September 26, 2016

Term 1, Day 1. It rained on my first day of term at Aberystwyth University (then, the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth) as I embarked upon the first of two postgraduate degrees, back in 1982. One of the School of Art’s (then, the Art Department) students drew me a map indicating the route from my hall of residence to the department, on Llanbadarn Road (where, now, Gorwelion, the mental health care centre, is based):

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9.00 am. This will be a busy and bitty, fraught and fractious, week. I began the day with admin (and this will be my tune for the remainder of this week), looking at the global scene before honing in on the immediate and pressing.

Settling in the first year students asap is always the priority of the week. Their initial encounter with university can be a bewildering experience. The cultural differences between it and secondary school are significant. This is their first excursion into education beyond the boundaries of their native habit. Although, these days, social media enables them to remain in contact with home base far more easily and consistently than in my day. I managed only a weekly 20-minute telephone call home to my parents. But it did make me aware that I’d really left them. Today, they’re still connected by myriad digital umbilical cords.

The morning and afternoon were taken up with making lists, personal tutorial arrangements, postgraduate registration preparations, curriculum handouts updating, general email swatting, and messaging offspring about their educational experiences.

7.00 pm: The Welcome Party. 70+ shades of anxiety:

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Each was apprehensive, not knowing what would come, what would be expected of them, or whether they’d be able to deliver. (I can remember the feelings, vividly.) But those misgivings are a manifestation of seriousness mindedness, commitment, and resolution. (The indolent and half hearted fear nothing.) Within a few weeks they’ll have a more settled and confident outlook, as they become aware that they’d be chosen for the course because the staff had believed in them.

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Through party games, puzzles, embarrassment tactics (on my part), and mutual questioning, the new students and staff laid down the foundations of relationships that will endure, in some cases, far beyond the degree.

Some principles and observations derived from today’s engagements:

  • We should greet success and failure with equanimity.
  • Sustainable success is the biggest challenge.
  • Confidence must arise from within, rather than in response to external validation only.
  • Sometimes we have to either break a thing or break with a thing in order to break its hold upon us.

 

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