The world is full of patterns. In Winnipeg, summer gives way to winter in late August, only to return the following July. In Halifax, first year students from the GTA pile into residence buildings in the fall, party for 7 months of the academic year, study for two weeks, return to their step dad’s cottage in “Northern Ontario” for the summer, and then decide that they are better off studying IT at Brock. In Kampala the day begins with roosters crowing, dogs barking, and car horns honking. The sun rises at exactly 6:30am and sets at exactly 6:30pm. In the rainy season, clouds roll in at around 2:00pm and dissipate shortly before 6:00pm. In the dry season… well god help you if you are anywhere rural in the dry season.
Most of these patterns are prima facie static. Prevailing weather patterns tend to, well… prevail. That is, unless the Governor General invites the Conservatives to form a government in October. In that case, a dark cloud will undoubtedly encircle Canada for the next 4-5 years. University students from the GTA have, and will continue to, annoy everybody that they come in contact with who is not from the GTA. And the dry season on the equator will always make you sweat.
However, despite its static appearance, the world is also a pretty dynamic place. Less than a generation ago, most of the world was not able to communicate. Today, thanks to social media, I can know the shape, composition, and smell of Miley Cyrus’s poop before it has left her bowels! Even as I sat in a run-down shop in the middle of a slum on Sunday, I was the only person who was not on his smart phone, browsing facebook and twitter. The world is an interesting place, indeed.
The neighbourhood kids found a baby kitten the other day. I have named him Rex. Rex is Latin for King. Like the ‘progressives’ at University of King’s College, Rex does not subscribe to the gender binary, shave any part of “its” body, and refuses to drink out of a cup like a normal kitten. Rex prefers mason jars. Anyhow, I am a little bit worried that Rex is trapped in a pattern of abuse. The other day I watched Rex run away from the neighbourhood kids for more than a half hour – only to be picked up by the little hair on its little back and placed on an unsuspecting kid’s face. Rex gently nuzzled against my shoe for a brief moment before getting scooped up again by the kids this morning. I fear that Rex will never break free from his current pattern of abuse.
Recently, I have noticed the emergence of another pattern. Allow me to explain:
I have come to the realization that I work in 4 year cycles – quadrennials, if you will. My first quadrennial started 7 years ago year ago with my entrance into high school. The beginning of my second quadrennial came 4 years later when I set foot on campus at Dal. In the first year of each quadrennial I shoot out into a new environment with endless possibilities, not unlike an infant trading in the womb for the slightly more spacious world. Although I’m not covered in placenta… usually. The first year is always a bit of a blur: new places, new faces, and new experiences. It is a sensory overload in every meaning of the word. In the first year, I often struggle to find my role in my new environment. Am I a musician, an athlete, a nerd, neither, or all three? Who am I and how do I fit into this strange and exiting world? Needless to say, the beginning of a quadrennial can be a bit daunting – but novel and exhilarating nonetheless.
My second year is characterized by dissonance. I have acclimatized to my new environment and feel comfortable with my surroundings; however, the shine has worn off and reality has set in: “I am going to be here for a while”. The second year of a quad is usually where I get stuck in a rut. I might be familiar with my surroundings, but have yet to discover where I really fit. By now, I have usually ruled out what I am not: a druggie, a drop-out, a party animal, a slacker. Even still, I do not know what version of myself I ought to pursue.
Third year is usually pretty great. The awkwardness of the first half of the quad is ancient history and I feel established in my community. People know my name and I am surrounded with those whom I can relate to. Even better, by the time the third year rolls around, I have usually discovered my role. Coincidently, in the past two quads my role has been that of a community builder. For instance, most of my grade 11 year in high school was spent organizing initiatives through a Social Justice Committee. In the third year of my undergrad I volunteered for political parties, sat on a student union committee and took up leadership roles in student societies.
The final year of a quadrennial is always a trip. By now, I am firmly entrenched in my roles and responsibilities and, consequently, have bitten off far more than I can chew. In grade 12 that meant serving as the Chair of the Social Justice Committee, volunteering, ramping up my swimming, and putting in extra hours in the classroom. This year, it means serving on the executive of two student societies (President on one and VP Finance on the other), doing enough extra circulars to kill a small horse (like debate club… the ladies love it), training full time in the pool, taking on a full course load, and so, so much more. I am not complaining about having all of these responsibilities. In fact, I would not have it any other way.
Usually, an exit strategy and “the next steps” dominate my thoughts during year four of a quad. Free time is spent filling out scholarship applications, researching schools, requesting transcript after transcript after transcript, and mapping out where my next quad will be spent. In my last year of high school, the latter activity was pretty straight forward: look at a map of Canada, draw a large “X” in red marker over the province of Manitoba, and play “eeny meeny miny moe” until my finger landed on a school with a swim team.
This year I will be faced with a similar game of “eeny meeny miny moe”… with one difference: WAY higher stakes and WAY more competition. In my limited, young, and naïve view, I believe that the law schools, grad schools, and jobs I apply for will likely have a large bearing on how my next few quadrennials play out. And yes, Dad, I know that 30 years down the road it will not really matter, but right now it feels like it does.
I would be lying if I said that I am not a bit stressed out heading into the final year of this quadrennial. Unlike four years ago, this time around a lot of factors lie in my ability to convince a selection committee that I am worthy of winning their scholarship, attending their school, or becoming an employee at their workplace. In most cases, transcripts and standardized test results will speak just as loudly as carefully crafted personal statements, reference letters and essays. More, everybody that I am up against will have just as impressive transcripts, test results, and references. Small fish, meet Ocean.
Here is the thing: I do not know if my desire to pursue my chosen endeavors can be adequately captured in a stack of papers. I do not know if anybody’s desires can be for that matter. Sure, a professional school might see that I have an inherent desire to build communities by glancing at my CV – but they cannot experience the euphoria that washes over me when I see people united around a common cause; the sheer joy that I get when I am in a position of leadership. A selection committee can look at my transcript and see good grades, but they cannot see the countless hours I spend struggling to perfect every word of an essay or the Saturday nights I spend locked in my room while my friends are at the bar. A scholarship panel might read a reference letter that says I am a dedicated student athlete, but they cannot hear the sounds of encouragement that come from my coach and teammates every day; they cannot listen to my thoughts during a swim practice, as I test myself on concepts I learned earlier in the day.
A selection committee certainly cannot know the feeling of pride I get when a swimmer that I coach executes a new technique or goes a best time in a race; the feeling of excitement that I get when I attend just about every political science class that I can get my hands on; or how I am overcome with a desire to build a better Canada after I attend a lecture on constitutional law. They probably will not wonder if I know almost every section of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms off by heart… I will never get a girlfriend, will I?
Sure, I can tell these people that I am passionate about what I do, but so can everybody else. The reality is that, in a stack of application essays, transcripts and reference letters everybody is passionate and deserving. Heck, even on the off chance that I am 1 in a million (which I am certainly not), then there are still 7 000 people just like me walking around as I write this. 7 000 people who are just as qualified as me to get into a good school or win a good scholarship – and that is not even considering the millions of others who are more qualified and more deserving.
So where does that leave me?
Well, if I have learned one thing from the last three years of this quadrennial, it is that trying is never a waste of time. So that is what I will do: try. I will apply for everything, including the scholarships that are likely beyond my reach, the schools that are certainly beyond my price range (student loans, here we come!), and the jobs that lie beyond Canadian borders. At least that way I will not be sitting at my computer a year from now wondering, “what if?” Hey, worst case scenario I get rejected everywhere and end up working at Starbucks with every other person that has done a liberal arts degree since the 90s.
Well, Rex is getting bullied again so I better go protect him… err, I mean her… SHIT I mean “it”.
Jeremy… all 7 000 of us
p.s. Good luck to the Dal Tigers competing at Canadian Swimming Championships this week. You guys are going to rock it.