Yu Sun's path to convocation: A journey of triumph and resilience

May 24, 2024 by Kate Baggott - Department of Economics

Yu Sun’s convocation on June 20th will turn the New College member into an alum of the University of Toronto, class of 2024. Every ceremony in Convocation Hall is different for every student. For Sun, it is a victory over all the times he almost gave up on university.

“The first year of university is always a big adjustment. There were problems with making friendships and with relationships, and I was surrounded by people who were thriving and getting good marks while I was getting very, very poor marks and my mental health was affected,” Sun remembered. “And I felt I couldn’t tell my parents. I preferred to tell them only positive things, but I questioned whether being at U of T was really the path for me.”

There were soon to be even fewer positive things for the struggling student to talk about. COVID meant that Sun had to leave Toronto and study remotely. Then, during lock down, an immediate family member died. Grief accompanied him back to campus when in-person classes resumed.

And then something positive happened — Sun discovered health economics.

“Health economics just spoke to me,” he said. “First and second year is microeconomics and macroeconomics focussed, it’s all very theoretical and general. Suddenly, learning in the context of health made everything meaningful to me.”

That discovery of meaning triggered Sun to take a single practical step. That step would lead to a life-changing series of actions. Sharing what those actions were, Sun hopes, will help other students who are struggling with difficult life issues to complete their degrees.

Building relationships with faculty members

“In third year, when I took health economics, I also took behavioural economics with Professor Robert Gazzale,” Sun remembered. “One day, I just did not know what to do and I just told him about how I was struggling and what was going on with me. After he heard everything, he referred me to Accessibility Services and, after setting up appointments with them, it absolutely changed my world.”

From that first conversation with Gazzale, the current undergraduate chair of economics and in-coming New College principal, Sun decided to build relationships with all his professors.

“A lot of students neglect speaking up in class to interact with the professor, they neglect the need to approach to the professors after class and at office hours,” Sun said. “I think that’s absolutely the biggest thing that I changed. A lot of people just focus on grades, but forging relationships with our professors can help all of us beyond grades and beyond school.”

Access available resources

The University of Toronto has resources available to help students deal with many life issues. It also has a lot of students, so there may be wait times to access those resources, but patience and persistence can go a long way.

“There are psychiatrists, there are counseling services, you can release your worries and stress, you don’t have to stay stuck inside yourself,” Sun said. “I have seen many friends that have had depression fall into more severe depression and some of them chose not to continue with school. There are options that will help you, but you have to find them, you have to make the appointments and you have to keep to the appointments.”

Sun speaks especially highly of Accessibility Services.

“I created my learning strategy with them, I saw professionals recommended by them, and was ultimately diagnosed with ADHD,” Sun explained. “From there, they helped define accommodations — like writing exams in a private room — that helped me to dramatically change my grades.”

Take Your Time and Contribute

Sun experienced academic success during the final 18 months of his degree in economics and statistics. Finding a field he loved, and putting appropriate learning supports in place, meant that Sun’s degree took two semesters longer than he and his family had planned. Like most parents, Sun’s father expected him to contribute to funding his education.

“I have two younger siblings who also need to go to university,” he said. “And Toronto is the most expensive city to live in! I had all kinds of part-time jobs to earn money. At one point, I even walked to do Uber Eats deliveries. I feel so sorry for my customers. Ultimately, I really only managed to do it because my father believed in me.”

Sun is deeply grateful for both of his parents, ChengLong Sun and XiaoJuan Su. They took extra risks on their oldest child. In September, he will begin a master’s degree in health informatics at Yale University.