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(July 26, 2001, Gazette)

Michael TilleyIf it were up to you,
what would you do?

The fall semester is fast approaching, so what are you going to do about it? Since you are reading this it is probable that you are at least considering attending Memorial University. But before you finally decide how it's going to be, you really should stand back and take a moment to reflect on your own personal goals.

It's your life, and this may be one of the last opportunities you've got to make a free choice about the future. Because this is such an important decision to make, why not take some advice from someone who has been around for a while (maybe a bit too long).

First off, do not go to university because it is expected of you. Let's face it, the people who care about you are the ones most likely to try and persuade you to do what they think is best for you. But what others think about you and what you think about yourself are often very different things. Our parents, for instance, grew up in a time when almost any university degree was a ticket to success. It may be that when they tell you to go to university that what they really want is just for you to be happy. The time was when success and a university degree went hand in hand. But that time is no more.

Today, we must be more sensible about our future plans. When you make the choice to attend university, you must understand what you are doing and why. There are more university graduates working at fast food restaurants than you could care to shake a stick at. University programs offer diverse opportunities to learn, but unless you maintain a focus, you will end up wasting money, and more importantly, losing time, and you can never get that back.

This brings me to my next point. Those of you who intend to attend university because it will make you the big bucks, stay home, forget about it. Not only is this an oversimplification, but it is also an ignorant appraisal of the university experience. If you measure your gain here in terms of dollars and cents then you are only ripping yourself off. The university is not about greed. It is about sharing and communication.
University courses do not give you a special knowledge that will make you powerful. There are no such magic books. Strange as it may seem, if you really want to take something away from your time at MUN, you have to give. Give your effort and most importantly give your heart.

If you do not care about what you read, if you look at education only as a tool to make you rich, famous or whatever, then you are abusing the opportunity to learn. You will graduate just as dumb as you entered.
So you're stuck between a rock and a hard place. You want to attend university for your own personal benefit and yet you do not want to be selfish about the experience, and close your mind to the opportunity to learn. Luckily this is not a new problem. Anyone who has ever attended university has had to eventually deal with this issue. Basically you are trying to reach a balance between what it is that you want to do and what you believe to be a useful thing for you to do. This is not the same thing. What you want, your desires, depends entirely upon your personal life experience. No one can tell you what it is you want to do. No one has access to your desires except you.

On the contrary, if you have any idea about what you want out of life, there are thousands of people – professors, advisors, other students etc. – around to guide you and teach you to turn your interest into a useful contribution. Try to remember the university is a community, not a competition. Almost everyone is willing to help, but you are the one who must do the work.

Learning is a discipline. Even a bachelor's degree will usually take at least four years to complete. It may not seem like much coming out of high school, but university is no breeze. It may seem that way for the first couple of semesters, but that is only because you are fooling yourself. You may get A's in all your courses, but learning is not about getting the best grades. It is about actually doing something with the knowledge you acquire. The university is a place which allows you to challenge yourself, to question yourself and your prejudices. But nothing will come of your time here if you do not honestly commit yourself to the work.This may be the single most important piece of advice that I can give.

Finally, let me say that there are many opportunities in the world available to you. University is only one of them. Do not feel pressured into doing what you do not want to do. But when you make a choice, commit yourself to it. This is the most sure way to achieve success.

Now it's up to you, so what are you going to do?

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