice to consider what action my future self would thank me for was instrumental in helping me to get in touch with my inner wisdom. And third, I practiced gratitude for the things that Tu-Me the tumour taught me: to live in the moment and find joy each and every day, especially on the dark days; that we do not get through “this thing called life” alone, that accepting help is a state of grace; and to celebrate change, including my transformation into Nu-Me.

So I had the surgery. A year later I am doing well, and my present self does, indeed, thank my past self for her bravery.

I learned many more things, but the above is a formula that can be used for all kinds of life decisions. If you can learn to live in the eye of the hurricane, then you will survive and thrive.

Me? Now? Not only do I live in the eye of the hurricane, I have become the eye of the hurricane! It is the challenging times that help us grow as we are disinclined to disrupt our comfortable lives by changing and growing.

So I am thankful for Tu-Me for teaching me courage, grace under pressure, and gratitude to the wonderful souls that helped me through.

Good luck, my friends. Be brave, be compassionate, but above all, practice gratitude. 

~ Shelley Tucker, MMEd’21

Alchemizing hardship into hope

The bravest thing I have ever done is relentlessly pursue a dream born amid chaos and suffering. Growing up in Sri Lanka during the Civil War, I witnessed the devastating impacts of chemical warfare firsthand. Many, including my family members, suffered from severe health conditions like cancer due to exposure to harmful chemicals. This harsh reality sparked my desire to mitigate such suffering through technology and innovation.

My journey to actualize this dream has taken me across continents, from West Africa to the Middle East and finally to North America. Each move was driven by the pursuit of knowledge and the hope of making a meaningful difference. Choosing to come to UBC to study Biomedical Engineering for my undergraduate degree in 2019 was a pivotal decision. It was not just about education; it was about using the knowledge and skills I have learned from classrooms to help the community around me and worldwide.

In my first year in Canada, I co-founded the MEDIC Foundation. This non-profit organization is dedicated to researching and innovating healthcare solutions for individuals affected by chronic disease worldwide. By 2023, my commitment to healthcare had deepened further, leading me to co-found another charitable organization aimed at improving healthcare access in low-resource regions, and by partnering with the Rotary Club, we have begun impactful collaborations in Nigeria and Liberia.

Reflecting on my journey, the bravest thing I have done is not just surviving a war or moving continents, but choosing to transform my experiences into a force for good. At UBC, I have not only pursued a degree; I have also pursued a mission to ensure that no one, regardless of where they are born, must be affected because of inadequate healthcare.

~ Madhini Vigneswaran, BASc’24

Proposing to the love of his life 

I fell in love the instant I saw her, when we met at a post-Christmas exams party (hosted by my then-current girlfriend).

After a year, she had obtained her Education certificate and had moved to Oliver, BC. We wrote letters to each other almost daily (this was before email, Messenger, the internet…).

She came home to visit her parents in Burnaby for Thanksgiving weekend. I went there the day she arrived to take her out on a date. I popped the question almost instantly after she opened the door.

“Where is the danger here?” you may well ask. Answer: What if she says no?

How did this all turn out? So far, so good; Bev and I are coming up on our 58th wedding anniversary in July.

~ Bill Fane, BASc’66

Bill and Bev Fane on their wedding day in 1966
Bill and Bev Fane on their wedding day on July 9, 1966. Photo courtesy of Bill.

Buying a life-altering bus ticket

"I can't live like this anymore."

That was what I said to my Employment Officer in October of 1980, when I was looking for a fruit-picking job in Vernon, BC.

I still remember his response: "Buy a bus ticket to Kelowna and check into rehab." I followed his sage advice and 20 years later I obtained my degree from UBC. I’m grateful to all the people who have helped me in this life so far.

~ UBC grad, BA’00

Starting over

"What can I do for you?" the therapist asked.

“Help me decide if I can leave my husband,” I replied.

And so began the journey.

Was I able to leave my husband of 30 years, figure out how to manage financially on my own, stand firm, watch his pain, and know I'd caused it? Could I be responsible for breaking up our family, chance losing my children's love and respect, learn to handle insurance, car maintenance, housing, travel arrangements?

Could I still feel I was enough, tell my friends and hope they wouldn't take sides, know there would be times I'd question my decision, accept that I would be lonely, deal with the yearning and the sadness, live with the past, and imagine a future?


Starting over on my own was definitely braver than birthing babies, reading my poetry in public for the first time, walking on a log across a river with a full backpack on, whizzing down the waterslide at English Bay, or zipping one mile across the gorge at Selvatura Park in Costa Rica.

The second bravest thing? Submitting this.

~ Helen Gowans, BSc’77 (Rehabilitation)