Thursday, April 8, 2010

I'm Telling All of Y'all, It's Gratitude!

I am on a roll! While some days are the kind of days that makes you want to hide under the covers, weeping and eating Fudgee-os out of the package until your tonsils are sugar-burned, these days I'm having are more the type with the heart-burstingly good moods. The sushi lunch dates with friends. The patio-beers. The congratulations on the graduation from university.

That's right: after 8 years of slogging away, often through a pit of despair, my graduation from the University of Toronto is upon us.

Much like raising a child or doing the seal hunt, I've often felt like my travels through post-secondary education has taken the proverbial village. My family, who have never thrown their hands up in complete despair (even though I've often wanted to), deserve the most knee-shredding gratitude. My parents have always been so supportive of my meandering journey towards a degree: way back in 2002, when I was three months in and wanted to give up/transfer/die, they encouraged me to look at alternatives: time off - which I took, to the tune of two years off over the last eight - and considering a transfer. I ended up parking my butt at U of T for the entire time, but my mom and dad got me to think critically about school. What purpose does it serve? What's so special about U of T? Do you want spaghetti for dinner?

My circle of friends has also been amazing. My friends were encouraging no matter how many years I decided to run around campus. They would just shrug and say, "Well, you'll get there eventually." This would usually be in response to one of those I'm-a-loser meltdowns that will happen to those of us who Van Wilder'ed their way through school. It's a little tough to keep the courage of your convictions in the face of wildly accomplished folks - like many of my friends - but they were never judgemental or condescending. They would usually just pat my head and send me back to the books.

At the same time, while many of them blasted through school in the standard-issue four years, a lot of my friends took more time. Stretching out school-time isn't a bad thing: your late teens and early twenties are a time of enormous personal growth (God, could I sound any more California?), and sometimes, floundering is good for the soul. It was hugely helpful to have people in my social circle who decided to go slow, to try different courses, to take time off. It made me feel like less of an anomaly, and more like I was part of a slowed-down school of thought re: university.

On the other hand, the most off-putting and frustrating part of being a student was dealing with the school. My first registrar was so unhelpful. Saint Mike's, the first college, gave me the first-year residence experience that ruined everything in 2003: the food, my sleep, my social life, my interest in religion. Seriously? The dorm rooms had honest-to-God crucifixes over every door. I was expecting something a little less Rosemary's Baby from my college experience. I eventually switched colleges altogether, to the much more accommodating Innis College (and this was a great choice - they are so nice and so professional).

Many of professors were terrible teachers, terrible people, or both. I don't think profs are required to go through the same teaching courses that other educators need, and sometimes, this shows in the quality of the courses. For example, one of my profs this year was a PhD student who had never taught before; he used to spam our inboxes, give us confusing "assignments" that turned out to be bibliograpies, had no real idea of how to lecture, and, when approached one-on-one, seemed to be a weird blend of shy and arrogant. I've had other, much lovelier educational experiences here, but the lousy ones tend to stick with you.

Now that it's over and done - I was telling a friend last night that I am never writing anything for U of T again, even for money - I know that I wouldn't be the person I am now if I had gone anywhere else. I needed the shitty first year, the crappy beaurocracy, the wonderful friends, the family support, the stutter-stops and false starts, the ex-boyfriends, the weight fluctuations, the breakdowns and the triumphs, to become who I am today. The University of Toronto, maybe universities everywhere, produced a graduate much like itself: flawed, smart, good-looking (tee hee!), funny-haha, funny-weird, and interested in the world around it.



    Seriously, congratulations.


  2. Firstly, congratulations. Entering my tenth year of university, and with only one degree, so far, to show for it, I can empathise completely with the crushing despair that occasionally overwhelms, and the hard work it takes to actually get there - so good work!

    Secondly, I read an article recently (here: advocating the reconfiguration of the pathway to academia. Essentially the point is that some people are better suited to teaching, and others to research - neither should be forced to fit themselves into the other role. Obviously this is a pretty uncontroversial statement, yet in Canada, the US, Australia (and presumably most other places), it's not possible to focus on just one field.

    I'm heading down the academic pathway myself (I'd wanna be, with ten years down), and although I'm very enthused about the research side of things, the idea of lecturing to crowded classrooms full of bright young things strikes a paralysing fear into my heart; I don't wanna I don't wanna I don't wanna. But I guess, unless things change, I'll just have to.