The esteem to which any secondary school is held in this country is dependent on how many students it sends to universities. I remember the prize-giving days back in school. When the crowds would roar with thundering excitement on the announcement of how many students from the previous year were to proceed for higher education. As ongoing students, that prided us, momentarily turning universities into our highest aspiration. Every single relatives’ advice had an emphasis on ‘study hard so that you make it to the university.’ The implication was subtle but clearly registered; the university was where all the answers were.
I was hardly in my first year when I began to question the mythos around the hype. Back home, everyone was extremely proud of my newly acquired identity; a university student, while I myself was finding it hard to figure out what this newly acquainted freedom meant. There used to be a manual perhaps that had been lost through the years; an outline of sorts on how to navigate to the bigger purpose of this moment that all the years of education were culminating to. The lack of which, between the huge chunks of time in our far-between classes, we were collectively slowly drifting like planks on still waters, hardly going anywhere.
Upon arrival at the university, the first advice I received was ‘this is not high school, we don’t study here.’ That was to be the first in the series of lies that many of us woke up from by our third year. In retrospect, teachers had been conditioning us to believe that throughout our “education.” A revelation as to how far back the system had been broken. Teachers repeated time and time again that secondary school would be the only difficult part of our entire education. Enforcing it further with, you won’t have to remember a thing after a semester is done because you won’t ever use it again. What exactly was the point of that place then?
I like to call universities institutions of hire learning. In the same spirit as hire purchase, you’re likely to be paying for the lies the sell you through the years way after you’re done. Like how a degree is what you’re after and how it translates to a high paying job.
Of everything that a university student will run out of, time is something he will always have. In abundance. One ought to assume that with so much freedom comes the ease of decision but the opposite in fact. The university student is often in paralysis with regards to arriving at choices on how to consciously and effectively use his time. It’s harder to decide when your options aren’t narrowed down. We jumped from one thing to the next in the most defining period of our lives, some of us turning it into this plateau where no growth whatsoever happened. Here for a good time, not a long time, right?
Our identities were based around our groups of friends. We formed communities, forged connections; the introverted from us got adopted by extroverts and collectively, we became highly unmotivated lazy master procrastinators who walked into exam rooms with nothing in their heads but confidence. All this while, everyone back home was so proud of us. The fresh brilliant minds expected in the workplace after all this was over.
I laugh hard at times when I remember the figures I used to draw up in my head as my entry-level salary.
I was lucky enough to get my first ‘formal’ employment a few weeks after graduation. It was less of a job than a contract really, for this 2-week research, and was way past my estimated pay. A paycheck to ruin all paychecks. I’m still partly living off of it. In that program, I was lucky enough to interview an acquaintance, now a close friend and she walked me through her tarmacking experience; how hard it was for fresh graduates out here, breaking through to my ignorance, giving me a glimpse of what to expect. “Hassan,” she said, “I know you’re dreaming of your first salary being 40K at least but the earlier you lower your expectations to less than half that, the better.” I took her seriously… because she was a serious gal. So, I wasn’t shocked when I saw the offer for my first ‘allowance’ at this starting position I got into. I simply smiled and remembered Fafi.
So, imagine me, the most confident I’ve ever been. There’s something about being an introvert in tight spaces that puts you in your element. I’m charming, I’m brilliant and full of wit despite my total lack of preparation. I seem to recall I was far much better in my first interview in January. I’m thinking if only I had read ‘What Colour is Your Parachute’ more recently, I’d be nailing this interview even better. They ask me about the salary I expected and for a moment, I blank out. All eyes are on me. There is no right answer for this especially when you’re an intern. Anyways, there I am, being all humble, no you go, no you, the back and forth dance with the C.F.O as the head of H.R, this young woman chuckles to herself. And finally, I put my towel down and said a number judging by an article a friend had mentioned to me some two years back on the intern’s pay. Darn you Rahime, I almost didn’t show up when the offer came in by how far I missed the mark.
As an intern, there’s always this huge debate on whether you deserve to be paid or not and I do hear both sides. On one hand, you’re nothing but potential, you’re qualified, you’ll be doing whatever every employee does for less the money and that’s not fair. On the other hand, your lack of experience in that field makes you a liability, and company resources will be used in training you. You’re nothing but potential but at the same time a liability that an employer is taking a gamble on. And that’s extremely generous.
Although thinking of all I’ve just said, I’m making the same mistake everyone else is; treating university as this place of specialized training for the field you’d like to get into and that’s beside the point.
Society curves out this period for us, 4 years perhaps we’ll never have again, and gives us this respectable identity of “university student” and a lot of freedom that comes with it. Yet they fail to tell us the most fundamental thing to that. Cause anyone who says that they go to university to simply study and prepare for their career is probably lying to their parents. University is the place where we go to forge our identities. Like Jordan Peterson puts it, “I don’t understand what’s happening in the university. I can’t believe that you’re not told on the first day you come here that look mahn, you’re here on a heroic mission. You’re here to take your capacity to articulate yourself to levels that are undreamed of. You’re going to come out of here, unstoppable. You’re going to be able to do anything you want. That’s what you’re here for.”
The biggest resource a university has is its unbelievable libraries. This wealth of knowledge by the most brilliant of men preserved to this moment, all for you to take. You don’t know this yet but there’s nothing as powerful as a man who can think and is articulate beyond comprehension. That is the big fuss about this place. I’m sorry if they didn’t but that’s the first thing, they should’ve told you.
Universities are supposed to produce men that will contribute to the world; not complainers who put a strain on it. Always have that in mind as you decide; “What big contribution are you going to make to society?” No pressure.