It was 1993 and I was just turning 18 years old.
I began my first experience with post-secondary education in the esteemed Theater Arts program at the University of Toronto in Mississauga on the Erindale campus.
I was unprepared for the torrent of experience that awaited me. As a member of the enriched program (“brainer” in bully terms) I had spent most of my formative high school years in self-imposed, relative seclusion. I was particularly sheltered since my saint-of-a-mother was incredibly protective of her youngest son. And now, here I was, cut loose to explore the wilderness and free to choose whatever path I wanted.
While you would assume intelligence and critical thinking come hand in hand, I beg to differ. Intelligence is not wisdom. Wisdom comes from a coalescence of the reasoning mind and emotional mind. For me, the latter was overwhelmed. I made a series of poor choices that resulted in getting kicked out of UTM. I responded by applying to Ryerson the following year, and I was accepted, only to repeat the same cycle in an amplified fashion.
Being kicked out of Ryerson didn’t phase me. I was invincible. “I’ll just apply to another school,” I told myself, and I did. George Brown Theater School was my next victim, except they couldn’t see through the finely constructed veneer and accepted me as well. Needless to say, this was another recycling of the same broken bottle.
Sparing you the gritty details, alcohol and drugs became my primary institution. This is why I feel compelled to dig my hands into the rich soil in which I hope this article will influence you to sow your seeds. This repetitive chaos was directly correlated to a lack of balance between my personal life and school life. I could issue a ticker tape parade of post-it notes, each with their own excuse, as to why I made such poor decisions, but this would serve no purpose to you or me. The bottom line is that, as undergraduates, we are exposed to more than just a wealth of valuable knowledge with which we can achieve excellence and create lasting change in the world. We are exposed to a yawning abyss of gratification as well: sex, drugs and rock n’ roll.
Do not mistake this missive as a direct assault on the fun you can have during your years here. I drink. I smoke weed. Hell, dive in and have one for me. I’m no square, baby. I spent more than a decade in a Hunter S. Thompson abstract, yet, here I am enjoying a wonderful undergraduate experience, determined to have a serious impact on my community. But I am one of the lucky ones.
I hope to reach that part of you that knows what you want out of this life, even if it is only a fleeting glimpse in your most perfect moment. I implore you to ask yourself when you look into the mirror, “Can I live with the choices that I am making?”
“Am I sharing my gifts with the world?”
“Is this who I really am?”
Hopefully you can wholeheartedly embrace that person looking back at you, including the decisions and choices that have been made. Hopefully this embrace brings a warm, comforted smile to your face. In the hectic and white-tipped rapids that are the life of an undergrad, it can be very easy to get caught in the undertow and begin to compromise your morals. You will be faced with choices that will challenge your values. The types of choices that you could regret making and would hurt those you hold most dear. Just remember not to lose sight of your goals, your family, and especially, yourself. If you hesitate to answer the aforementioned questions with a smooth and transparent “yes”, it might be time to circle the wagons and connect with those you love, and those who you know love you.