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 Photo Credit/Kevin Connery

 

“Five years later? Six? It seems like a lifetime, or at least a Main Era—the kind of peak that never comes again.”

This line from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas sets the correct tone for the thousands of us who are not going back to university in September. While Hunter S. Thompson pines for the San Francisco anti-war scene of the mid-to-late sixties in this quote, the concept of a“high-water mark” has just as much to do with age as it does with moments in history.


Universities have long been drivers of research and ideas, and natural focal points of the cities they base themselves in. Cultural tales—the most pressing of which can come from our parents—talk of a special and revolutionary time. The tellers of such tales seem to long for those days, as if their minds haven’t been opened any more since.


The obvious stresses that mix the demands of student life with those of adolescence make our eventual achievement even more satisfying. This year, achievement for ourselves and 11,000 undergraduates comes in what the University calls “a special scroll of paper, embossed with the name, crest and seal of the University of Toronto and the signatures of senior officials of the University.”


Right now, we look forward to that final day. Graduates are pomped and circumstanced, patted on the back and warmly embraced through a fancy lunch, gown and special scroll. A chapter of our lives comes to a ceremonious, but painfully obvious, close.


We are institutionalized into the student’s mindset well before university. The comforts of school are numerous, from student discounts to the sheltered microcosm of a community created by student clubs and societies. Ever since primary school, we have been dependent on educational institutions for so much of the skills we consider to be our own. Even the unpleasantries of school and the desire to be socially accepted by your classmates help to create a meaningful narrative to structure one’s life.


Moving past that structure can be daunting; the non-academic world is unsheltered and full of tremendous unknowns. Undefined due dates. No syllabus. No required readings. No tutorials. No essays worth 40 per cent of the grade. There’s no final grade to worry about. We can only create tests for ourselves, and will never be able to give ourselves a clear grade. You are left with an opened mind, and the unknowns of life simply racing to occupy that space.


It is no surprise that some simply decide to keep going. They pay even more to enter that intellectual fantasy once more, to hopefully ride the next wave to a higher mark than the last one. For others, realities that were in the background during school must take precedence. To lose the structure of school and end up working a job that does not justify your education makes it easy for former students to feel it was all for naught.


Therefore, it is important for those leaving to understand while academic accreditation and wealth do not go hand-in-hand, knowledge and potential do. Universities are not only spaces to acquire knowledge. They have also given us a guide on how to apply it.


One of the most important lessons we can glean from four years and tens of thousands of dollars is the crucial role that context plays. Context is a constant lens, securely glued to our eyeballs. Our past experiences are unique, which means every one of us will inevitably interpret a common world differently.


The black and white we know from childhood, to so easily state that one thing was ‘good’ and another ‘evil,’ continues to melt away. That viewpoint does not go easily, nor suddenly. The university experience is a key agent in its elimination. It happens slowly, through the people you hear and the daily conversations you have, and in passionate arguments, where your most cherished truths can be instantly shredded in front of you.


Thousands of perspectives lead to thousands of potential answers.


In a lot of ways, such knowledge can be as troubling as ignorance. You read up on a topic both in your classes and extra-curricularly and build up what you consider a foolproof argument. Nevertheless, confidence in your own opinion does not translate to acceptance outside the university’s insular circle. Take any (pointless) social media debate where you feel your well-thought-out argument is met with repetitive strawmen, or the experience of walking into a public space and hearing a song that was repeatedly denounced as sexist on campus.


Knowledge enables one to ask more questions and have a keen eye for where the answers could be. In our case, that pursuit continues as student journalists. We find comfort in the newspaper because writing is a rewarding experience where writers take what they learn and translate it into where they stand. In that way, at least, the student experience will never fully leave us.


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