It’s a question that’s plagued humanity since the dawn of university itself. Are students less than human? More than human? If you cut me, will I bleed in Wits’ colours? Will I bleed at all? These are questions that no one has ever asked, and today, I plan on answering them. To be clear, I plan on answering the questions that don’t involve me getting cut. I’m not that committed to finding answers… So, join me, dear reader, as I reflect on what it means to be a student, and the anxiety of remembering that, at some point, you’ll have to be something else.
Six years ago, I entered university as a human of 18 years, and I’ve been a student ever since, making me an ideal candidate to explore these issues. Though I will be exploring my subjective perspective of what it means to be a student, I first want to outline what we know about students in general. The word ‘student’ is derived from the Latin term studium, which is a verb which either means “to study” or “painstaking application”. The latter definition of course doesn’t apply to all students, and I would argue that neither does the first, because I know a lot of students, and I don’t think either happens very often.
However, students aren’t monoliths, and you will find students who are incredibly hardworking and devoted to excelling at university… but you’ll also find students who are incredibly devoted to day-drinking and wasting their parents’ money. Both are equally valid expressions of studenthood, and it’s important to find a balance between working hard and hardly working. I would say that I’ve struck a fine balance between the two, but an unbiased person would probably disagree. I’m lucky enough to have experienced both sides of being a student – the anxiety-inducing, breakneck sprint to meet a deadline, and the lazy, fun days spent ditching lectures and relaxing with friends. What’s important is that you never let one side consume you, and to always remember one very important thing: you won’t be a student forever.
I know that doesn’t always feel true, but it is. University is a stepping stone towards employment for many people. It’s a liminal space between High School and the Real World, where students are given more freedom and independence, while still being tethered to a school system. Attending university is about building a future – and that is terrifying for a lot of people, myself included! I’ve been tutoring for three years now, and in every class I’ve tutored, I’ve had students approach me talking about how anxious they are about what comes after university. A lot of students feel as if they’re approaching a cliff, and are running out of time to figure out how not to fly off the edge. So, what do I say to these students?
Usually, it’s something like: don’t panic, it’s going to be fine. You’re not running out of time; you have your whole life ahead of you. You won’t be a student forever, but you will still have room to manoeuvre and grow as a person. You’ll still have room to change and to learn, to find your place. Life is full of opportunities, and as scary as it is to leave this chapter of your life behind, it’s important to do so. You can’t fight it, so accept it, and everything will work out. At least, that’s what I assume will happen. I don’t know for sure; I’m still just a student after all.
Just between you and me, dear reader, sometimes I wonder if the real reason I’m applying for funding for my PhD is to prolong my time as a student – to delay being a human, just that little bit longer…