Ahhh. Mr. West. I used to listen to Kanye’s “Graduation” album every day on my way to CEGEP when I was back in Montreal between 2006 and 2008. Those lyrics are so engrained in my brain, and despite what the tabloids like to say, Kanye West is actually brilliant when it comes to making people think through his music.
I just had my convocation ceremony June 6, 2012, after having received my diploma in February. I graduated with, get ready, a Criminology and Criminal Justice, concentration in law, minor in psychology Bachelor of Arts with High Honours. A mouthful. But honestly, when I think about my education over the past 3.5 years I spent at Carleton, I have to say that school is most definitely what you make of it.
I have never been a straight A student. I’ve always struggled with math and sciences throughout my life, and alternatively, I’ve always excelled in languages and the arts. English, French, and Spanish were a breeze for me and I barely had to do any work. Art came naturally as I painted in a studio once a week for most of my childhood.
I mentioned in one of my biographies that I went to a private high school. For some reason, because it was private, the teacher automatically assumed you’d excel at everything. Not to mention I was doing all my courses in French as a French second language person, so it’s like learning two things at once. I remember getting 3% on a math test once in grade 10; no, I really wasn’t lying about being awful. My teacher at the time, let’s call him Turkey Neck, would always go up to students with the highest marks and bow and say “I take my hat off to you, bravo”. And well, when he got to me, probably the weakest student in class, he would shake his head, subsequently jiggling his turkey neck, and ridicule me in front of the rest of the class. Needless to say, I didn’t let this go on for very long and after a while, I just started making fun of him to his face and disrupting his classes. This wasn’t helping my case, but it was pissing him off. And that’s when I realized a very important thing: people can make you feel like garbage about your failures, and you can either choose to accept it or fight back. So, I fought back. I found out that the English program had their math classes at the exact same time as our slot was, and I marched into the Headmaster’s office and demanded (not asked) to be switched into that stream. And although I still didn’t excel, what this taught me was that I was powerful, and that I was capable of demanding change.
This blog post is wordy, but I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learned in school for a long time, and I really have to attribute a lot of my academic success to my peers and professors who actually wanted to make a difference. So finally, I’d like to outline a few things that I’ve learned throughout my academic career that aren’t typically taught in class:
1. The best tip I could ever give anyone in university is this: If you feel like you’ve been jipped marks-wise by a professor or T.A., you probably have.
When you think about it, professors are compltely overloaded and some don’t even have time to mark your papers themselves. They unload onto teacher’s assistants (who probably have the same education as you, and who are still students) and expect them to have the time to mark fairly and thoroughly. Like that works. If you appeal a grade, which I am the queen of, I would say 90% if the time your mark will be bumped up, because they can’t deny a review of it. At one point I was bumped up two entire letter grades in a class because I was marked so unfairly. It’s all about showing them that you care and that you want to succeed, and also that you won’t take arbitrary marking lightly. After that, they know your face, know your passion for success, and will think twice before scribbling with the red pen.
Faux Pas: sending a really disrespectful email to a professor and wanting a grade change. Yes, it got the point across, but only because I got her to see my point of view. It wasn’t the move.
2. You can pay for school, but you can’t buy class.
I have met some really amazing people throughout my education at Carleton, and one thing I have to say is most Ontario people are really down to earth, and moreover, very politically eager. That’s something I appreciate, since I’m not into politics. My friends help educate me in those areas. What I have come to hate, however, is these people who immediately deem themselves “lawyers”, “politicians”, “student ambassadors” and the like, just because they are head of some club or some student society. People who grow pompous and grandiose simply because they’re receiving an education are not only obnoxious, but unclassy. The best people in the world are those who are educated, but humble. They know they can probably destroy your argument, but for your sake they don’t, and they let you walk away with your dignity. Making people feel lower than you is not only the most transparent need for power, but it’s also bad karma. One day, we’ll all end up meeting up with one another again, and people don’t forget feeling low at another’s hands. So my tip: it’s all about respect.
3. The friendships you make in university will shape your life, and the few that will continue will be well worth it. At one point I had the notion that the more friends I had, the better. The more the merrier. But it took me a long time to be able to cut people out who were toxic to my life and to my success. Everybody has different priorities and defines success in different ways, but when it comes to what unites us, it’s school and the educational process that brought us together in the first place.
I went from being a complete socialite in 1st year while receiving C+’s with no effort, to turning it around the next year and earning my A’s and B’s. The people who I partied with in 1st year were still around, were still fun, but those relationships ceased to flourish as much as the ones did with people who shared the same type of ambitious drive as I did. By spreading yourself less thin, you do cut down your friendship circle, but the people who reach out all the same just because they haven’t seen you in a while and respect that you’re busy are the ones worth keeping.
4. You CAN do it all. In university you learn time management. Some of us have no choice. We have to work to support ourselves, because our student loans just don’t cover the lifestyle we want to live. So we work, and we play, we drink, we buy clothes, we eat and socialize together, and our marks suffer by consequence. But eventually, we get the hang of it. At one point, I was an active member of a sorority while sustaining a job and a full-time courseload. And I’m not special; everyone does it. People have to get over getting straight A’s and have to find a happy medium, or a balance in their lives.
It’s really easy to slave away throughout university to achieve incredible grades and miss out on the smaller things that make the whole experience what it’s supposed to be. This is epitomized by what Mark Twain once said: “I’ll never let my schooling interfere with my education.” Yes, school is important and opens incredible doors and opportunities, but making social connections and learning how to interact with different types of people, well, that’s a really valuable lesson.
5. A confession: I could have worked harder, but I have no regrets. So those C+’s in first year royally screwed me. I re-did a bunch of courses in my last half year, but even then, it was hard to bring up my GPA. But, with hard work and dedication, I went from having a 6.6 GPA (so straight C+’s) to a 9.1, which works out to about a B+ average. And you know what, I’ll take it. It’s a tough road and I’ve been rejected by a lot of law schools, but finally, I am on a waitlist for one. And even if I don’t get it, there are always other things I can do MY WAY to ensure that one day I do. A B+ and graduating with High Honours sounds like it should be enough, but everyone in this world is now ambitious, and lots of people want to be lawyers. Frankly, good luck to you. You will get into law school and you will end up at the top of your class. You’ll also spend entire days in the library to come home and crash at night. And it will be worth it. But I’ve realized that at a certain point, wherever you succeed you also fail if you don’t have balance. If you don’t know how to get along with coworkers, socialize, show compassion, concern, or interest, eventually you’ll be resented. I’ve always said the most important thing to me was making money, but I see things a little differently now. I still want to be rich, but I also want to be respected. And by respected I don’t mean feared, but respected because people see me as someone they want to be like.
Congratulations to all the 2012 Graduates!!! We did itttttt! And it’s only just begun…