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(January 24, 2002, Gazette)

Refuse or refuge?

Jeffrey PardyI’m pumped. Holidays are over and here we all are, back for another semester of enlightenment. Ready to discuss, argue, study, suggest, invent, shovel, create, and do everything else this institution of higher learning does. After almost a month of being reminded why I want to blow up my television, I’m glad to be back in school. However, after discussing the new semester with some colleagues over the last couple of days, I see that not everyone feels the same. I can’t say I’m surprised since I can still remember a time when I hated coming to school. But, on second thought, this is university. Isn’t this the time of our lives when we do what we want? Now, when we finally start to be recognized as adults and redefine our roles as human beings, why are some students still unhappy? Without stereotyping people too horrendously, I suggest that certain types of students meet the new semester with trepidation for certain reasons.

Many MUN students don’t enjoy the courses they take in first and second year, and who can blame them? In an effort to get into their department of choice, or just out of indecision, they enrol in courses they wouldn’t normally take. Some attend the first week of classes, find out they can’t understand a word their teacher is saying, and sign up instead for Breezeway 101 (or better yet sleep in). Even the ones who are lucky enough to get audible teachers often just squeak by. Why is that? It’s probably because they didn’t really enjoy learning about the subject in the first place. If they’re not going to like the subject matter, and they won’t learn much from the class, then why should they have to take it? I can only suggest that in some cases it is for their own benefit. Even if a person can go through life without ever having to speak French, chances are they will have to use math at some time. Similarly, if a student can’t write in coherent sentences, then how can they be expected to write up a business report or proposal?

For many, MUN serves as purgatory. They are here to get somewhere else. Some want just enough credits to raise their average in hopes of being accepted somewhere on the mainland. Other students who belong in this group have rejected their parent’s ideas of the four-year path of business and engineering, and quick money, for occupations that they feel more suited for. Still, they don’t want their parents, or perhaps the loan office, to think that all they’ll get out of their university education is a full time job at The Gap. With an undergrad degree from MUN in the bag, these students can aim for film studies at York or Ryerson, law school at UNB, architecture at McGill, or for a master’s degree from anywhere but here. In this way, these students can keep themselves happy while at the same time pacifying the great expectations of the folks back home.

Then there are the floaters. People who don’t want to be miserable in a job they hate and therefore spend the first three years of their university career testing the waters of every subject in the university registration booklet. Torn between a kind of pseudo-freedom, a mishmash vocabulary of scholarly terms from every department, and a growing sense of guilt at spending their parents money, these high-aiming and often idealistic folk often end up spending more than half their lives in school. Many of these creatures settle for a “temporary” career, or listen to their parent’s advice and spend a couple of years studying something they hate. Taking this advice, they end up bitter and jaded, and blame their parents for their hellish career, miserable life, and just about every other disappointment they have encountered.

Finally, MUN can serve as a means to an end. Most of the higher paying jobs these days, except that of a professional athlete, require some form of post-secondary education. Therefore, people enroll in university in the hope of getting a better job than those who have only a high school diploma. The majority of people in this category come for four or, in most cases, five years, balance work and study well enough to get decent grades, and leave with that crazy piece of paper which allows them to start at a decent salary and begin real life. However, some of these quick-road-to-success people treat MUN like a fast food joint; as they are only here long enough to catch a class or two, and are in a hell of a hurry to be somewhere else. Between benders at the Breezeway and midnight cram sessions, they hope to squeak through on luck and a photographic memory. Fortunately, for jealous people like me who actually study, most of these people fail out.

From all accounts I have heard, life tends to speed up after university. The friends you once had leave to lead lives all over the country, or maybe even the world. Your job becomes your life, and chances are one day you’ll find someone you’re really happy with. Before you know it, you have a family, and your kids are heading off to their first day or school. Chances are, most of us will look back at our university days as some of the best times in our lives. A time with few cares, lots of friends, and a bunch of hazy booze-and-whatever induced memories to look back on and smile. So why are we so depressed to be back? Cheer up, who cares if you can’t understand your math teacher or if your lab partner is evil? If we don’t enjoy ourselves while we are young, then when are we going to enjoy ourselves?