Summer has extended this year, but sadly summer break has not. I’d spent most of my four months doing research at Western, so to me summer and school had melded together. But after returning from a trip to Bruce Peninsula a week ago, it hit me: I am heading into my last year as an undergraduate. Over the past four years, I’ve experienced all the excitement, the stresses, the gratification, the heartbreak that university has to offer, and emerged more or less whole. Here are some things I’ve learned in the process. They may come to you as unsolicited advice, as timely words of encouragement, or as marks of camaraderie that tells you that you, too, have been on this unforgettable journey. I make no claims on any special wisdom or intelligence; I simply observe and learn.
On making friends
If you feel lonely, you are not alone. Those of us who act like the most confident, seem the most beautiful, athletic or intelligent may also be the most insecure. Do not let loneliness push you to do things against your values. Do not let it make you bitter and proud. Make friends that you look up to. I am constantly surrounded by passionate people whom I admire, and whom I feel honoured to be friends with. I hope you’ll feel that way too.
I was never a huge party-er, but I recommend that you check them out. They will challenge you, and offer practical lessons on human behaviour. Pay particular attention (you probably naturally will) to how girls and guys interact. Food and sex are basic human desires, and the means by which people attain the latter provide insight on how they establish value, motivate desire, compete and cooperate. As for food, parties are a great place for those too.
On your parents
University might be the first time you’re living away from your parents. More importantly, this might be when you discover your own values apart from them. You will find that, like it or not, your parents have left indelible marks on your identity. Try not to resent that. I know my parents have made many personal sacrifices so that I could explore, feel lost and make mistakes. It’s my luck to do so.
Relationships can be boiled down to a few types: mutualism (in which case you hold on tight), commensalism (which ultimately becomes one of the other types), parasitism (hold on if you’re the parasite), and competition (which is more common than you think). That’s the extent of my experience in this matter.
On taking a few risks
University is the perfect time to do things simply because you believe in them, enjoy them, or for no reason at all. I joined the comedy club for a few weeks in first year; it was the most uncomfortable experience in my life. When I started the science case competition (shameless plug here), I did it because I believed in it. If I were a working adult, I’d have to consider things like money and family. But I was an undergraduate who had neither. So are you.
Don’t let grades get in the way of your learning. I once spent an entire semester without looking at my marks. It was my most stress free semester, even though I was overloading on courses and heavily involved in extracurriculars. I aced that semester.
A good professor can trump course material. Philosophy never interested me until I took Dr. Thorpe’s philosophy course.
Choosing between an interesting course and a bird course is an art. Tough courses can really build you up in the long run. I took a Discrete Mathematics course in second year without even knowing what a proof and a truth table are. I couldn’t understand anything in class, so I learned the material by myself, and did well. Now I no longer fear proofs.
The biggest lesson I’ve come to appreciate is that there is no stupid idea. An idea may be wrong, it may be unwarranted or it may not be conducive to the circumstance, but to call it stupid is a value judgement. Ideas are held by people, and people should be intrinsically valued, regardless of their beliefs. I hope you’ll appreciate this after four years.
On the future
If you look around you, many of your peers may seem to know exactly what they are going to do. Don’t let that worry you. The further you go, the more aware you become of your own uncertainty. So far your school life has been a linear process, but real life is not.
I hope I do not sound too preachy, but these are some things I wish I’d heard when I first entered university. I wish you will make the most of your four years, to challenge yourself personally and professionally, and to grow as a human being. This will be one of the most unforgettable experiences in your life. Grasp on. Make it count. It’s over sooner than you think.
Have an awesome year.