Convocation ‘20: Johann Pitter

Facing Challenges, Finding a Passion

Donna McKinnon - 05 June 2020

For most students, the journey through academia is rarely smooth. This was the experience of Johann Pitter, who navigated a number of challenges as an undergraduate including multiple program changes, full-time work and a family environment that was less than supportive of his post-secondary pursuits.

Johann persevered, however, and eventually found his passion learning about his own Venezuelan heritage through the honors program in Spanish and Latin American Studies. From that point on, Johann’s boundless intellectual curiosity, enthusiasm and capacity for hard work – as noted by his honors supervisor Marisa Bortolussi – positioned him for success.

This fall, Johann will begin a masters program in Hispanic Studies at the University of British Columbia, with the goal of obtaining, eventually, a PhD.

What drew you to the area of your study?

So my academic path is truly crazy. After transferring faculties twice I discovered what I am truly passionate about. What began as curiosity for my Venezuelan heritage in a couple of my Spanish classes, became the subject of many sleepless nights. I can say that becoming part of the honors program gave me a safe space to explore this passion. I feel that the material I study/studied does not only affect Venezuelan issues, but rather the issues and ideas explored could and have given me a better understanding of international issues. The new focus of my studies more specifically will deal with how immigrants perceive themselves in an attempt to better understand their potential struggles and experiences.

What is the most remarkable thing you learned while you were a student?

Theory. Honestly the theoretical knowledge from thinkers like Guy Debord, Mikhael Bakhtin, Walter Benjamin, and Chomsky has really changed my perspective on everything in our modern world. But in a more general manner, the two most important things I learned through my studies were: time management and the importance of trusting your writing skills.

Did you face any significant challenges, and if so, how did you deal with it? 

Yes. I dealt with a lot of familial and personal issues at the beginning of my academic career. It even resulted in me being placed on academic probation. Obviously at that point my motivation and drive to study were very low. This all changed after I moved out and started to live by myself, for myself. This change in my environment helped me restructure my priorities and helped me focus on my studies. After doing so, not only was I able to clear my academic probation and just get into the honors program, I was also able to win multiple well-known scholarships and was accepted into a well-regarded masters program. Facing my problems head on proved to be the right choice for my situation, and I am glad that I was able to do so.

How did you manage the challenges of navigating student life under COVID-19 restrictions and remote learning?

So Covid-19 is a unique situation for everyone, and although people like to joke around and say that perhaps they were “already social distancing” before covid started, the ramifications of it have truly transcended our world. Personally I have seen people go through a lot of mental breakdowns and depression episodes because of the lack of human connection as a result of the social distancing. And I am not going to lie, the beginning of my self-imposed 14-day quarantine (due to three possible exposure points) was terrifying. Online classes have obviously been another issue. The personal touch, the human connection, the body language, everything that makes up our “silent” signs and language were removed from the environment. Now there is barely any way to gauge the engagement of the class, no way to truly ‘connect’ with one another.

On that same token, I am a firm believer that art is a cathartic mechanism, and thankfully I have found refuge on a specific piece - Death Stranding. Although a very unorthodox and loose way of defining a video game as a piece of art, Hideo Kojima created a world in which human connection is virtually impossible. So playing through that has truly helped my confinement at home. Plus after my quarantine my job was able to hire me back on a semi-full time basis so now my mind is busier with simpler things.

What piece of advice do you wish someone had given you when you started?

Do not doubt yourself, and focus on your studies.


The Future is Arts! This story is part of a series celebrating our graduates. Please join us for a virtual convocation, Friday, June 12, at 10 a.m. MST. at Registration is not required.