I have just attended the last class of my undergrad degree. I have been looking forward to, and dreading, this day for a very long time. I have been expecting a feeling of relief and sadness to hit me. I remember the sudden feeling of freedom and listlessness on the last day of exams before summer break in public school and the relief I felt when I dropped out of my first attempt at post secondary education. Both felt definitively like endings. However, right now I feel less like I am sprinting for a finish line, more like I have learned to run a marathon, which is only just beginning.
I graduated high school in 2009; it has taken me ten years to get this degree. Though I was not in classes throughout those ten years, everything I did in that time contributed to the fact that I am here now. It took coming back to university to truly understand that learning doesn’t only happen in the classroom. It is so interesting to look back at your life and see the direction you were heading, especially because it is impossible to see in the moment.
When I first went to university right out of high school I thought I knew exactly where I was heading. I was surprised to find I didn’t like it, or rather, I liked a little bit of everything too much. I didn’t feel like I had a passion to drive me in a particular direction, and this scared me. I changed my major several times before dropping out. I enjoyed the courses I took, but was overwhelmed with a sense of uncertainty. I left and worked a variety of jobs to get myself out of debt and it took me a long time to consider going back to school. The nightmares of exams I was ill prepared for finally went away, and when I went back to univerity it was not because I had a plan but because I didn’t. I was ready to be uncertain, and was excited to explore new things, to see where that would take me. After all, that is what I had been doing since I left school and in the process I had learned more and more about myself. I began my Trent degree in the sciences and found my way to Cultural Studies and some of the most engaging and fulfilling experiences of my life.
I think I am very privileged to feel this way. It is certainly not the case for everyone. Students are overwhelmed with many things, including advice. I have heard my fair share of, often conflicting, opinions like “if you take a break from education you’ll never go back” and “if you don’t take a year off to travel now you never will.” I am done listening to nevers. One of the most significant things I have learned through all of this is that nothing is certain. So, one more piece of advice: do what feels right for you and don’t be afraid to change your mind about it. No ones journey will look like anyone else’s. It can be scary and paralysing to think that every decision you make will affect your life, but it can also be comforting because this also means that no matter what you do, everything is an opportunity to learn something new. Life is not a series of sprints. I feel so lucky to have built friendships with the people who have taught me this.
I owe so much to the people I have met through this program and in Peterborough. No one does anything alone; whether its inspiration, advice or outright help there are countless people without whom I would not be here. It is because of my professors, mentors and peers that I have come to love this program and this town. It turns out the passion I was seeking had less to do with what I would come to study here but the way in which I was able to study it. I feel like some magic has brought together a program of study that has introduced me to a way of experiential learning through creative practice and a vibrant and supportive local creative community. I am not sure one could exist without the other. One of many opportunities this connection has afforded me is my involvement at Artspace this past year and the outstanding learning experiences I have been able to engage in here. It is a very powerful experience to engage with your role models and to understand the intricacies of the work you intend to do. From the big picture to the day to day, through conversations and collaborations with the wonderful administrators at Artspace and the artists they support, I have gained an understanding of the dedication it takes to work in this field, and the importance of an organization like Artspace to support a community within which artists and students are able to explore and grow. I feel particularly lucky to have been able to engage directly with artist Krista Belle Stewart during the installation of her show and to not only feel that the academic work I have been engaged in fostered a stimulating conversation, but also that the skills I have gained through the experience I have had here allowed me to provide valuable assistance in this process. It is because of such experiences that I feel like nothing is ending. My academic career has so thoroughly interwoven with the life I want to live that all that is left is to continue to live it. I am so grateful.