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Student View

A graduating student’s view

Looking back

It’s been less than a month since I turned in my last paper and closed the last examination booklet of my undergraduate career, and I’m amazed at how I’ve already forgotten the feelings of academia. The late and stressful nights of paper-writing, the early morning classes – it all seems like such a distant memory already.

So, it comes as no surprise that convocation hadn’t really crossed my mind until this week. I suppose that fateful walk across the Arts and Culture Centre stage in the ceremonial cap, gown and hood always felt so far away that its importance is only now dawning on me.

Nevertheless, the big day is almost upon us, and I’ve come to terms with the fact that I will soon no longer be an undergraduate student, rather a member of the Memorial alumni community – an illustrious group that includes some of the most prominent politicians, authors, artists, and professionals this country has seen in recent decades. From the looks of the long list of Memorial graduates, I’ve got big shoes to fill.

For some of my fellow graduates, convocation marks the end of their academic path and their entrance into the workforce. Sounds scary. For others, myself included, the convocation ceremony next week signals the end of just one chapter of our post-secondary education as we move on to graduate or professional schools in our respective fields.

Whatever the next step, the conferring of the degrees at convocation is the end of an era. For most undergraduates, at least four years have been spent learning not only everything you care to know about your major subject, but also expanding your knowledge in a wide variety of elective areas. University education is a life-changing and worthwhile experience not because you get a piece of paper at the end pronouncing you a member of higher educated society, but because you are exposed in a variety of ways.

First, you’re exposed to new ideas. Unlike high school, university professors aren’t teaching straight from a textbook that’s been in the curriculum since your parents were sitting in those same uncomfortable desks. They are members of an active research community, engaging with new material and developments in their field everyday, so you’re reaping the benefits of their positions in the academy by being exposed to the newest and most provocative areas of study.

Next, you’re exposed to new people. Since I was born and raised here in St. John’s, I erroneously assumed that university wouldn’t really be a big switch for me. I’d been in most of the buildings before, I would see all the same people – I thought it would basically be a Grade 13 situation. Luckily, I couldn’t have been further off the mark. The past four years have given me new and amazing friendships with great people possessing the same academic interests as me. Unlike my assumptions, I have to make a concerted effort to see my friends from high school – which I do, of course – and new companionships have been formed with classmates, group members, and colleagues from around the university.

And last, but certainly not least, you’re exposed for the student you really are. It came to a shock for me four years ago when my first round of professors started telling my classes that they weren’t going to come look for us if we didn’t show up to class, and weren’t going to pester us about unsubmitted work. It was all up to us and we’d get out of university education whatever we put into it. The independence given to you by the world of postsecondary unknowingly shows you just how dedicated and hard-working you actually are – a frightening thought at first, but one that has been perhaps the most valuable part of my time spent at Memorial.

So, as I sit in those plush red chairs in the auditorium next week after donning my cap and gown, I won’t be thinking about grades, papers, or exams. The exercises of academia aren’t what it’s all about, at least for me. Those pesky tests and assignments were merely tools to assist in the bigger picture project – one that has changed me as a person and has given me a new outlook on learning, dedication, and life as a whole. Whatever the next step may be for this year’s Memorial graduates, it’s safe to say that their experiences getting that diploma go far beyond the classroom, and have helped shape them into the people they will eventually become.

Jillian Terry is a graduating honours student in Political Science and English, and has been writing the Gazette’s student view column since the fall of 2006.