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Rhetorical Echoes

It was a hard pill to swallow at first and it left me standing in a small brick hallway, trapped in what I could only describe as a walking coma. My final new class of my university career. As I left the classroom, this ominous sense of (admittedly false) finality descended over me and I found myself simply walking around the halls of the Dal Life Sciences building. Almost as if guided by a biological autopilot my legs simply carried me doggedly forward, despite my lack of mental presence or defined destination. Suddenly, with a fearsome force, my mental bungee went taunt and my consciousness was flung haphazardly back into my body. The shock began to dissipate and I found myself standing in front of the stairwell door. Still slightly shaken I gripped the cold handle of the heavy door, flung it open and hurtled myself down the stairwell. With each new step my mental awareness returned and my previous numbness was quickly replaced by a sudden realization which was equal parts daunting and exhilarating. Since roughly the age of four, like most of my compatriots, my life has been guided by an overriding obligation. To go from grade to grade, one year to the next. 1, 2, 3 and before long it was 12 and I was walking out of the Sportsplex with my bullshit high school diploma and signed boilerplate letter from the mayor of Halifax. In 2004, for my school newspaper, I summed the final experience of this period in a short piece I titled the Final Challenge:

“It has come yet again. Like the majestic migration of the whales returning home in the summer. It has occurred for as long as many can remember. The time has come for the students of CPA, to run to gauntlet. It is time, for the final exams. Soon the school year will enter its final stage and the madness shall begin anew. It is always the same. First there will be a period of frantic energy, as students scramble to study. This is followed by arrogance as the students think that they are ready for anything. Then exam day arrives and there is sheer, white-knuckled terror, there are tears and wails, prayers to various gods of wisdom. This is followed by, the silence. Throughout the halls and classrooms that once were alive with the pulse of a thousand lives. There is now only an eerie stillness. For two-hours, barely a breath is heard. When the final buzzer rings, the students re-emerge, numb, unfeeling. Then, as the dam breaks, the emotions return in a great flood. It is always the same. For different grades, exams are unique experience. For grade ten’s, it is anew challenge, one that their Junior Highs did not show them. For the eleven’s, exams are faced with the bitter contempt that surrounds that middle grade. For the grade twelve’s, they are a date with destiny. For some it will mean vast new palaces of learning are open to them, for others, the firing squad awaits. The finals are the last hurdle that they must leap, with the final strength in there academic muscles. But after the last word has been written, the last pencil dropped, the last footstep echoes through the halls, the students are granted the greatest of prizes, freedom! Until next year.”

Both short sighted and inaccurate, but to be fair I had no real idea what was in store for me. Like many middle-class Canadian children of previously working class parents, I hurtled straight into university. As much an expectation as a practical life decision in my family. So for another five years, though far less restrained than the previous twelve, I repeated a similar cycle of grade and repeat. My eyes always fixed on some undefined, semi-mythical time of glorious freedom and the dreams of my childhood. Only now, this isn’t some vague fantasy. This is soon to be my reality. No more years of rinse of repeat. No more secure familiarity. Only the rest of my natural life. And that is something which I cannot truly contextualize, no matter how hard I try. I will now have to learn a skill which the years of relative security has not truly prepared me for; dealing with the wondrous and treacherous randomness of life. So I leave my undergrad days with mixed feelings. Obviously I am uncertain about my future and I have some regrets. But I am also grateful for time I spent in this unique social environment. It gave me the opportunity for emotional and intellectual development which will help carry me into the wider world beyond my scholastic safe harbour. Into new opportunities which are already presenting themselves and possibly to far flung horizons which I have longed to see all my life.

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