Finishing an engineering undergraduate degree is a tremendous accomplishment for any student.
To do it while maintaining the highest grades at one of Canada's biggest and most prestigious post-secondary schools is, for most of us, unthinkable.
Sandro Young, 23, a recent graduate of the University of Toronto's engineering program, will be awarded a Governor General's Silver Medal on Tuesday morning after he earned the highest average grade point among undergraduates at all three campuses.
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"It's a little surreal," Young said in an interview with CBC's Metro Morning.
"My parents are really excited more than me at this point," he said. "They spent a lot of time and hope putting me through university, so I hope that I've made them proud."
Young majored in computer engineering and he has a particular interest in artificial intelligence.
"It has this amazing potential to change the way we interact with machines and change our relationship with computers. Everything from better medical diagnoses to self-driving cars to personal assistants — I just think it has the potential to unlock all sorts of problems that computers couldn't tackle before," he told host Matt Galloway.
'Didn't you spend all your time studying?'
Most people assume his incredible academic achievement came hand-in-hand with a life of isolation, locked away in a room studying and removed from the other opportunities university offers.
But that was not the case, Young said. In addition to his studies, he spent two years as co-president of the Spark Design Club, which creates interactive displays and puts them around campus for people to play with.
"You're doing things solely because you're interested in them and you think other people will have fun with them," he said.
"A lot of people ask me, 'Didn't you spend all your time studying?' But I think that if you try to balance things out a little bit, and if you make time for other things, then you can be more effective then when you do study."
Besides, he loved the material so hitting the books was never a "chore."
Google on the horizon
Young's interest in engineering was seeded in middle school, when he completed a science fair project. He knew then that his future would involve science and math or some combination of the two.
In the fall, Young will head for San Francisco, where he has accepted a job with Google. With its nearly limitless resources, Google offers Young a chance to take what he learned at U of T to whole different level.
"I'm very excited about machine learning and artificial intelligence and I think Google is doing some amazing things in that area, so I'm really hoping to get an opportunity to participate in that," he said.
He'll spend his summer preparing for his new gig.
And he has some advice for would-be engineers intimidated by the work load.
"Engineering has a reputation for being a lot of late nights, but I think what was great about it is that there's so many other students who are in the exact program," he said.
"So whenever you felt, 'Is this really worth it?' you could kind of look around at all the people who are in the same situation. You're not alone."