What we owe to our future selves

Why your time at university will follow you into the 'real' world.

It would be somewhat of an understatement to say that Brett Kavanaugh’s recent confirmation hearing had a heavy focus on his time at Yale University. Over the course of the hearing, Kavanaugh’s drinking, socialising, barfights, and so forth, came under heavy scrutiny as it was attempted to determine if he was the ‘type of person’ who could have sexually assaulted someone and if he was suitable to be appointed to the Supreme Court.

This kind of examination is not unusual for politicians – their university years are often analysed for scandals, political alliances, and social interactions in order to define what kind of individual they are today.

Yet, on the sixth occasion that Kavanaugh insisted that he liked beer, it occurred to me, perhaps due to the sheer repetition of the phrase: why does it matter if he liked beer at university? And what does our fascination with the university lives of politicians and other influential figures mean, for us, as university students now, and the future versions of ourselves?

Universities have always been characterised as forward-thinking institutions: we enrol, engage and study in these establishments in order to prepare ourselves for the future as best we can.

The university years are a particularly formative time for many students, not just in regards to future careers or social connections, but to develop political stances and social identities amongst a myriad of other things. The shedding of school years and coming of legal age signify the beginning of adult life and for some, this means an opportunity to enact agency over their own lives for the first time.

The university years are a particularly formative time for many students… to develop political stances and social identities.

The institution of a university presents a huge concentration of multitudes of disciplines from which to choose, allowing a level of choice over life-direction that is unattainable at school or in childhood.

Throughout this process, people change. They develop their own idea of what they want their life to look like and how to live it. We all know stories of our friends and peers that mirror Chinua Achebe’s: he abandoned the study of medicine while at university to pursue the arts and humanities and later went on to win the Man Booker International prize.

Achebe is a testament to the fact that universities pose uniquely liberating opportunities for introspection and that the choices available in these institutions serve to guide individuals towards their future lives.

But because university is such a developmental experience, it is only understandable that its reach extends far beyond just career choice. The structure of the institution is formed as a microcosmic view of the rest of the world, perhaps most evidently in the political structures and societies found abundantly on campus.

Through these platforms, political ideals and attitudes are born and matured. For example, Anthony Albanese was one of the activists who supported the university’s Political Economy department in 1983 by breaking into and occupying the USYD clock tower.

However, while Albanese’s Labor Left stance clearly align with his actions at university, is this simply correlation or causation? After all, he had already joined the Labor Party in high school – maybe this was the path he was predestined to take.

While I can’t speak on behalf of Albanese specifically, it is undeniable that the experience of being at university plays a crucial role in forming the mindsets of the future. There are two extremely convincing reasons as to why.

Firstly, we are young and optimistic, and rightly so. We are eager to enact change and shape the world as young adults and finding our political selves is a necessary component to self-actualisation.

Secondly, universities are often the first opportunity in many young peoples’ lives to actively discuss or support political views through official platforms.

There is an impetus on people our age to be socially aware and develop stances on issues (as is clear around campaign season on Eastern Ave). The privilege of being intellectually stimulated in the way that we are as university students, surrounded by thousands of other enthusiastic young people can only encourage us to build, challenge and nurture our political or social beliefs.

And because of that, those political beliefs will often follow us through our lives..

Quite simply, going through university changes how young adults view the world around them.

Quite simply, going through university changes how young adults view the world around them. The sheer scale of a university provides a diversity that cannot be replicated in many other situations.

That is not to say that universities do not have certain demographics, but the sheer population of a large campus can provide a much more diverse view of the world than a school, neighbourhood or workplace in many instances.

It’s the reason that Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man took a satirical take on his time at Tuskegee Institute, where he viewed the hypocrisy of class-consciousness within the African-American community.

It’s the reason that many immigrant children find it difficult to reconcile with their ethnic heritage prior to university. The interaction of so many different communities, identities, political views and ethnicities is the basis of one ultimate effect: self-actualisation.

Our university years inevitably guide our view of the future and what kind of people we will be, because it is an experience wholly directed towards deciding where our lives could go and how we should live them.

Yet, we spend so much time thinking retroactively about figures like Kavanaugh and what kind of people they were in their past to become the individuals they are now. Perhaps it’s time to begin acknowledging the opportunities we have in the present and recognise what we owe to our future selves.

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