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Reflecting On University

I always sit in the second row of any lecture I attend. Specifically, the second row 1-3 seats right or left of the dead centre. I make sure no one’s in front of me. In tutorials, I’ll sit to the immediate left or right of the professor at the roundtable. This last week, though, I was ousted from my usual seat in the tutorial and I realized what a monster of habit I was. It ultimately didn’t matter; I just sat in effectively the same spot across the table, but I realized something: I never really reflected on my decision.

Sure, I had reasons to pick the seat I usually sat in during tutorials. It made me more visible, it was empty when I got there the first day, and I didn’t mind sitting next to the lecturer. Some part of me probably thought it would incentivize me to pay more attention, but now I just check Facebook Messenger and browse the internet more covertly. After the first decision point, though, I never reflected on it and never changed my seat until accidentally ousted by a missing chair and another creature of habit.

I know I’m not the only one who does this. Week after week, I never see a shift in class seating. The arbitrary location we put our derrieres in a lecture on week one usually remains the same through week eleven with few exceptions. It’s as if after the first decision point we enter a collective hypnotism begging us to adhere to a status quo. In a display of something truly human, we do things because they are the things we do and for no better reason. Enough rambling about classroom seating and habits, though, it’s probably worth getting to my point:

Three years ago, I entered university and I believe it’s high time I thought about it.

In the US, University is just the thing you do after secondary school. I thought to myself, “I want to make a difference, and this is how you do that.” So I packed up my stuff, registered for some courses one state over, and ventured on with my life. I had grand plans for graduate school and eventual government or think tank work. Shortly after, I realized such a plan would lead to a dismal life and I’ve been dedicated myself to the ever-transparent career path “something contributing to a fulfilling life”. How, though, does school contribute to that fulfilling life?

Looking to generic university advertising, I often happen upon “problem-solving ability,” “critical thinking skills,” and the ever-coveted “employability.” I’ve found the foremost two to be at most vaguely applicable and certainly non-unique to university learning. The latter category, though more solid, fails to highlight the number of people who work entirely outside their major after graduation. Yes, even the STEM Majors. It seems the reason university grads are “more employable” is more a product of cultural preference to further education than anything else. To find what Uni provides, I think we need to look outside careers.

University ultimately gives us time. When we’re 18, fleeing our parents’ nest into the wide world, we need time and a place to be among people like us. University happens to be a convenient pocket of people most of whom have little to no idea how their life will pan out. Further, it gives us a three or four-year excuse to practice life as adults and take on whatever hesitant mantle of responsibility our parents yet carried. It gives the grace to figure ourselves out without stigma, find new friends, and grow up. As an added benefit, we get to go to the pub too.

Tragically, I think this essential function of University is often overshadowed, especially as academic obligations, internship applications, and finals expectations ramp up towards the end of the semester. Social and personal development takes a back seat to career and academic pursuits. With the promise of better prospects around the corner, we forget what we might most honestly get out of university: time. Time to have beer around bonfires, time to play video games and eat pizza, time to stroll the Lade Braes Walk, time to learn who we are and practice being them with the people we love.

Reflecting on university now, I can’t say I regret my decision to be here. Though I’ve historically attended university as absent-mindedly as taking my seat in lecture, careful reflection reveals the value it provides. Perhaps notably, that value doesn’t pend on the classes I take, how well I do, what job I get, or even what school I attend. It only relies on the way I spend my time, growing as a human and enjoying life. I think that’s a lesson for all of us worth taking into spring revision week.

Illustration: Marios Diakourtis

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