Yesterday, I graduated from University.
That feels so strange to write! I feel like it’s taken forever… and in a way, it has. My university career was actually a year longer than my high school career… and yet, it all happened so quickly, that it’s taken a moment for me to digest everything.
Maybe it’s because I’m not officially done yet. I may have completed one step, but I still have one degree to receive before I can become a teacher. So in a way, I’m in a limbo. Educated enough to call myself a graduate, not educated enough to do anything with my degree. By the way… my degree is in Creative Writing. So sure, I could now consider myself qualified enough to take a year off to work on my novel… but my bank account will beg to differ!
Still. High School is always referred to as the glory days. It’s the time when we enter as children, and leave as adults. But isn’t university the same? I think about the person I was when I started at Kwantlen. I liked to consider myself as a mature, responsible teenager. I was 18, had already been to Europe for a month without my parents. I had a steady job at Cineplex, a great group of friends, my driver’s license, and a high school diploma in my hands. I was ready. I didn’t have to tell my parents where I was going anymore! I could stay out until 3am and not think twice about it, but I could go to the drive-in movies with a boy and tell my parents about it if I wanted anyway, because I was mature and responsible, right?
Right. But that doesn’t mean I was an adult. And when I think of the ways I’ve changed since then, I realize how much of an infant I still was. Here’s what I know now: In the six years it took to complete my degree, I learned far more than what my textbooks taught me.
University for me was a lot of things. It was learning how to take notes all over again. It was learning that the way I’d been taught to write essays in high school was nothing like what my professors expected of me. It was learning that I was not the only good writer in the world. In fact, up until my second year of Kwantlen, I genuinely believed I had this talent for writing, a talent that nobody else possessed, and that I wouldn’t even need to work hard in my degree because I was so good that nobody would be able to teach me anything. How wrong I was. I met some of the best writers I’ve ever read work from, and they weren’t even my professors (Although, of course, each of them was amazing in their own way), they were my peers! People my age were getting published in magazines, winning scholarships, and working tirelessly to create the perfect plot. I learned how to step up my game, and in learning that I was not the best, I gained a work ethic to try and become the best that has led to pieces I would never have been capable of writing if I had not attended this school. My peers and my professors pushed me to succeed beyond measure, and anyone who tells you that you can’t be taught how to write is an idiot.
University was making a lot of mistakes that were detrimental to my learning. It was leaving everything until the night before (morning of!) it was due. It was making excuses when I never should have needed to. It was taking classes, not because they were extremely beneficial to my grade, or because I was genuinely interested, but because there was somebody else taking it that I wanted to get to know better. I called them my conquests. I would find somebody in a class I was already taking and try and make them my friend, but then there were those (probably 4 different people) that I honestly just wanted to spend more time with, and I took a class solely because I knew they were taking it too. These included History classes, Poetry classes, and even Science classes. The relationships each took their own course, and I would never recommend anyone taking a class just because their friend/significant other/crush is taking it too… but at the same time, I don’t regret doing it. Making this decision (a few times…) caused me to find interest in things I never would have even considered. I learned how much I enjoy history classes, even if I might not do as well in them as I do in writing courses. I learned that I hate geography and biology, and no, it wasn’t just because my high school teachers were boring. And I learned that, in life, I should never make a decision based on what will make somebody else happy. I’m still working on that last part.
It was making friends with people I never would have encountered if I didn’t put myself out there. I have been writing since I was 6 years old, when I wrote a short story called No Books in Disneyland at the request of my teacher. And yet, I grew up an athlete, and the people I hung out with always tended to be the girls I shared the soccer field with, or the boys on the next field over. I branched out in high school and spent time with student council kids, but this experience was nothing like what happened when I joined the Orientation Team at Kwantlen, and I met some of the most involved, motivated people I ever have, people who would go on to be incredible leaders in whatever field they chose, and I got to call them my friends. In high school, I was in theater. I lived in that theater. But I never would have pictured myself becoming best friends with poets, the kind who literally spend their evenings at Poetry slams, or hang out in a guy’s bedroom and throw debates back and forth about Margaret Atwood and that obscure writer from Winnipeg that I never would have heard of. These were the friends who would create their own Lit magazine. Who would go to writing retreats, and dye their hair purple, and keep little pieces of paper in their pockets to write verses on just in case inspiration hit while we were sitting at White Spot at midnight. They snapped their fingers when their friends made mistakes to let them know that they supported them no matter what. They educated me about feminism and human rights in ways that never felt anything but right, and opened my eyes to the kind of person, the kind of writer, I really wanted to be. They changed me, irrevocably, and they inspired me beyond measure.
It was learning about balance. It was having 4 jobs at times, with 5 classes, and completely losing touch with all of these new friends while I learned that sometimes, you can take on too much, and it’s important to take care of yourself too.
It was learning that, as hard as you might try, things will change and it will be entirely out of your control. Parents will get sick, and you’ll be responsible for more than you ever thought you could be capable of. Friends will die from cancer too young, or from complete, freak misfortunes, and you won’t see it coming. Friends you grew up with will become unrecognizable, unreachable, and it will hurt, because you’ll forget that while you’re going through all these changes and experiences, so are your friends, and the way your life is going might not sync up with theirs anymore, as heartbreaking as that can be. People will let you down in the worst ways. People you never thought you’d drift apart from will become strangers, and that girl who sat behind you in psychology class in first year might become one of your best friends. It taught me to expect the unexpected, and be prepared that things will not stay the same, so I better stop trying to keep them that way.
University taught me how amazing my parents are. My parents, who paid my way through my education. Who never once hassled their eldest daughter about taking thousands of their hard earned dollars and putting it towards classes where I would sometimes play tag, or do yoga, or write stories all day, because they trusted that it was, somehow, benefiting me (Although, there was that time I told my mom I made a gingerbread house in class that day and had to explain to her pretty thoroughly what it had to do with building leadership skills!). My parents, who want the world for me, but have always let me figure out my own way to do that, always supported me while not letting me live in a life of oblivion. Who let me live at home for free while I achieved this all, who gave me unlimited use of the family car, yet never once allowed me to feel like this gave me an excuse to be lazy. I did, after all, maintain approximately 40 hours of work my entire time in University. This speaks measures to the way I was raised, and I obviously can’t take any credit for that. I learned that I may never be able to repay them for the experiences they’ve allowed me to have, and that while my degree may be the most expensive piece of paper they’ve ever bought, that they truly believe it was worth it, because they trust me. And realizing that your parents trust you might be the best realization of all.
University was learning that everyone has a different way of achieving their goals. That University may not have been what I grew up believing it would be. I didn’t live in dorms. I didn’t pull an all-nighter, or join a sorority, or have an affair with a professor (haha!). I did not find the love of my life. I did spend far too much time on relationships that had no future, instead of opening myself up to other possibilities, but I did learn that I will never put myself in a position like that again. I learned my worth, and that is priceless. (Or cost $20k, depending on whether you ask me or my mom!)
I graduated yesterday, and I didn’t feel terrified to enter the “real world”, because I learned that being in University, while balancing work, and social, and home life… that’s pretty much as real as you’re going to get. And for me, University was the world’s way of showing me that I’m ready to take it all on.
Here’s to the next step, the next degree, and the next chapter of my life.