Yesterday was one of the biggest days of my life; I graduated from university. It brought up a lot of feelings, because to be blunt; I hated college.
Why The Long Rant?
You might be wondering, why am I about to go on some big rant about the education system when it’s not really my problem anymore? The thing is, college had been hyped up so much for me, so that made the fall from grace feel even steeper.
Plus, people have this notion that all students are spoiled and immature. I know I have a lot of privilege and things could have been harder.
There is so much classism on university campuses. The idea of me having to have a job, paying for my own things, and not having unlimited disposable income literally didn’t compute with some other students. They’d act like you’re a killjoy because you won’t just call in sick or outright quit your job for a night out. Or treat you like a thug because of where you’re from or because of your accent. So yeah, of course, some students are immature or just living in another plane of existence.
The thing is, that while we’re all lucky for the opportunity, it doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to struggle. Anyone can struggle with their mental health. Rape culture is rife on college campuses.
Whenever I admitted I was having a hard time, people would act like I wasn’t prepared for the real world or it’s rich complaining when I have so many opportunities. As a journalism student, I felt like there was an unspoken expectation that I would only be a source of positive PR. I’m a person; not a brand. Besides, of course the journalism students are the ones who will refuse to be silent about systemic issues.
The truth is, there were times I was genuinely fearful for my safety. There are some things you just can’t undo with some “positive thinking” or “looking on the bright side.” How I felt was more than valid. Just because you don’t have “big grown up responsibilities” yet, doesn’t mean you can’t possibly struggle.
I want to post this because I found it isolating feeling like the only person not having the time of my life. It’s okay if you’re struggling. No one at any point just said, it’s valid if college isn’t a non-stop-party or you don’t meet friends for life. So I want to be the one to say that you’re not a failure or pathetic if you feel the same.
Back To The Beginning: On Peaking In The Education System
I had the absolute worst time of my life in secondary school, and I didn’t have a good time in primary school either, people like me who didn’t “peak” in school get told we’ll have the time of our lives in college. I don’t think that’s the case, the popular people still have a great time in college.
There might not be queen bees and cliques anymore, but the former losers won’t always get “their time.” If you were sociable, popular, and outgoing in school – you’re probably gonna like college. I am and was none of those things. I don’t resent people for having a good time in college, if anything I’m happy for them.
You might be thinking, “well, the common denominator is you.” I’m not an angel. I can look back at some moments in my life and see that the problem was me. But, if you’re the type of kid who was picked on in school or couldn’t stand up for yourself, unless you really toughen up or puberty performs a miracle, the cycle is likely to continue into second and third level education.
It’s probably better I didn’t enjoy college all that much because it means the rest of my life is gonna feel better than my time in the education system. I didn’t have the worst time ever; I still have some great memories and met some wonderful people but to be blunt, it was a deeply traumatizing time in my life. My education was never my issue with college or school, I love knowledge and learning!
Faults In The Educating System
Graduating is a massive achievement for anyone but is especially important for me.
I’m not naturally academic. I have to work harder than everyone else for B’s, or A’s if I’m lucky or it’s a subject I’m good at, and sometimes a C if it’s particularly a challenging one. Other people work as hard as I do and get straight A’s, some put minimal effort and get the grades that I got from working my best.
Being intelligent and being academic are not the same thing. Don’t base your confidence or self-worth on how you do in school. Everyone’s brain works differently, I thrived in English, but literally had to repeat a year of primary school because of how bad I am at maths.
The Kids Left Behind
From my perspective, my secondary school seemed to try to dump me in one of the classes they immediately abandon. My school, and I would suspect others, just so happened to assign the best teachers to “higher” classes and the teachers who picked the wrong profession to the “lower” ones. Initially, my teachers would correct me and say I moved “across” into a new class, but once I got older, the very same teachers would level with me.
Before starting secondary school, you do an assessment test which you can’t prepare for or study for, and they use it to decide what class you end up in. I ended up in the “lower” ones and if not for my parents knowing that this goes on, because of my brother and sister being in the school already, and fighting the school on it, my brain would have been left to fester.
Before even walking into the class, it seemed like they decided some students weren’t worth putting time and resources into. Some of those students had just emigrated to Ireland and couldn’t speak English yet.
The rest of the students in those classes were the scapegoats to be blamed if something happened, and kept acting out. If you were wrote off as a bad egg, wouldn’t you just give up and start acting like one?
From where I was standing, it looked like no one asked or cared if they had a turbulent home life, or bothered to motivate them themselves if they suspected their parents didn’t. Almost every teenager will learn and flourish when given the chance, so I find it appalling that those kids were seemingly given up on.
I’m livid that the education system wanted to give up on me.
Making Academics A Competition
As my siblings were in the same school, and we’re triplets, there was no pretending I wasn’t held back. I endured six years of people treating me like I’m stupid and thinking I was too dense to notice.
People flip flopped between treating me like an idiot and thinking I had all this unmet potential because apparently we’re some sort of hivemind and I should be able to match someone else’s grades. I can’t be both of those things.
Karma had my back because although results aren’t a representation of self-worth, I ended up doing considerably better than the people who put me down in my Leaving Cert. I got the highest possible grades in higher level English and Business which are the hardest subjects when you don’t count Maths, and did exceptionally well in all my other subjects too. I got into university and had a lot of points to spare.
Grades don’t define your worth, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t immensely satisfying.
A New Chapter
I was so excited about going to college in my last year of school. I was ready for that part of my life to begin, and overall, my first year of college wasn’t that bad
(when you don’t count the literal stalker). Sure, I had my struggles, but I still have some great memories and got to know good people I’m sad to have drifted from.
I used to be disappointed that I didn’t get to move out and live on campus and felt that I was missing out on “the real college experience,” as living with my parents made it feel like I was still in school. Living at home turned out to be the best thing for me; I couldn’t afford to move out anyway, but it meant I got to leave my struggles in college after my classes, as opposed to them being omnipresent if I lived on campus.
Feeling like prey on campus was bad enough. I wouldn’t have survived if I had to feel that way 24/7.
Taking Power Back
For my last semester, I took my life back, I joined clubs & societies again and I met some lovely people. College is so lonely if you only go to the academic things, don’t talk to anyone really, and go home. It’s primarily about learning, but it’s also an opportunity to join clubs, go to events and trips, and meet new people. Unfortunately, 2019 and my final semester really felt like testing me for personal reasons, but overall, I’m glad I made the effort.
I spent yesterday acting like I didn’t give a shit. Graduating means a lot to me, but I didn’t cry because the reality is that I won’t miss it there. I got the generic “our kid graduated” pictures with my parents and then went to dinner and my favourite pub with my family & friends, so I left campus pretty quickly. Of course, I still feel a loss for the friends and experiences that were robbed from me, but I’m trying to be positive. I spent the second half of yesterday with people who genuinely love and care about me and stuck around when no one else did.
I’m proud of myself not only for getting here in the first place, but for sticking it out. I worked too damn hard (and spent too much money) to give up.
I’m looking forward to taking night courses in nutrition in September. I’m done with college, but happy to keep learning. You might also be interested in my thoughts on post-college depression.
Side note: A lot of my readers are from the UK, and I noticed university and college seem to be different things there; we say college as a colloquial thing here even if we’re in a university, which I was. I’ve said on Twitter that I’m finishing college, and people have asked if I’m going to “uni,” so I just want to specify. I have a BA from a university, which was a four-year degree. The next step up would be a master’s.
I’m also aware of how lucky I am to have been able to go to university. I know people have it worse than me, but please try respect that my feelings are valid. If you’re not a close friend of mine, you have no idea what I actually went through over the past four years. Believe me when I say, if you went through what I did, you would feel the same.