It’s not the end of Labyrinth, but it’s the end of my time here. Since July 2012, I’ve been writing two posts a week on student life, stress, education, news, video games, and the occasional song. But it’s time to move on. Other projects are calling, and as I venture further out into the working world I get father and farther from my student roots. The faces are less familiar, and the courses are dimmer and dimmer in my memory. I’ll be at Kalamazoo this year, so you’ll see me around shooting videos, listening to lectures, and probably playing pianos. But now, since it’s my last day, I get to write whatever I want!
First, I want to write about students. Never forget that you are awesome. Classical or Medieval studies will teach you a lot about life, language, and history. the relationships you form in university can last you the rest of your life, not just with peers, but with mentors. You can have some great times here at Waterloo in any discipline, but the Classics department sets itself apart with committed teachers, dedicated students, and passionate (if mad) grad students. But it isn’t the beach. It’s going to take work.
A shitload of work.
Classes and assignments stack up, people are sometimes dicks, there’s never enough time to do all the things you wish you were doing, and sometimes you can’t escape the feeling that all your hopes and dreams are sliding down the drain. Even the sunny days can get pretty bleak. But you’re not alone. Never forget that you’re surrounded by people who are struggling through the same assignments and wrestling with the same bureaucracy. Sometimes it takes dedication and a positive attitude, and sometimes it’s just the stubborn refusal to quit that’ll carry you through.
But do it. I’m not gonna feed you lines like “Go out there and change the world” or “What the mind can conceive, the mind can achieve”. I don’t deal in bullshit. Be happy. I hope these aren’t the happiest years of your life, and that you go on to have many happier ones, but use your studies as a foundation for that happiness, and take the time to figure out what really makes you happy.
I got thrown out of high school three times, and spent years bumming around doing service and construction jobs before I wised up and figured out where I needed to be, and the only thing I knew how to do when I got here was not quit. You can do it.
I also want to write to professors. I’ve had this Open Letter to Professors sitting in the back of my mind for a while. I might write the full thing on my site later. Here’s the short version, though.
Professors, you are the center of the student universe. You are more than your research, and more than the person who lectures at the front of the class. You have the opportunity to be one of the people that students will carry around in their hearts until their dying days, whose lessons they’ll think about every morning. I’m not talking about history, or literature. I’m not even talking about Latin. You are professional academics. Even to the students who don’t intend to move on to graduate school, you are a living testament to what a person can become with a university degree. Be the people you want your students to be.
I know it’s hard. I know you’re busy. there are sixty meetings to get to, classes to prepare, and reports to read. That you’re still trying to write that book. That half of your students haven’t even bothered to come to class, and half of the ones that did come haven’t done the reading. Maybe you knew that going into the job, maybe you got into it for the fame, money, and power. Maybe you couldn’t find a research position. It doesn’t matter. To hundreds of students, you are the light at the end of the tunnel. You survived and thrived after university, so much so that it became your career. Regardless of how deeply flawed this view may be, it is the view that they get. Many of them are waiting for you to take them by the hand and lead them into the light. I know you can’t take everyone.
But take as many as you can.
Not the ones who stand head and shoulders above the rest, pushing through their lives with a firm hand on the tiller, the ones we applaud at award ceremonies over and over again. They’re doing okay. Find the ones who are struggling, who can’t shake the weight of their anxiety about next week’s midterm to even come to your office hours. They will not always come to you, so go to them. It will mean everything. I know that you know this. I know that I should take my dishes into the kitchen as soon as I’m done with them. Knowing ain’t doing.
Forget building a better world, training our future leaders, and all the administrative buzzwords and jargon. You have a chance to lead by example and make better and more concerned people. You, not your TAs, not the Provost, not the Chancellor, have the chance to foster a generation that truly recognizes the value of higher education, and you’ll do it not with your classroom style, but with your care and attentiveness to the lives of students. We can’t do it all, but we can do more.
So I’m out. I’m off to write about science and ideas at Concept Crucible, gaming at TPK, and writing music and vlogging on Youtube. Drop me a line on my site, and we’ll chat. In the meantime, I hand off the reins of writer and editor in chief to Shawn Dickinson, who is a brilliant young medievalist with a love for code and coins. Many thanks to Dr. Christina Vester for giving me the opportunity to write for the department, and to all of the students who submitted posts and helped me with posts. Keep that up, it’s good for you. You all be good now.