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July 22, 2004
 Student View


Reflections on a journey

Katie Norman
By Katie Norman

University goes so fast. Heading into my third year, I look back on my adventure and a few key papers, lectures and faces stand out. The rest is a whirlwind of cramming, late nights and “educated” guesses at multiple choice questions. As a new batch of fresh-faced students prepare to embark on their post-secondary journey, I try to think about all the things I’ve learned and things I wish I had known. The result of that brainwork is this article.

The last day of high school is an opportunity. I remember sitting on the steps of Booth Memorial, after my AP psychology exam, thinking about what I would do with my life. My final exams were over and I was getting ready to clean out my locker. After that my plans included a hazy version of Memorial and its campus, which was only a 15-minute walk from where I’d spent the last three years of my life. A teacher saw me sitting on those steps and told me something that I will always remember. She said, “This is when the real stuff – the fun – begins. You can do anything. You should be excited, not scared.” She was right. The most important thing I decided on that hot June day was that the next move I’d make would be for me, not because a school board told me I had to, but because I wanted to learn.

That summer included my first full-time job and a lot of anxiety over registration. I did, however, make one smart move before I even drove to the Prince Phillip Parkway. I decided to spend time between ICQ messages e-mailing my professors to introduce myself and ask about the texts and course syllabus. This has since become an effective way for me to start to get to know my professors. It has also saved me from having to worry if I’ve bought the right books, something that is very easy to do during the chaos of the bookstore during the first week of classes. I once bought the wrong book, which I couldn’t return, and cost myself an extra $100.

September arrived and my closet was full of new clothes, new books sat on my desk and I’d spent way too much money on school supplies that I wouldn’t really need at Staples. In the beginning it was indiscernible from any other September. Fortunately, I had only one class on my first day. It was however, a third-year psychology class. I sat there surrounded by 300 people who knew each other and could write in shorthand, listen and drink coffee all at the same time. I felt small and totally out of sync with my environment. Such situations today no longer scare me, perhaps because I am now the third-year student, who has mastered those skills, although I still haven’t acquired the caffeine addiction.

In high school I wasn’t an overly involved in the “spirit” and extracurricular activities of my school. You wouldn’t find me on student council or playing on any of the sports teams. I decided to change that in university and joined the United Nations Society. My cousin’s friend encouraged me to join, so it was still a relatively safe move. I sat through a few meetings before I got the courage to attend a mixer. After a few months the members became some of my best friends and the society became an integral part of my university existence. It was the time for me to explore my interests and I found something that I really enjoyed doing.

I began first year as a student with a plan that I thought was failsafe. I would complete a honours English degree with a political science minor. I remember thinking “I cannot wait until all I have to do is read novels and talk about them,” referring, of course, to the freedom that comes in later years when core requirements are a distant memory. In a moment of panic I changed my mind and decided to pursue a commerce degree with a marketing concentration. I registered for math, economics and business in the winter semester and then only days before classes began dropped my entire course load and returned to the arts. After applying for joint honours and begin accepted, I dropped that too and finally settled on political science – a decision that I have never regretted. Everyone changes their mind, even planners like myself.

In the summer after first year my plans began to solidify. I took a long look at the Web sites of every department, school and faculty to make sure that I was making the right decision. My search revealed that there were opportunities on campus outside of simply completing a degree. This realization led me to the Division of Lifelong Learning and its subsequent certificate programs. I was surprised in finding out that I had parts of both certificates in criminology and public administration already completed in my first year. Naturally, I couldn’t put those findings to waste and I have added both programs to my roster.

In the beginning of my second year I thought I had everything figured out, then I got an audit. Again I was surprised, which seems to be a running emotion with myself and university, to find out that I had to do a number of electives that I had not fit into my “university plan.” The audit, which was easy to request at the Registrar’s Office and was mailed right to my door, allowed me to realistically look at when I could graduate. Thankfully I was on track however, paranoia forces me to get one done during every semester; something that is perhaps not a bad idea.

Some events in university are milestones that you conquer and then move on. Organization is not a milestone; it is a daily reality. In first year it was easier to slack a little and still hand assignments in on time. However, in 3000-level courses it is not so easy. I was always an organizer but this level of time management was a challenge for me. While any self-help book can tell you to plan and organize, this will not hit home unless you have five term papers due in a two week time frame as I did this past winter. Organization is not something to strive towards, it is an absolute necessity.

I’ve learned a lot about my school and myself during the past two years. I sit here wondering what I will learn in the next two years that upon reflection will seem like conventional wisdom but right now has never crossed my mind.


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