Alex Trachsell, Staff Writer
The most surprising thing I learned in my first few months of high school was that most people were actually more interested in university than high school. The sentiment seemed to be that high school was going to be four years of April showers that would payoff in university. For example, I would hear students remark how they needed to get a good mark on this next project, since universities might check your grade nine marks in the event that you apply for early admission, your grade ten marks are destroyed in a computer crash, and you’re born on the third week of the month. Similarly, those who mentioned they did badly after a test would be (good-heartedly) teased that they wouldn’t get into university. In hindsight, it seems ridiculous that my friends (who were/are straight-A nerds) would cheat to get a 98% over the 95% they would have otherwise gotten.
And it wasn’t all about marks. Clubs would be founded so that someone could quickly write down “founder” on a resume or application and then the club would fade away just as quickly.
Four years later I found myself signing up for my first-year courses. I was talking to my extended family about the pros and cons of the courses I was interested in and the potential in the majors I was considering, when my uncle Jim pointed out that university is really all about the connections you make. At first, I didn’t really understand this. The unique aspect of university is getting to learn the material from professors even more enthralled by it, right? I guess it’ll be nice to interact with other like-minded people, but I can find like-minded people anywhere. PHL100 (Intro to Philosophy) and CIN105 (Intro to Cinema Studies) were the real reasons I was excited about university. I wanted to learn what they had to teach – not network (I’ll take a pause for Rotman students to stop laughing and get up off the floor).
Then, in orientation week, I found that ol’ Jim was right. Every student with a clue seemed to be asking about networking, strategic career moves, and ways to get ahead. Afterwards, I found the same sentiment when speaking with my high school friends —the same ones who believed that high school was the April showers to university’s May flowers. Thus, it turned out that the goal post had been moved. It would be the four years of undergrad which would be the April showers to your master’s or career’s May flowers.
So the question is, when will May arrive with its flowers? My suspicion is that it never will. The issue with the get-ahead mentality is that it has no intrinsic end because there will always be other people to get ahead of. Without an idea of where one wants to end up (be it at a certain job or a certain comfort of living), the desire to compete will leave one in a permanent hustle-filled April shower. Unfortunately, I think this is a fate that many students are consigned to, considering that most eighteen/nineteen-year-old first-years are unlikely to know exactly where they’re going, just that they need to get there first.
“You’ll find your place eventually,” I already hear the wise and learned say in response. While this may be true, there’s something empty, borderline unhealthy about the experience trying to get ahead without knowing where you’re going, just waiting in the hope that you’ll strike gold. You could end up feeling like you’re just going through the motions — a feeling which has likely been heightened in many students since school moved online. As such, it seems like the best option for students who aren’t bee-lining a certain career is to prioritize finding topics which pique their interest.
While this seems like the obvious decision that any laid-back op-ed writer would endorse as if it’s some kind of revelation, I wouldn’t for a second suggest that anything about university or the job market supports sampling different interests. Like it or not, I think that those students I met during the orientation had the right mindset. So far as four-year stretches go, the four years of undergrad are almost certainly the most influential years of schooling in one’s life. As such, university is probably the most efficient time to get ahead if you had to pick a time. Furthermore, giving up getting ahead means that you will be surrounded by people who are getting ahead everywhere you go. Thus, wherever you end up, you’ll be far behind everyone else. Along the same lines, our scholarships aren’t awarded to people who participate in ten initiatives; they’re awarded to the student who gets ahead and leads one initiative.
In the end, I think the right decision is unique to each individual. If you can and enjoy weathering the storm for however long it rages, participating in an aimless race to get ahead, then don’t let me stop you.
On the other hand, if you feel comfortable giving up getting ahead and smelling the roses, finding your passion should be your priority. If, like me, you were excited for university for its courses and textbooks rather than its potential to skyrocket your career chances, then there’s no shame in embracing the book. Sure, university might be the best chance you have to move up the ladder, but it may well be that the opportunity cost is too high for some. I, for one, don’t remember hearing a justification for why all students should be sacrificing their enjoyment of the university experience, turning it into another four years of April showers, for some vaguely defined later payoff. You’re going to live through both university and your future, so why not let the May flowers arrive now, before the April showers? I always thought that was a stupid saying.