Jess vs. Jess: An Exploration of Me in First & Last Year
by RU Student Life storyteller Jessica Myshrall
Me in First Year: A Precis
I showed up to my first class twenty minutes early and completely unphased by the fact that it was at eight in the morning. My books were new, my pencils were sharpened, and my mind was ready to be expanded. I was so proud to be in university in those days. I read and highlighted my books, studied my notes before bed, and hung off of the professor’s every word. If my thoughts ever wandered in class, it was usually due to my preoccupation with how the other students presented themselves. Since most of them came from wealthier families and grew up in the city or surrounding areas, my peers had held a fashionable edge over me. I was in awe of how they dressed — with an elusive coolness that escaped me entirely. I was jean-clad and tapping away on my PC in a sea of designer clothing and MacBook computers. The feeling of not belonging at Ryerson and in Toronto clung to me for a long time.
As attentive as I was, I certainly had to work for my grades that year. My first paper was a disaster. Not sure where to start, or who to ask for help, I wound up regurgitating 8 double-spaced pages worth of the history of the NDP (complete with absolutely no thesis statement or direction whatsoever). Despite how lost I was, I worked on it tirelessly and submitted it on-time, but the C that the final product rightfully received stung me. I had coasted through high school with writing projects that I’d arrogantly considered to be easy A’s. With my pride contingent on upping my game, I started going to what was then known as the Writing Centre pretty regularly after that.
If you overlook the fact that I was having full-blown mental breakdowns that year, I seemed to have things more under control than I do now. With school as my sole responsibility, I kept the fridge stocked with healthy food and cooked nearly everything I ate. Even though I was eating my weight in food as a way to deal with my anxiety, I was actually exercising regularly at the RAC (which, given how aversive I find the RAC, impresses my slothful current self). My clothes were always clean, my readings were done on-time, and, as far as I was concerned, I had a pretty good idea of where I was going in life. My “12 year plan” included earning a PhD, marrying my high school sweetheart, having children, and making a shit-ton of money working at a respectable office job. In some regards, said plan doesn’t seem overly ambitious, but the reality was that I had everything planned down to what year things were going to come to pass. My plans were heavily influenced by what was my biggest aspiration at the time: not to turn out like my parents (broke and divorced). Given what I knew about the world at that age, it meant fiscal responsibility and micromanaging my love life. All I had to do was play it safe and leave no room for error.
Me in Last Year: A Precis
Now in the final stretch of my undergrad, it’s pretty safe to say that I will fulfill marginal attendance for courses starting earlier than 10 a.m. After half a decade at Ryerson, everything seems boring and redundant and I fail to be moved by arguments that “missed classes are lost money.” After two semesters of studying in Europe, where education is treated as more of a right than a commodity, my degree feels like some no-frills, above-the-surface, cookie-cutter obligation that I need to complete to ensure that I might be able to secure decent employment. I feel like everything Ryerson had to offer me in terms of education happened in the first two years of my degree. The only class that has challenged me to think in the last 4 semesters has been my advanced seminar. Otherwise, my grades depend on how well I can recall textbook information and consolidate information that I learned when I wasn’t so jaded. The other week, one of my midterm questions asked me which exam one would have to take in order to get into a master’s of psychology. I had to fight the temptation to write, “Who gives a shit?” At this point, I just do what I have to do in order to be done. I don’t waste my wandering thoughts on what other people are wearing anymore. Instead, I spend them thinking about the days when I used to be excited about learning. With this in mind, I’ve nixed any plans of postgraduate education until I can find something that feels like more than a big dent in my bank account. At least now I can say that my writing has improved.
When not in or sleeping through class, I’m usually putting in 30ish hours a week of paid employment in anticipation of paying back my student loans. The thing is, I love my job(s) even though they aren’t putting me anywhere close to the financial greatness that I’d once insisted upon my future self. I use my study time to write articles like this one, which get my mind firing like school used to. Erratic scheduling means that I’m hardly as put-together as I used to be. Sometimes my laundry situation comes down to hand-washing and blow-drying my underwear before leaving the house because I haven’t had the time or energy to go to the laundromat. I signed up for cardio classes at the RAC, but don’t have time to go and instead get my exercise from running up and down the stairs a bajillion times a shift. My fridge is full of takeout boxes from work that contain enough pub food to triple my cholesterol. Sometimes I’ll buy apples if I remember to do so on my way home from work. Sometimes I can’t remember the last time I cooked an actual meal.
When marrying my high school sweetheart no longer seemed like an appealing life choice, I decided to take more chances in love. In doing so, I signed up for my fair share of heartache, but it made me realize that I can get through just about anything. I’m also grateful for the adventures I was once too afraid to have. I still tend to overthink my romantic relationships a bit, but I make a conscious effort not to let it keep me from enjoying the ride.
In the grand scheme of things, I no longer feel like I don’t belong at Ryerson, or in Toronto. I’ve been in both places long enough to have had them engulf my sense of being, and long enough to want to stay in the 6ix a little longer, despite my vagabond tendencies. I’m still not wearing designer clothing, but I did recently purchase a MacBook, so I can’t say that I haven’t assimilated at least partially. The older I get, the less I care about not measuring up to the people around me. Becoming comfortable in my own skin has been an awesome and freeing experience.
Sometimes I hear high school seniors rattling off their academic plans and professional trajectories to their friends on the subway. When I do, I can’t help but smile. I can hear my own voice when they talk — constructing my plans around what I thought would be the most impressive to my friends, to my parents, and to the crowd of faceless spectators that occupied space in my mind. I don’t think I know myself any better at 22 than I did at 18. The only difference was that I became less afraid to march to the beat of my own drum. The kids on the subway have no idea what’s coming, or how much they’ll change in the next few years. All I hope for them is that wherever they wind up, it’s where they truly want to be.