An obligation to demand the most of ourselves

Last week UTMSU representatives met with departing Vice-President Orchard to discuss what they wanted from the next president. (Predictably, the issue of tuition fees was chief on their list.) Vice-President Part-Time Affairs Ibrahim Hindy suggested a principal who will go out of their way to get to know students, meeting with them for two hours a month as a minimum requirement.

“This is the University of Toronto,”  said Mr. Hindy. “You demand the most of us as students, and we have the right as students to demand the most of our principal.”

Sensible as Mr. Hindy’s suggestion was, it made me think about something apparently unrelated to the topic of tuition fees or even the topic of the next vice-president. It’s the basis of this editorial, and can be summed up as “We have the right to demand the most of ourselves.”

On second thought, make that “We have an obligation to demand the most of ourselves.

The seed was for this idea was planted one afternoon, two or three years ago, in a Communication, Culture and Information Technology Advisory Board meeting, when a student complained that the CCIT program wasn’t well-known. This, he argued, meant that he would have a difficult time finding a job when he graduated. Other students nodded their agreement as CCIT professors dutifully scribbled notes on their notepads.

When I got home that night, I looked CCIT up in Wikipedia. By then the CCIT program had existed for at least a couple of years. Hundreds of students had learned elements of communication, from cyberlaw  to web design to the history of radio. Yet none had thought of creating a Wikipedia entry for CCIT. So I did. (Someone has since deleted it. That’s beside the point, although I do plan on finding out why they did that.)

The idea blossomed further when I heard that Michael Di Leo, The Medium’s arts editor, had failed to find a summer job. Michael could have raged on against the economy and the depression and how bad students have it. Instead, he partnered with a friend to create his own a company—a yacht- and deck-cleaning business. Hard work, to be sure. But it made him some money.

The idea finally materialized into a draft for this editorial when I heard about the Erindale Filipino Students’ Association and its initiative to raise money for victims of Hurricane Ketsana. They didn’t just sit down and weep for the losses that their countrymen suffered. They did something about it.

I don’t mean to deny that some students may have a hard time paying their tuition fees, or making the most of UTM, or gathering the nerve to knock on the door of a UTM official.

What I am saying is that going through hard times is the point. It’s no picnic having two jobs while going to school full-time, like my sister did last year. It’s not easy to take four courses and a paid internship and work at The Medium, like Saaliha, our news editor. Neither is it pleasant to feel a knot in your stomach every time you get a letter from OSAP, like I do.

But tough times are part of the experience. Tough times come when you do  your best, when you try and beat the odds. Tough times are something that all students should experience. They teach you what it’s like to work until midnight even though you have an exam next morning. They make you tougher and they make  you a better student, and they will pay off when you get that job that you couldn’t have gotten otherwise and when you retain that job because you already know what it’s like to work your ass off.

Some students have legitimate reasons to complain about high tuition fees or about UTM being inaccessible to students. Whatever they are, I do not mean to discredit them—not as long as these students can look at their reflection in their mirror and tell themselves, I did my best and still couldn’t succeed. I applied for OSAP but was rejected. I tried — really tried — to find a job or two while I went to school part-time but was unable to. I graduated but couldn’t find a job—even though went to the Career Centre workshops and cold-called a bunch of companies and kept going door to door, no matter how many people had slammed them to my face.

I  want to understand.  And I also want to help. I can help with experience in The Medium. Not much, perhaps. But it’s something. So, email me, or call me. Let’s talk.

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