Old memories of young students are joyous ones
Pauline Ibbs Rector (retiring), St Thomas More College
As J.K. Rowling once observed, “Youth cannot know how age thinks and feels. But old men are guilty if they forget what it was to be young."
I often feel that those of us who work with young adults should be made to recite that mantra at least 20 times a day. In my many years at St Thomas More College I have often had cause to remember that one should never pass judgement without first reflecting on one’s own youth.
So, what is it like to spend 17 years working in a co-ed residential university college? The short answer is wonderful. While our academic colleagues see them at their studies, we in the residential sector see them at both work and play.
My recollection of the early nineties, when I was first introduced to College life, is of a strong party culture both within the Colleges and the greater University community, with alcohol consumption a (if not the) primary focus. And this was a large part of what was commonly called ‘Tradition.
If 17 years have taught me anything, it is that ‘Tradition’ is often just a lack of imagination, and the inability to conceive of a new event to take the place of the tired but tested.
Orientation was also very different back in the early days. Freshers were there to be humiliated by Seniors, and expected to acknowledge their lowly status for the year with the promise of a chance to do the same to someone else the following year.
Fortunately, over time, attitudes have changed. Orientation is no longer a dreaded experience, but rather a time when residents are welcomed into what is about to become their new home in an inclusive and convivial manner. The week is crammed full of fun activities, with the guarantee that they will know all their fellow residents by the end of week one.
One of my own favourite highlights is the inter-college dragon boat racing, which sees staff and students paddling furiously for College glory. This sets the tone for a year of inter-college rivalry, not only on the sporting field, but on a variety of stages, including cultural nights, talent shows, and even Master Chef bake-offs. The modern student is nothing if not a competitor.
Although still more than ready to have a good time, our students also seem to focus more on their studies and academic achievement these days. We hear and read so much about the binge drinking culture among young people but I have found that over time this has improved, not worsened.
These days there is an emphasis on Responsible Service of Alcohol training and students now easily recognise a standard drink – no more wine glasses full of port! Residents at Tommy More can all tell you about Pauline’s scale for the safe and sensible consumption of singing syrup.
Once students enter College, they develop a strong sense of community and family. They become part of the College Tribe, and it is in this environment that they forge friendships that last a lifetime. One student was recently heard saying that he felt sorry for all those who don’t get to experience college life.
Much is written these days about the folly of youth, and the unacceptable behaviour that society lays at its door. I can, with all confidence, say that is not true of the ‘Tommy Family’.
Our students have a great zest for life, and a strong sense of social justice and community. Their generosity and enthusiasm seem almost boundless, and reach far beyond the borders of UWA. For example, this December 20 of our residents will travel, self-funded, to Cambodia to do voluntary work in a village and local school.
The memories are countless, but the enduring one I will carry always is of the students themselves, and the absolute joy and happiness that is this wonderful community. I have considered it a privilege to have worked with them, and I am so lucky to have had such a special experience in my life.
Will I miss it? Too right!
Published in UWA News, 26 November 2012