It’s hard to believe you got here. You – that massive mix of sweat and nerves, with those blue-green-brown eyes and that murky yet blonde-orange-black hair. You’ve done it. Congrats. No one expected you to make it this far. There was a time long ago where you couldn’t help but poop your pants or you couldn’t feed yourself or you cried about both those things, and some people still hold you accountable for that.
No longer. Don’t expect people to wipe up your mess, scatological or otherwise. This is University. A place where boys become men, girls become men (especially in Engineering) and men become sleep-deprived, morally broken semblances of what they once where. Really, it is a place where men wish they were boys again.
This is because, although surviving the ironclad grip of your mother’s tearful goodbye embrace, breezing through your father’s chastising lessons and laments and making it through the games of beer-pong becoming beer-pangs-in-my-stomach, the breakfasts of undercooked burritos and Cheetos and the crushing gravity felt both on your wallet and vertebrates from carrying 600 dollar textbooks, this is both the beginning of the end and the end of the beginning.
You, with that beer stain smeared onto your shirt and indefatigable grin plastered on your face, are at the very edge of a circle. On the inside is everything you once knew and cherished. There are days of innocence and sunshine, Lego and Barbies. There are games that felt like hours and that replay in your mind again and again and again. There is that time you peed in Lake Ontario.
The outside, though, is entirely different. Instead of warmth and comfort, there is the cold, hard reality of everything you don’t know. Ignorance, ambiguity, a future as blurry as you were during Frosh Week – it all stares you in the face. It is life you could never call your own nor a life you ever imagined yourself living. At times, it feels coerced. You never asked to be here. You never asked to be born.
And yet right before your eyes, there are things that you were told to eschew for as long as possible. Ahead in the fading light of comfort you felt, there is an actuality of eventual debts, early mornings, late nights, lifelong memories, midterms, assignments, exams, fights, responsibilities, children, insurances, braces, old-age and eventually, death. All and all, there is a lifetime that is sandwiched between two milestones that are no more significant than a fart in the wind.
This is the beginning of it all – debts, disappointments and dilapidating disasters. But there is more than that. Because on the precipice of a circle, on its very edge, where the light of the middle has dimmed into a very fine line and where you are surrounded on all sides by an environment you didn’t quite choose, you can see things you could never see in the centre.
What they are differs for everyone. Some see success. Others are inevitably doomed for failure. Yet we all share the unquestionable unknown and more important than that, we are all fighting against it together.
It is an indistinct feeling pervasive here at McMaster. I won’t deny that some people think otherwise. They see success only when the light of someone else crashing and burning flickers. Even some administrative staff, with the precision of lasers, does as much.
But while there is the inevitability of sadness, there is also an opening for unbridled happiness. We are all taking the first few steps of the longest journey of our life. Some will leap, some will crawl, and others will stop the journey all together. Yet all of us – from the frosh to the seventh-year bedraggled scholar – will look back on these days, and although we’ll never understand how we survived that Organic Chemistry exam or that one night at the bar, we’ll one day say, “Those were the days.”