Week 15 – Graduation: My valedictorian speech & video

I was voted valedictorian approximately 10 days out from graduation. As I mentioned my week 14 post, I didn’t really expect for this to happen. It is an honour to be recognized this way by my peers, even more so because this is a career-changing move for me to have pursued pastry school.

After all was said and done, I had two evenings to myself to polish my speech and on the eve of graduation I managed to put a video together. A six-minute recap of our summer at North West. Actually, I am going to save the video until the end, and first I will share a version of my speech.


Note: I have cut out some parts that are really just relevant to those who were there, and for my classmates. Some of this was also ad-libbed to, of which, I cannot full recount.

Jeanette’s Valedictorian Speech
Northwest Culinary Academy of Vancouver | Summer 2014

“For those of you here who do not know me, my name is Jeanette, and I want to briefly share a little bit about myself and how I came to stand here today.

I have loved to bake ever since I can remember. And I have always wanted to go to pastry school. But I ended up on a different path out of high school, went to university, and ended up with a career in communications.

I worked on some amazing projects and teams, including the Vancouver 2010 Olympics and worked for some of the top charities in B.C. In each of those workplaces though, I always brought baking in to share, at every opportunity I could.

Then, each time my job changed, or a project ended, I would consider if that was the time to go to pastry school. The timing never felt quite right until last December (2013). The company I worked for decided to close my department and gave us each two months notice of termination.

I was shocked by this news but in hindsight it was also a relief. I was handed an opportunity to follow my passion, although it didn’t feel like that at the time. I will never forget that day, it was Friday the 13th. Immediately after receiving the news as I returned to my desk, I thought – this is it, I’m going to pastry school. Now is the time.

Fast forward to Valentine’s Day 2014, and I received my acceptance letter to North West Culinary Academy of Vancouver – serendipitous timing, I thought… As it was also the last day of my old job.

Leading up to our first day of pastry school, I made a commitment to myself that I was going to give this 110% effort, and I would blog about my adventures every week.

Then our first day arrived. I am sure I wasn’t the only one who didn’t sleep much the night before; anxious of being late or missing my alarm.

But as soon as I checked in, received my brand new toolkit, crisp white uniform, and met my fellow classmates, and it all felt so perfect.

And now we are here. WOW.  ………. WOW.
15 weeks
72 days
450 dozen eggs
650 pounds of butter
675 kilograms of sugar
and almost a TON of FLOUR

It has been an amazing summer working with these ingredients and we have made so many things…

Creams,​ Custards, Choux pastry, Puff pastry,
Croissants, Danishes, Pies and Tarts, ​

Two whole weeks of only bread. With flour everywhere, and in some places you don’t want flour. We enjoyed the best bread I’ve ever had in my life… Bagels to die for.

We kneaded everything by hand too! No mixers allowed, not without Chef’s permission.

And this rule became more of a challenge when we began cakes and making more meringues. At first our arms ached, and it seemed impossible to make a meringue by hand. But we perservered.

We made entremets and sponges, fondant, and doughnuts.

Then we learned about chocolate for two weeks. It was death by chocolate, I think we all experienced multiple sugar highs and crashes that week.

And then we made sugar sculptures and learned how to pull sugar.

Alternative Baking came next, learning how to cook without sugar, gluten, eggs or dairy.

On frozen dessert day we learned all about ice creams and sorbets, etc.

Dessert plating and menu development followed.

Then we made stacked cakes, learning about cake decorating basics and for many of us it was our first time making a three-tiered cake. It was pure fun.

And then our first black box exam came on a Monday morning, and then finals….

It truly went by in a flash. Every day I was amazed.

One of my favourite achievements though was learning to make a meringue.

It’s a tricky recipe of simple ingredients: sugar and egg whites. And after many failed attempts, meringues taught us about being prepared, to work clean, have patience, timing, perseverance, and learn to accept failures. It was frustrating to have a meringue not come together, but when it works, and it is glossy, smooth, voluminous and sweet – it’s very rewarding. You get to say, I made that.

——A quote that stuck with me earlier this year during my career change was:

“Don’t ask what the world needs,
do what makes you come alive.
Because the world needs is
more people who come alive.”

[Queue my real-time mini-meltdown and joy-filled tear up, followed with a pause to recollect myself and exclamation of my state of exhaustion post-exams…]

….And I felt so alive throughout my experience here at Northwest. I came to school ready to learn every day – and it has been such a happy experience. A lot of hard work, and fun at the same time.  But what really makes it all amazing is the people.

I would like to acknowledge our Chef instructors, and then briefly say something about each of my fellow pastry students. Then I have a short video for you showcasing some of the 2500 photos and videos I took this summer, for my blog – Beyond The Dough .ca

Thank you first though, to:

Lena for your stellar customer service and support…. You make a great first impression for the school and thank you for all your help.

Chef Warren  – Even though you only taught us once a week  it was helpful to have a different take on techniques. Your passion for teaching was apparent in your sometimes long-ish demos.  Thank you!

Chef Jonathan – As a fellow career changer, pursuing the culinary world, I thank you for being a role model. The day I came to observe class here, before officially becoming a student, hearing your story was helpful to me.
Thank you also for your instruction this summer.

Chef Ian – thank you for an awesome day at the farm! I will return to help more, and can’t wait.

Chef Tony and Chef Curtis – even though you weren’t directly one of my Chefs, I still learned from each of you. Thank you.

Chef Stacey – last but not least
Thank you for all your time and patience with our endless questions that seemed to pull you in different directions across the classroom. I was impressed everyday with your vast knowledge of the pastry world.

There were many moments in the term where hearing what you personally loved to make helped validate my decision to pursue pastry. Like, making little marzipan carrots and fruits, or decorating cakes, because I too love making those things.

With instructors like these guiding us through the term, we were in good hands. And then we have the students. A random mix of people that became a cohesive team oriented group in the end.

I enjoyed being partners with each of you.”

For the purpose of this blog archive I’m actually just going to paraphrase this next part. A lot of it is inside jokes, and you just had to be there.

We had a diverse class, full of hard working people. Although there were a few atypical characters, like the class clown, the notoriously punctually-challenged student, the keeners (maybe I was one of those), the ones who were smart and didn’t really need to try all that hard, and we also had a dishpit manager – the cleanest one of them all, I’m our class. Dishes would disappear almost before you made them dirty when partnered with this guy.

“While I am on that topic, I have to address the dish pit for a moment. Seriously. If it could talk then we would really know who didn’t do their dishes during exams when they were supposed to… The dish pit was also like our office-watercooler, the place where we socialized in between lessons, asking questions like “how’s your day going?” “what did you do this weekend?” It was also where you might reflect on what just happened or plan what is about to happen.”

Every student in my class will forever stand out to me for different reasons.
I am going to miss everyone of them.

“We have come so far in a short time, I can only imagine where will be in just a few months time.

NorthWest is our launch pad into this industry and while I am sad to leave, I am proud of our achievements, and know this truly just the beginning.

I wish everyone the best of luck.

Before I show my video, I have one confession. There is one thing I will not miss about our uniform and that is the hat. It may have just been the summer heat, or the material, but it was always the last thing to put on and the first to come off.

So I found a new hat to replace it with…. What do you think?




Then I shared my video.

NWCAV 2014 Summer Pastry Program (by @beyondthedough) from Jeanette LeBlanc on Vimeo.

More of our instructors spoke, and we each received our diploma. I was called first, as top of the class, and received a new knife as a gift from the school. I achieved my goal do graduating with honours as well. It was a happy day for me, smiles all around.

Then once the culinary class received there awards, a final award was given to one student for learning-excellence and extended dedication to helping out at the school.

And naturally, after all the speaking was done, we ate, and celebrated with our guests.




This may be the final chapter on pastry school, but it is not the end, it is just the beginning.

If you want to know what is next for me, I’ll keep you posted here on my blog.

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