University As A Journey To Self-Discovery: Note To Grade 12s

2013-07-04 15:22

Open letters aside, there are more important nation-building phenomena to write about, rather than infiltrating our public opinion with the same trends always.

We are in the second half of 2013 already.

How far are we with accomplishing our set goals?

Have we prepared our matriculants for life post matric?

Grade 12 learners across the country have written their midyear exams; results of which will serve as yardsticks that measure each learner’s eligibility to become a university student next year. The prospect of walking on the lawns of their favourite campuses and being taught by professors is by now dominating the hopeful minds of most matriculants, as they send applications to different universities and universities of technology.

Accompanying this optimism are the usual precautions and advice from elders and teachers about what it means—as far as they’re concerned—to study at an institution of higher learning.

There are various myths and fallacies surrounding being a university student, particularly when one is still in matric.

Unrealistic expectations are raised about clothing, radical behavioural change, and at times possible loss of one’s identity. All these (and many other false anecdotes) are uttered by teachers, family members, and former/current university students to grade 12 learners.

A university provides a neutral atmosphere that favours different characters of students—those who consume alcohol, those who are highly ambitious, and ones who are yet to define themselves. Different characters excel in what they love, regardless of what it is.

Coming from townships and rural areas, we mostly discover our real selves upon becoming university students. This is mainly due to the fact that while still at home (township and rural), we all follow scripts written and prescribed to us by tradition, family, religion and society. Irrespective of our own views, we don’t have any freedom to do as we deem fit for ourselves.

Rules penned by the hand that feeds us prevail invariably.

Well, life is a roller-coaster of identity.

We lose ourselves to discover our other selves. Perceptions of ourselves change with circumstances, and sometimes who we really thought we were gets drained in the sewage of history as we assume newer identities that we chose for ourselves.

This is where universities come in.

Universities give us all the opportunities to autonomously define ourselves. We write our own autobiographies. Based on these self-stories, we get to decide which religion features in our stories, which dressing code suits us as the main characters in our life stories, and our preferences of language take precedence.

It’s at university that our independent thinking gets tested in the laboratory of many other contesting influences.

Society has a tendency of accusing us of having been “changed” by universities.

When we opt for a different denomination or religion, society complains.

When we go home with an interest in certain programmes or ways of living, society finds fault in our new identities.

In all these discerned changes in our behaviour, universities become the scapegoats.

But universities don’t change the character of people.

Instead, they reveal who we have always wanted to be, but lacked the freedom to be.

Universities give us freedoms of association, movement, and expression. We pick our preferred friends, we go to our preferred places, and we develop new dressing codes (or hold on to current ones).

On the dressing code, it is imperative to emphasise that this doesn’t necessarily entail stylish clothes. Contrary to popular belief in the townships and rural areas, there is not much of pressure in terms of clothes at university. We still have guys who wear shorts and rugby T-shirts for the better part of the week, without any ridiculous comments.

That’s who they’ve chosen to be.

Everyone chooses how to respond to the circumstances.

I stay at a male residence, House Tswelopele. In my three years in the residence I have never heard of any student who suffered depression because of any clothes-related pressure. However, it’s unfortunate that some people in the townships still discourage matriculants that if they don’t dress in a particular way, they will be a skunk of the campus.

So, to all Grade 12s with ambitions of becoming a university student, it’s important to bear in mind that a student’s years at university are a journey of self-discovery. What we arrive thinking we are in our first year tends to change considerably, sometimes dramatically, when we are in our final years of study.

We try out new things. We make mistakes. We exercise our independent thinking. We discover ourselves.

This is where we become ourselves, undiluted.

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