Art of war

By Marion Robinson

Being a student is a work of art: the University is their canvas and the degree programme is their medium. Throughout the academic year students hone their skills. Then, at year’s end with exams, theses and dissertation defenses marking the final strokes of their paintbrushes, they present their masterpieces to the world.

Some masterpieces will be worthy of being hung in the halls of museums and preserved for posterity, while others will be returned to the dusty art studios of their student houses, hung on an easel and shrouded in black – never to be seen again. Throughout the year, there are those who will be found with inadvertently damaged paintbrushes, while others run out of paint or suffer an irreparable rip in their canvas, forcing them to acquiesce in defeat.

But there are also those students at the end of each year who reluctantly engage in the art of ‘war’ to achieve the grade worthy of advancing them to the next level of their studies or life in general. Their enemy being that final exam that is proving problematic to pass, that PhD proposal that has once again been declined, or that thesis supervisor that seems impossible to please.

Each of these battles proves to be as painfully agonizing as the next, with the student as well as their family’s saving accounts at risk of being joint casualties. Being caught in this amorphous place is unnerving. It’s a place where students have come too far to quit but not far enough to claim victory; a place where the unmotivated ones lose their last ounce of confidence and even the most motivated students philosophize about throwing in the towel.

But the most lethal enemy at the end of the academic year can be fellow students themselves: the ones who present the false exterior that they are eternally impermeable to the expected stresses of academia; those who attempt to inveigle others into believing that University is a year-long social event; others who provide unsolicited and unusable ‘advice’, or the ones who shamelessly engage in verbal comparisons with their fellow students with the goal to consciously or subconsciously pronounce their way of navigating the rat race of academia as ‘better’.

But being a student is a personal work of art, forged inextricably with the vibrant hues of victory and the disheartening clouds of defeat. The students who step away from their canvases with their hopes and dreams intact are those who wisely came ready with a pen in one hand and a sword in the other.

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