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Love of books inspires award-winning alumnus

SILVER STREAK: Recent alumnus Matthew Fellion won the U of T Governor General's Silver Medal and a host of other awards as the university's most academically outstanding graduate. (Photo by Ken Jones.)

by Stephanie Kang

Matthew Fellion, a recent English graduate at the University of Toronto Scarborough, is the recipient of two prestigious graduation awards, the culmination of an undergraduate career in which he earned a degree while doing what he loves.

The 21-year-old native of Pickering, Ontario, was awarded the University of Toronto Governor General’s Silver Medal, given to the most academically outstanding graduate in humanities, social sciences, or commerce at all three campuses. He also received the John Black Aird Award, given to the top graduate from a bachelor’s degree program at U of T. Fellion is believed to be only the second student from the Scarborough campus to win both awards, after Wojciech Golab in 2002.

While a student, Fellion was named a University of Toronto Scholar each year, as well as being recognized for the Oxford English Essay Prize, the Margeson Scholarship in English, the Humanities Prize, and the Karlheinz Theil Prize in English. He recently completed his Honours Bachelor of Arts in English.

Asked about his reaction to these accolades, Fellion humbly replies, “I don’t love getting up in front of people to be applauded. I’d much rather talk about books.”

His love of books is evident in his conversation. Now pursuing a PhD at Cornell University, he cites his favorite book as The Ordeal of Richard Feverel by George Meredith. He hopes to study it further as part of his graduate school research. Other favorite writers of his are: Jonathan Swift, Charles Dickens, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Oscar Wilde, Alexander Pope, and Jane Austen.

English professor Christine Bolus-Reichert of the department of humanities describes Fellion as an extremely skilled writer and analyst. “Matthew is quite simply, the best undergraduate I've taught in seven years at the University of Toronto,” says Bolus-Reichert. “He has a brilliant critical mind that is vigorous and flexible, and he is an unusually gifted writer. It’s often said that we learn from our students -- and that’s really true in the case of Matthew. He developed critical terms and approaches in his essays that I found myself writing down, and expressed ideas that I wanted to remember for the next time I taught the course. He's one of those rare critics who knows how to do things with texts -- and I'm looking forward to reading whatever he does next.”

Those comments are echoed by English professor Neil ten Kortenaar. “Matthew Fellion was the most sophisticated student I have ever taught,” he says. “As an undergraduate, he was already working at an advanced graduate level. We often have bright students who can write fine papers, but Matthew stood out because he was able to generate fine questions of his own and find answers for them. He was always a few steps ahead of not just the class but of me, the teacher, in that regard. All his ideas were offered as gifts to the class: there was never any desire to impress, nor any need to prove others wrong -- just a genuine desire to share his discoveries. And the class, me included, readily recognized the worth of his ideas and shared his excitement.”

Fellion said he has accomplished what every graduate wants to accomplish: he has earned a university degree while doing what he loves. His long-term goal is to become a university professor, because he will be able to pursue his passion for “getting up in front of people and talking about books.”

Fellion is aiming to complete his PhD within five years. His graduate research will focus on Victorian literature. He is particularly interested in “the devices by which Victorian novelists call attention to the artifice of their novels, as well as by the devices by which they deflect such attention, and how these two sets of devices work differently to transform the matter of life into art.”

Fellion credits much of his decision to focus on Victorian literature to Prof. Bolus-Reichert. “She enjoys Victorian literature so much and has so much fun with it that I think it rubbed off on me — her classes really clicked with me.”

A love of literature has fuelled Fellion’s interest, he admits, adding that he never let school get in the way of his education. Obtaining high marks is not what motivates him, he says. “I try not to think too much about that, and usually I’m pleasantly surprised with papers because I’m tougher on myself,” he says. “It’s natural to be your own toughest critic, so usually I’m dissatisfied with my paper, and so if the professor likes it, that’s more than I was hoping for.”

Even when asked — off the record — if he hated any of his courses, Fellion answers that “even if I don’t particularly like the material, I see all courses as giving me something that I can take and use in the future.”

Fellion describes his years at the University of Toronto Scarborough as “highly enjoyable, particularly because of the sense of community that I got, given the size of the campus. I really liked being able to know all my professors and most of the people in my program. I don’t think you can get that in a university with enormous class sizes and a huge faculty.”

Stephanie Kang is a third-year student in Humanities at the University of Toronto Scarborough. She is currently working as a co-op student in Marketing and Communications.


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