The Griff

What’s the meaning of university?

Campus

What’s the meaning of university?

Three students explore the purpose of higher education

The phrase “university is the best four years of your life” gets passed around quite often during family dinners, so you start to believe it. For some students, this experience features partying every weekend, complaining about deadlines, and scraping by with the “Cs get degrees” mentality. 

Yet, my experience of university has been more wholesome than the student life memes many of us have encountered. For instance, being able to absorb topics that spark my passions have opened my mind to different perspectives and stimulated curiosity. Also, presenting projects, attending campus-wide workshops, or asking professors questions have pushed me out of my social comfort zone. 

The general perks of university — such as networking opportunities, skill-building, and increased employability — might be obvious, but the meaning of obtaining higher education stems farther. My university experiences allowed me to experiment with different identities, career paths, work styles, and stress-relief methods. But it’s also important to recognize that everyone’s experience is different.

For example, Janice Jacobs, who is obtaining a Bachelor in Music with a major in Vocal Performance while working two jobs, says that the meaning of university was shaped by her desire to pursue music. She says: “ I didn’t … have any (music) connections, and school was the best way that I knew how to make those connections.” She also has the pleasure of being the first out of her immediate family to get a degree, which felt like a different accomplishment than the training programs her parents completed.

Janice Jacobs, photographed by Adelya Nugmanova

However, Jacobs recognizes that nifty skills such as time-management can also be learned outside of the classroom. She also believes that not everyone needs to go to university to learn critical thinking. 

Jacobs also created connections outside of university through a music exchange program in Helsinki, which helped her form valuable relationships. As for the transformative powers of the university, she says that “it can transform you if you want to be transformed.” 

When you take a step back to reflect, you might realize that every social event, challenging assignment, and insightful conversation with a professor has changed you in some way. 

For instance, Aaron Peck, a Bachelor of Commerce student with a double major in International Business and Accounting, says that MacEwan University’s atmosphere “opened (his) way of thinking” because he came from a small town where few people expressed differences in opinion. He also struck up some enriching conversations with international students, from which he learned their cultures and worldviews.

Aaron Peck, photographed by Adelya Nugmanova

Peck’s meaning behind university lies in “getting the opportunity to achieve what (he wants) in life” such as becoming a CEO. One of his favourite parts about MacEwan’s university experience is “professors who really get to know you and your name.” Besides the perks of forming connections with professors, a university can lead to career stepping stones such as internships. Peck first experienced his big break when he became a teacher’s assistant for a business statistics class, and later became an accounting TA. During this journey, he met someone who “got (him) an internship at a power company over the summer in Calgary … and it really made (him) understand what (he wants) to do in the future.” 

Many would assume that a music or business program is fiercely competitive, while Peck suggests that “the real task is working well with others, (because) business is not very individualistic and we’re all connected by the desire to learn.” From the perspective of a music student, Jacob adds that it’s not too competitive. Everyone has “their own voice, their own instrument, and their own path”, which can inspire you. 

Sitting down with two different people on a journey towards success and learning was also inspirational for me. It made me realize that everyone’s university experience comes with a unique set of instructions that only the individual can solve. However messy or clear these instructions are, it can be useful to find a personal North Star that guides you while finding the meaning behind university. Along the way, it’s important to appreciate the opportunities that come knocking on your door and soak in every moment of pain and pleasure.