UBC student overcomes health issues to win Lieutenant Governor’s medal

Xi Yuan (Cecilia) Pang will be named the winner of the 2021 Lieutenant Governor’s Medal for Inclusion, Democracy and Reconciliation during her graduation ceremony on June 2.

Xi Yuan (Cecilia) Pang

Xi Yuan Pang recognized for contributions to promotion of democracy

Shortly before political science student Xi Yuan (Cecilia) Pang began her studies at UBC in 2017, she suffered a series of health episodes in which her lungs spontaneously collapsed.

The rare health condition, which can be fatal, required Pang to undergo several emergency surgeries.

As a result, Pang says her first year at UBC was physically and emotionally painful.

“The doctors didn’t know why this had happened,” she says. “When you’re 18 years old, it’s supposed to be an exciting time of your life starting university, but I just felt very alone.”

Despite these challenges, Pang persevered.

This week, her efforts are being acknowledged as she is named the winner of the 2021 Lieutenant Governor’s Medal for Inclusion, Democracy and Reconciliation at her graduation ceremony on June 2.

The Lieutenant Governor’s medal program recognizes outstanding students like Pang, who excel in their studies and demonstrate outstanding contributions in areas like inclusion, democracy and/or reconciliation on campus or in their communities. The medal is awarded by B.C.’s Lieutenant Governor.

Pang, who wrote her thesis on participatory politics in the era of social media, is being awarded the medal for her outstanding contribution to the promotion of democracy.

“My application was about civic engagement, which is really important to me,” she says. “While there are people in power, I believe we as the public have so much capacity to make change happen by collaborating with and advocating for one another.”

Pang’s application stood out due to the commitment she has demonstrated through nearly a decade’s worth of engagement to promoting civic engagement, says Dr. Benjamin Cheung, lecturer in the department of psychology and a member of the award’s selection committee.

“The combination of this dedication, along with the impressive scope of the impact her involvement has had, made her a particularly impressive candidate and an especially suitable winner for the Lieutenant Governor’s Medal,” says Dr. Cheung.

Outside of her studies, Pang, who is from Surrey, was managing editor at UBC’s IONA Economic Journal and volunteered as a policy consultant for Canada’s inaugural Youth Policy.

Currently, she serves as a board director for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society’s B.C. chapter and spearheads civic engagement initiatives in Vancouver as a World Economic Forum Global Shaper.

She also spends time writing creative non-fiction and has completed a manuscript called Coming Up For Air that she hopes to one day self-publish. Pang says writing has helped her process the pain from her health challenges and motivates her each day to use her passion and privilege to do more in support of those around her.

“While navigating my health journey, I found resiliency and collective solidarity through sharing my story and others’ stories. I write because I want to ensure that others going through something painful can feel seen and less alone,” says Pang. “Perhaps, we feel that we can’t go on, but we will go on because someone out there cares and has enough faith in us that we can overcome whatever it is that we are tackling.”

While she’s grateful for winning the award, Pang emphasizes that she couldn’t have done it alone. She credits political science professors Dr. Anna Jurkevics and Dr. Mark Warren for inspiring her interests in civic engagement and participation.

“I’m really lucky to have crossed paths with people who have championed me and unwaveringly supported my growth in pursuit of my goals,” she says. “This award means so much more than just recognition for my work – it’s a reflection of all the people who have empowered me at UBC and played a pivotal role in fostering my success.”

After graduation, Pang plans to continue her studies in political science. She’ll be entering Columbia University this fall to pursue her master of arts.

Interview language(s): English and Mandarin.