A long time ago, back in grade 12 when I was young, impressionable and unburdened by readings on readings, I was deliberating between which university offers to accept. The websites, while useful in terms of information, were not very much help when I was trying to decide which university I would be happy at. Naturally, I decided to visit the campuses of the universities that had accepted me. While the story obviously ends with me choosing U of T, there were so many factors why I ultimately went with it. Sure, I loved the history and architecture and how U of T is both isolated from downtown Toronto yet just a quick 10 minute walk away from the core. However, what cinched it for me was something I’d like to call the ‘atmosphere of learning’ that was prevalent everywhere I visited – from the lecture halls to the greenspace to the lineup at Tim Hortons – there was an infectious hum in the air.
And every year after summer vacation ends and the first month flies by, I am always still in awe of that atmosphere.
I am by no means an academic person, in that I consider myself someone who likes to create artistically rather than spend my time hunched over readings or sitting still in lecture. But learning here is found in so many different ways.
It’s in the buzz of conversations on the street, on the patio chairs on Wilcocks Street where you hear murmurs of “Did you watch the debate last night?” or “I’m studying the brain and its capacities” or “You know that wrap you’re eating? Let me tell you all about that wrap you’re eating”. It’s in the incensed back-and-forth dialogue between professors and a student who challenges the professor’s persuasive lecture (because every lecture is an argument meant to convince you).
It’s in the emotional learning of students who refuse to let themselves be crushed by a bad grade and move past it, or the learning of students who are crushed by a bad grade to realize that school isn’t everything. It’s in the unlearning of prejudices and biases and recognizing that people are not all the same; lived experiences are not universal and should not be treated as such when trying to argue a point. In my third year, I’ve learned to trust my emotions and instincts and also develop as a person who I’m pretty okay with.
It’s in the student governments and clubs and organizations around campus where learning occurs outside the classroom, where I’ve seen spines straighten and people’s chins look forward, not down. It’s in the gym, the pool, the track – places where learning the body is a machine that only you can manage.
It’s in the protests and praises, petitions and promises, people and places where like-minded people gather only to realize they have a lot more to learn. And I love that. I might fall asleep sometimes (often) in lecture, or sometimes miss a reading or two (or five), but being in a space where I am encouraged to question things and absorb knowledge is something I’ll never quite get used to.
I will never stop wanting to learn all I can, and I’m grateful to be at U of T for that.