“Hey, do you want some?”
It was second year and I was sitting in Sid Smith when a girl I knew opened her purse and took out her caffeine pills.
“I also have some other stuff, you know, day time cold medication, stuff like that.” She had a mini pharmacy in her shoulder bag. This girl was a perfectionist, a history student who’s vendetta included taking 6 courses, being a leader in one of U of T’s student organizations and having friends and a close relationship with family. It was mid-term season and here she was snacking on caffeine pills– I’d heard the rumors about engineers and Ritalin, but this was new. It seemed like “hanging with the tough crowd” got a whole different meaning after high school.
Ok, so maybe U of T’s a little bit competitive on the St. George Campus. Maybe there are some pages ripped out of the “good sources” in Robarts (so that other people can’t use them in their essays.) But I think a lot of the undergrads here like it that way. After graduating high school, I had another university call my house personally and ask me to go there. My snobby 17-year-old self said “nah” and forwent a $2000 scholarship to come to U of T. I wanted a hard university. The air of self-congratulation was high in first year, “of course we’re all smart, we’re at U of T” said one kid in my first year tutorial. “I wrote an essay for my boyfriend at another university and also handed it in here: he got an A, I got a B-“, the girl who said this was complaining, but there was a smug look on her face that said she felt like her high marks were worth more than someone else’s high marks. The phrase “Harvard North” got tossed around a lot before the conversation was over.
Of course, not everyone is like that. There are tons who really don’t care that much. There are students who write their essays on the streetcar or in the stock rooms at their part time jobs. There are kids who make up sources, who read the book the night before the exam, who aim to pass their courses and have a good time and that’s it. There are some who don’t show up to class and kids who sleep through class and even kids who sneak liquor into class and do shots in the back row during lecture.
But we’re more famous for the competitive kids.
Is that a bad thing?
“I hate hanging around with our friends, it feels like a big C.V competition” said my buddy as the two of us sat in a coffee shop near school. “One on one, everyone is really cool, but as a group? Ugh, it’s a lot to swallow.”
“I dunno”, I said, “I don’t mind so much.” Our friends are competitive. They talk about their grades, they talk about the news, they read the Globe and Mail, they read American newspapers online, they debate constantly, they talk about their jobs and their goals. It can lead to a night of constant one-up-manship until someone does something necessary, like crack a dirty joke or break out tequila. It’s easy to feel inadequate beside them. But if I didn’t sit beside them and feel inadequate, I’d probably just be an average student paying for school by working at the mall and that’s it. I sit beside them and feel the need to be better informed, more active, smarter and more original.
We’re competitive, but it’s ok. The undergrad editor of the main paper, The Varsity appears often in Eye Weekly. When I got my summer internship at a local newspaper, they saw “The Window, a U of T student newspaper” and associated with the Varsity. “No,” I said, “No! The Window! It’s different, it’s the New College one!” But they always forgot that difference and I always ended up with far more respect that I ever deserved. Thank goodness for the uber-competitive Varsity, U of T’s version of J-School and thought by some to be on par with other Toronto news outlets.
But there’s more. The Editor-in-Chief of Torontoist is a fourth-year English student here. The host of 89.5 CIUT’s Electric boogaloo is a fourth-year poli-sci student who gets amazing grades and also edits parts of the Victoria College newspaper, The Strand. These are young people, people who are my age, who are ambitious and driven as hell and this is just in the humanities. Would they have come here if U of T didn’t have its larger-than-life rep? Of course U of T is competitive–when people like this are in your classroom, you realize the difference between them and you isn’t age, instead it’s drive and ambition.
Its tough to sit and realize your school is snobby, that people are full of it and think they are better than people at other schools, or try to ruin sources, or are hopped up on caffeine pills. It’s not a pretty thing.
But what is amazing is when being competitive means feeling the urge to do things you never thought you really could, after looking around and seeing that hey, everyone else is doing it.