Broken Dreams, Broken Hearts

I never dreamed that I would be writing a post like this, just days after finishing my studies.

I never dreamed on Monday when I was driving through the university grounds and past the annual celebration of Bermuda Shorts Day that twelve hours later some of my fellow students would be gone.

I never dreamed when I drove from the university to a Brentwood drug store and looked into the grocery store beside it that in twelve short hours a young man would walk out of there and change the lives of hundreds of people forever.

I am still dumbfounded by yesterday’s events – the senseless murder of five young students who were only doing what I was doing – decompressing after a long semester. I was shocked when I heard about it, and I’m still shocked – at the loss as well as at the level of violence that was so unexpected.

There isn’t a lot I can say. I’ve been able to confirm that I did not personally know any of the students involved, but that doesn’t help much. The fact is, they were siblings in study, and they did not deserve for this to happen.

Senseless. Sad. Shocking.

Don’t ever doubt it. There is pressure in university life. Youngsters must live up to the standards of a lot of different people even as they try to establish who they are in the world. They work very hard to figure out what is needed, and the best way to get it done. At the same time they are working hard emotionally to finish their own personal foundations and launch themselves into a successful life. Pressures come from everywhere. There is nothing easy about the university experience. It is a purification by fire that no one can fully appreciate until they have gone through it.

I contacted the university as a mature student and offered to volunteer in any way needed. They thanked me, but they do of course have professionals handling it. “Reach out to your community,” they said, so I am.

Pray for the victims and their families, and for the perpetrator and his family. Then reach out to people you know who you feel might be dealing with stress. Make sure they know that you care, and that you can spare time to listen if they need it.

And you: if you need to talk, I’m here to listen. Contact me. I’ve felt and dealt with overwhelming stress in my time, and I can attest to the fact that simply talking about it – no matter what it is – exposes it to the air and makes it seem less important. Two heads are better than one. There’s strength in numbers.

Talk.

No one is completely alone.

You are welcome to re-blog this post if it strikes a chord with you.

* * * * *

Visit the University of Calgary website for further information.

Click here for a gallery of images honouring the victims of this tragedy.

The Last Paper

What can I say? It’s all done, now, but the crying. I always said I’d get it done, and I did. Here’s the final paper:

I actually had trouble whittling my way down to a thesis statement on this one. I had so much material on my desk and in my mind that I just couldn’t narrow it down sufficiently to the kind of paper it was supposed to be. So I spoke to Dr. L and in about fifteen minutes all my stuff was lined up in my mind and my ideas were focused. 

At least, I think they were. 

At that point it took shape quickly. Two solid days for extra reading, two for a rough first draft, then concerted hacking, slashing, groaning, picking, head-shaking, corner-rounding and tightening, until I thought it was fit for ink. 

I emailed the prof – huzzah! – and went in to the university to drop it off in the office – four days early – and ever since then I’ve been cleaning house.

Now I wait to find out my final grades, await my convocation details (June 10th, 930am) and go and do what I skipped out on the first time around – trip on my gown going up the stairs to the dais to accept my prize flat on my face.

Things have felt different since I handed the paper in. At first I thought that was the old “oh my gosh, I’m on holiday now” thing, but that’s not it. I’ve been pondering, and I think I know what it is now. 

Once I graduate, I won’t be young anymore. 

The kids I worked with were overwhelmingly good and patient and welcoming, and appreciative of the old fart back in school – they made me feel like I belonged. Sharing in the pressures of the work, it seldom occurred to me that I was nearly thirty years older than them. I was always just one of the kids. 

But now, with the completion of this paper, with this passage, I have to return to my own time of life. Sure, there’s hope in my outlook, and excitement, and ambition, but let’s face it: the world is not my oyster. The decisions I make are not setting the course for an entire life, only for what I have left. The stakes are lower for me, and yet because retirement looms they might actually be higher.

One thing is for sure: with graduation and convocation this little journey is winding down, and so is this blog. It’s never been the busiest of blogs, but I think it said what needed to be said – when it needed to be said. 

So what’s next? We’re moving. The idea was born about a year ago and has been growing ever since, and frankly I can’t think of a better way to celebrate a graduation than with a truly fresh start. The process and the result will be the subject of my next blog.

I do hope you’ll tag along. 

Convocation

Lo, but the big day fast approacheth. 

Convocation. 

Of course, I applied for graduation in December as required, and got myself into the system. Since then I’ve been getting little reminders on this and that and I’ve been quietly paying attention. But schoolwork first, and my primary focus has certainly been there. 

But today, even as I was starting to finalize my last ever paper, my mind started to bend toward graduation. 

I’ve finally made up my mind to take part in the ceremony. This is big. After my first degree in 1990 I was so tired, so utterly, wretchedly, tired in so many different areas of my life that I did not take part – I just picked up my silly piece of paper, handed my silly photos to my Mom with an injunction never to show them to me again, and rode off into the sunset. 

This time though, I think I owe it to myself to attend, and I’m going for it. 

So I’ve ordered and paid for my cap and gown, I’ve gone over the checklist, and on Monday before class I’ll stop by the Faculty office to make sure I’m still on target.

I don’t know who’s going to join me since for my family attendance does involve some sacrifices, but let’s face it I’m not some dewey-eyed 23 year old just setting out in the world. Still, I’m going to invest in it for my own sake at least.

It’s been a tough slog for many different reasons, but now the end is most definitely in sight. 

I can’t deny it, it’s exciting.

A few thoughts for improvement

When I filled out the survey recently I thought I was being given a chance to air some thoughts. Of course, I’m not labouring in any mistaken belief that my thoughts in particular will be considered – I know that surveys are taken as data en mass rather than individualistically. There is no single person – most of the time – poring over the carefully entered and edited loving comments and ideas submitted by survey participants. 

Knowing this, I’ve always intended that toward the end of my time in university I would leave a few salient thoughts for the university here. It seems as good a place as any. I’ve never seen an idea box on campus, so I guess this will have to do. 

So here we go:

  1. Clean clean clean! The University of Calgary is not a cleaned place. Read that carefully. It’s not cleaned – at all – as near as I can tell. There are stains on the floor in the brand new Taylor Family Digital Library that were there when I arrived in 2011! Oh, I know they empty garbages, but floors are not mopped, tables are not wiped, stains are not removed, and it’s all really rather unpleasant. Sad that this should be my first thought on completion of my degree program – such a small point, really – but important to the overall enjoyment of time spent on campus. 
  2. Reduce waste. U of C tells everyone it wants to be environmentally friendly, but there are things that they could do to reduce waste. For example, I can’t count the number of times I’ve written four-line answers in quizzes using a booklet of twenty pages! There just isn’t anything efficient about that! The booklets can’t be re-used and re-cycling is up to the student. I wrote an Email two years ago to the President, suggesting the Profs be given an option for single sheets of paper rather than a whole booklet. I never did hear back. 
  3. Weekend hours are strange. The library doesn’t open until 10am on weekends, and yet most students who want and need to get work done get up much earlier than that. 
  4. Renovations. Do I need to bitch about marble floors in the administration areas when students are always being asked to pay more?
  5. Quiet spaces. The top three floors of the library are designated quiet areas, but there are so many students in there rubbing shoulders that it really doesn’t work out that way. I would ask that students be provided with additional areas where they can work without having to enjoy their neighbours’ coughing and conversation. That would be on my Christmas wish list. How about the old Mackimmie Library? It’s closed right now, and has been since I arrived, but as near as I can tell it would be quite easy to gut most of the walls from it, put down carpet tile, throw in some chairs and desks and let people get to work. There aren’t any structural issues so I’m not sure why this wouldn’t be an option.
  6. Actual shelters at the bus loop would be nice. The way it is, people have to stand in the cold and wind and rain and snow to wait for a bus there. Bus shelters wouldn’t have to be heated, but they would at least keep folks out of the wind. Just because we’re young, doesn’t mean we won’t freeze when the bus is behind its time. 😛
  7. More choice in the Food Court. I know there are massive renovations coming, and I imagine that’s in the works, but – you know – Jeez!
  8. Smoking areas. I used to smoke, so I don’t ignore the need that some people have to tank up on nicotine in their breaks, but there are supposedly rules about smoking at entrances to buildings. Even so, if I wanted to start a ciggy-butt collection that is where I would go. Create sheltered places where the smokers can mill around away from the entrances and building air intakes, and thus keep everyone happy. No, really.
  9. Web system. Between My U of C and Blackboard, the whole set up is not intuitive. I was told every year that I could choose and book my courses online, but I didn’t because it’s too damn hard to figure out what you’re looking at. I always went in and sat down with the awesome, patient, understanding Maria in Student Services to make sure I got my courses booked without error. It’s true there way be an old fart element at work here, but I maintain it’s why I’m graduating soon – I’m on track because Maria kept me on track, all the way along. I spoke to at least three students who thought they were finishing but found out that courses they took didn’t count. So how does that make sense?
  10. More power outlets for devices. Honestly, the old lecture halls and even the newly renovated Social Science building are woefully deficient in this area. You have to get to class early just so you can sit near an outlet!
Other than these simple gripes my experience at U of C has been awesome. Almost completely awesome. Just the right amount of mind-blowing, head-numbing, eye-rubbing stress, and silliness in all the right proportions. The fact that I’m an old fart has been an issue in some areas, but has bought me some credibility in others. The fact is, even though the university guarantees they will get every student through it, there is nothing particularly easy about getting a degree. Oh sure, you figure out a method after a while, but you still have to do the work. It always comes down to the work. 
 
That’s what I’m dealing with now, working on my last ever paper. My feet are already in the exit doorway, but my mind keeps saying “hold on, I’m not done yet!” I still have work to put in to this final paper, and frankly, it’s being bloody difficult. As always, I’ll get it done, but a simple paper is being perhaps as big of a challenge as I have faced in my entire time at the University of Calgary. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Studies

Now that there are only two and a half weeks left I would say that it’s time to start reflecting on the nature of this experience – to assess what it was all about, what it was worth, and what it might be worth in the future. 

I’m in the library now. I just finished rehearsing for a presentation with some very focused young students. They’re so indulgent of the old man – they put up with my foibles without kicking up too much of a fuss.

Anyway, it occurs to me that I’m now coming to the end of an experience which began in May 2011 as an effort to re-rail and  re-establish purpose after being laid off from my job of 23 years. 

September of that year saw a large number of firsts – the first class, the first test, the first essay and so on – and now I’m experiencing some Newtonian, equal-and-opposite lasts. 

This morning, for example, I came here on the train for the last time. I waited in Mac Hall for the library to open – for the last time – and right now I’m sitting in a library workroom which I booked in my name for the last time. Frankly, I’m probably in this library for the last time right now, because the rest of my studies can be done at home and other than a final, romantic walkabout there would be no reason for me to come back here.

It makes you think: about the passage of time, the meaning of events. It makes you wonder what the point is of using all our personal forces to develop when we’d probably be a lot more comfortable if we just stagnated. I hope against hope that I have the energy to keep learning right up until my last day – there is no emotional profit in being satisfied. There’s no joy in quiesence. Learn and grow, that’s my motto. Learn something new every day, or waste your life on the passive entertainments.

Anyway, here’s my last view of the library. It’s Saturday, so it’s not too busy – but that’s not how I’ll remember it. 

There’s a thing about lasts. The optimism of beginning is gone, but it’s replaced now by the nervous anticipation of satisfaction and success. 

And I have to say, I like the sound of that.

DP: Movement

And so it continues. My assignments for this semester are now 42% done, and I’m about 55% through the class schedule. 

I have to admit I never did make a point of going in to school to work extra days because I remembered (oh yah!) that I have a perfectly usable and quiet office space here at home, plus I didn’t want to spend extra money on bus tickets  - me being an unemployed bum and all. Staying home for my studies has also saved me the bother of budgeting for campus munchies which, though unquestionably hearty and healthy and not made with any MSGs or sugar whatsoever, are nevertheless money out of my pocket when I indulge.

Right now I’m working on my part of two group projects, and preparing for an exam, all due Monday. It has started to occur to me, now, that I’m actually working on the final projects of my educational career. Because of this, last week when I was readying a short report for submission I decided to go all out, presentationwise. It suddenly occurred to me that once I’m back in the working world (whatever that ends up looking like) I may not get the same opportunities to fiddle with the Word software, so I added a cover page, prepped a contents list, and inserted a subtle watermark – all because I could and because I wanted to, and because it made at least a part of the assignment feel like fun.

I’ve received confirmation that my graduation plans are on track, provided of course that I successfully complete these last two courses. I’m assuming they’ll be fine because I have a habit of just getting things done. 

I’ve also received and completed a survey from the university about my experience there – I barred no holds, believe you me. They know all the niggling little complaints that it is my duty and obligation as an over-confident senior student to divulge.

This afternoon I’m going to send out a resume – what the hey – I’ve got nothing to lose by submitting it. I’m certainly qualified. Anyway, stay tuned for whatever happens next.

 

Giggles

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Treasures of Academia

Here are the true treasures of academia (no, not the nut) – the kernels of knowledge and wisdom and understanding. 

Books. 

 

Simple Treasure