This article should be easy to write. I’ve been with The Stand since 2015, making me- by my count anyway- its longest serving writer. I’ve been fired from The Saint for things I’ve written in this paper. I’ve spent less time on some essays than I have on some of the articles in this paper. I’ve given my hottest takes, my most embarrassing confessions (two articles about being a virgin? Really?), my saddest, angriest, most exultant writing to this paper. So it should be easy, shouldn’t it, to impart some wisdom in my last six hundred words, as I prepare to graduate. But all I’ve got are half-formed ideas and a deadline, so I’ll try and hammer that into something which makes sense.
Well, for one thing, I know I’ve changed in my time here. I know it’s a cliché to say this, but I was an awful person in first year (and, to be fair, most of second year.) I sabotaged relationships, lied to my friends, and spent large chunks of my life in a state of largely self-imposed, and self-pitying loneliness. I’d love to say that writing articles for The Stand was my way of releasing those negative emotions, but I mainly did that through self harm. Instead, I wrote, basically, to try and get people to like me. For attention. I’ll never forget that weird dopamine high I got midway through my first semester here when, after weeks of mediocre grades and wishing I could have the balls to drop out, I posted my first article from The Stand (or The Tab St Andrews, as it was called then), and people liked it, in both a literal and social media sense. Yes, that’s an unhealthy place to get self-confidence from. And yes, I could have found better ways of piecing myself together after the battering St Andrews gave me for the few semesters I spent here. But it helped. It helped me believe that I was worthwhile. That’s something, right?
Well, I don’t know if it is. And that leads me to my next, and I guess my main, point. If you’d told first year me that I wouldn’t be able to sum up what I’d learned in four years in six hundred words, I’d assume I’d failed, both as a writer and and a student. Well first year me was wrong about a lot of things.
Because University is not about learning the One Big Thing that will make you a better human. It’s not an academic chrysalis that your dumb high school self (everyone is dumb in high school) can step into and come out an adult. It’s about hundreds- maybe thousands- of tiny moments and lessons, most of them too small to put in an article, that change who you are. It’s about a continuing process, not a finished product. It’s not a place to smooth your rough edges, but to help you become aware of them.
So I guess what I’d say to my lost, anxious, depressed, emotionally needy younger self is not to bother looking forward to a time when you don’t feel lost, anxious, depressed and emotionally needy, but rather to feel out the warps those qualities have made in your psyche. To understand that you can’t learn anything by always being the smartest person in the room. That “perfect” is a synonym for “finished”, and a four year University course isn’t enough to finish a person.
And, lastly, that grades and committee positions and columns in a student newspaper aren’t the answers you’re seeking, but they might get you asking the right questions.