By Benjamin James
I envy every first year student.
Fresh from high school, about eighteen and half learned. Untouched and healthy, eager to get on with lives of unrivalled possibility, bursting with potential. Stable are their thought patterns, smart enough to ignore tendencies to jump start higher earning than learning, turning down the boss’s offer for more hours. Committing to empty bank accounts, spending money saved over years, in days. First year students have ignored the ridiculous things other young people normally do. They haven’t pointlessly travelled, yet. They aren’t interested in sleazy backpacking, drunken bull-runs or Amsterdam coffee shops, choosing instead to wait restaurant tables until midnight and then study until dawn, aware that good things come to those who wait. I envy the blank slate, shedding identities that pigeonholed personality in high schools, forced to rethink ideologies from new information; opportunities discovered through precise definitions of artistry, farfetched from simple English taught via Doll’s Houses and Lonely Bones in high school classes, half-occupied by Year Twelve tradesman, who didn’t want or need to be there. Everything is different now.
University is the competitive alternative. Classes are full at the beginning of each year, overflowing with egocentric students determined to showcase uniqueness to whomever looks up. New friends to share assignments with, unaware they will one day compete for the same job. An endless open calendar, with classes spaced neatly across the week. Social life-driven socialisation, quick adaptations to all-weekend pub crawls, held weekly. Gone is uniformed attendance; students are in class by choice, fuelled by their own conscience. Half don’t know what they are striving to achieve, overwhelmed by how quickly the process started, and others are chipping towards goals established years ago, demanding results early. A lust for life fuelled by punk rock creativity, knowing that this year will hopefully kickstart the career dreamed about, terrified of the process but willing to take it on. Oh, how I envy new students.
Demands placed by parents were met at the end of last year or the year before. The shackles are off, replaced by personal expectations. Future fillers of jobs that science hasn’t yet created, careers made way by technology still being tinkered with in other universities, by students already a couple of years in the game. The ‘what I want to be when I grow up’ ethos is finetuned in weeks, or stretched out for years. Industries unravel, the metaphysical aspects to all forms of knowledge is researched over horrible Sunday homework binges, trying to meet deadlines. First year students jump started the next wave of somebodies. Leaders, revolutionaries, even politicians. New students will be the first to protest legislation that hasn’t been thought up yet. Contributors to the changes in climates, changes scientists are only just discovering. New students will be the first to speak out against future laws that will complicate the perception of our Australia; classrooms are currently full of young adults’ easily disgruntled, eventual contributors to an eventual way of life. Graduation is invisible, three or four years into the future. New artists will break newer ground in the meanwhile; new artists who currently skip homework, sleep in late and show up to class without textbooks or pens. New artists who argue about unfair grades or silly referencing systems. Artists that will do great things, and make plenty of money. Artists who, between now and greatness, we will all envy for a moment.
Then there are the artists who don’t make it. The smartarse who couldn’t keep his hand down the first week, trying to answer every question twice, desperate for approval. The students who showed up with their entire lives written down on paper, aware of everything they had to offer except the weight of the workload required. The students who boast loudly of greatness, but cannot get started on that first rubbish assignment. By the time this is published, those students have already vanished from classrooms. Career paths are challenged by due dates; only last-minute magicians stand a chance.
I envy new students because I am not one. I am in the last semester of my University adventure, three and a half years since it started. My youthful lust for creativity has been beaten into a square I now have to push through circular gaps in a tight job market. More terrified now than the first day, aware that opportunities have slimmed dramatically; I am once again a small fish, about to move to my biggest pond yet. I wrote over a million words, and backspaced half of them. Somehow, I made all but a few due dates, losing many friends in the process. I have bludgeoned lecturers with excuses and lost a mountain of USBs. Every computer froze at the worst moment, and I have seen more accidental sunrises than I have had solid nights of sleep. I have been stumped many times, crossing paths with idiot decision, aroused by lecturers who couldn’t explain assignments clear enough, accidently confusing my own brilliance with tripe. I remember days in class where only my body showed up, my spirit asleep on the couch watching all the television I forewent trying to be a new artist. I have spent fifteen thousand hours in class, as much again at home, often squeezed into half-days. I have sacrificed girlfriends to student finance, and burnt out three toasted sandwich presses. I spent rent on cigarettes and text books, hiding from landlords in unlit houses. I would change plenty, and this is why I envy new students, but I wouldn’t start again. My lust for life is bruised, but still beats. Now I have learnt how to write, I stand a better chance at writing about all I have learned. My creative drive is just plentiful enough to fuel the inevitable, whatever is due to occur by the end of this year. I envy new students because they can still choose their shape, and carve it to fit exactly, but I wouldn’t trade places and am happy with the shape I accidently created, assured it will fit somewhere.
Viva la University. Enjoy the ride.