MASHAL KHAN / THE VARSITY

It often seemed as though this day would never come. Somehow, I managed to survive four years at U of T. Soon I’ll walk into Convocation Hall and receive an incredibly overpriced piece of paper known as a diploma. At the end of my time here, I can’t help but wonder if it was all worth it.

I was obsessed with getting to this finish line, as if graduating with a 4.0 GPA would somehow solve all my problems and kickstart my ‘real’ life after convocation. I imagined fielding job offers, networking, and feeling proud of my status as a U of T alumna. Why else would I have put up with the countless long days and nights spent at Robarts? Why else suffer in the constant hustle to be at the top of the class?

Well… the gates of heaven did not open when I put down my pen after my last exam. Instead, I was filled with overwhelming anxiety. I kept asking myself, “What do I do now?” I’d waited for this moment for years, and now that it was here, I didn’t know what to do or how to feel. The truth is, U of T wasn’t all I had thought it would be. I spent most of my time here cursing its name and counting down the days until I never had to set foot on this campus ever again. But on that last day, I couldn’t seem to leave. I began to realize that my tunnel vision had made me avoid answering a lot of questions about my life and future. But now that there wasn’t anything left to work toward, all those questions came flooding in.

I used to look at fourth year students as though they were the luckiest people in the world. I watched with envy as I saw graduates taking pictures with their regalia in King’s College Circle from the window of the study halls in Gerstein. Surely, I thought, they must know what they’re doing. They must have their whole lives planned out and are just waiting to begin. Now as a fourth year, I feel more lost and confused than ever. Here’s the brutal reality: I still don’t know what I’m going to do with my life; I don’t know what job I can get with my social science degree; and I don’t know if U of T was worth all the stress and money. And I don’t think I’m the only one who feels this way.

Undergrad left me with a lot more questions than it gave me answers, but I also think that may have been the point. U of T checked my ego, showing me that I would need to work harder than I ever had to get any recognition for my efforts. It constantly challenged what I thought was normal or acceptable. I was pushed out of my comfort zone every day, and though I hated it, I think I’m better off for it. At least I hope so.

If there is one thing I regret from my time in undergrad, though, it’s that I haven’t enjoyed it as much as I should have. I regret simply looking at this time as a transitory phase, as a holding pattern until my real ‘adult’ life began. I didn’t take the time to make lasting connections. I knew I didn’t want to stay here, so what was the point in getting attached? I missed out on many opportunities because I was always stressed over the next test, the next paper, and whether or not that one “B” I got in first year would be the reason I wouldn’t get into grad school. The reality is that my adult life was, and is, already happening. It doesn’t start the day I get a desk job, and when I do, I will probably regret not having more stories about my life in undergrad beyond my all-nighters in the library. It may sound corny, but I was so obsessed with getting to the finish line that I barely paid attention to the race.

What I can say with certainty now is this: U of T will give you exactly what you give it. No one will hold your hand or act as your guide toward success. It will take a few all-nighters to get that coveted 4.0 GPA, but university is about so much more than that. Challenge yourself on purpose, find new passions, and get involved as much you can in whatever you’re interested in. University isn’t some waiting room to your adult life: it is your life. I spent most of my time resenting U of T instead of appreciating the opportunities it offered. Yes, U of T can be big and scary, but there is so much to discover, if you just go out and look.

Now, I always answer the classic job interview question, “what has been one of your biggest challenges?” the same way.

Going to U of T has been one of my biggest challenges, but I also hope it will end up being the most rewarding. Going here is hard. Not only because the classes are hard, but because growing up is hard. You lose old friends, you make new friends, and you change your mind constantly. It can often feel like school is literally plotting against you. But this is also one of the last times where we have the freedom to explore whatever interests us, where our main goal is to discover who we are, and find out what we want.  

You don’t need to have all the answers by convocation day. What I can say for certain is that I’m not going to enter Convocation Hall on my graduation day as the same person I was on my first day in my first year. When all is said and done, isn’t that the point?

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