Friday, June 18, 2010

Of Students, Alumni and Couches

I was pleased to see the smiling face of a university alumnus, Bob Van Wegen, pictured in the Calgary Herald. I knew he lived in the beltline, downtown, and there he was, the instigator for getting that drab old Memorial Park revitalized. I had first known Bob when we were involved in volunteering at the university student newspaper, the Gauntlet. Since then, down the years, I have occasionally run into him in person, and I’ve seen his name in passing as being a part of various downtown community initiatives. Other people, unknown to me during my campus years, remain unknown to me still.

I suppose Bob’s volunteering has included lots of ongoing meetings, dull and dreary, meetings no perky TV voice would call, “exciting, new-improved, and revolutionary!” Of course, it would easier for Bob to watch TV than to get involved, easier to wear out a cushion on the couch while holding a cell phone to one ear. For a lot of graduates, the sort I never hung around with at university, the weekday default is work...TV/electronics...sleep.

This I know because
back at university, as a mature student, I couldn’t skip any of the business “see Spot run” prerequisite courses. The administration assumed I’d defaulted into putting my brain into “TV mode” and not learning anything beyond that directly needed for my job. And of course they also knew there was a chance I would lack the ethics and humility needed by anyone who would skip a prerequisite, the chance I would be a class disruption by saying, “ I don’t get it.” Human nature is just too prevalent.

Back in my university days it was amusing to see Bob going around to people he knew asking if they wanted to join a brand new federal party, the reform party. Everyone was too polite to yell, “Are you crazy? You can’t hope to fight the big established parties!” Only two Canadian parties ever got into power: not the democrats and republicans, rather, the liberals and progressive conservatives. (PC) Yet, within only a few years after Bob’s efforts, the PC became irrelevant. Tres amusante.

Nearly everyone in the PC defected to create a merger with the reform, an alliance called the conservative party. Before the merger the liberals were in power under the leadership of Prime Minister Jean Chretien, a wily old character who speaks with a French accent. For him “th” becomes “t,” the number “three” becomes “tree,” and so forth. They say Jean took delight in referring to reform as the “third party.” Cest droll.

When the alliance was first formed, during an exciting weekend by “keeners” like Bob, it was late Sunday before they finally realized their exciting new name would not work. There was no place for the Canadian Reform Alliance Party. Not with that acronym.

I said Bob went around to “people he knew.” These students were the sort who, after graduation, would be the spice of democracy, the ones for whom “being involved” would become a life style choice. For now, they were the ones I could count on for having typical student so-called “meaning of life” conversations. I knew them, just as Bob did, because I too was a keener with school spirit.

Other students, the apathetic ones, seemed to only find their school spirit late on Friday afternoons when, for the first time all week, they would crowd into the student bar, Dinnie’s Den, down on the first floor of the student building. Dinnie was our dinosaur mascot- but I bet some didn’t even know that. If I peered into the Den on Friday I’d see an overcrowded noisy mass of complete strangers. Then I’d go upstairs to a better place with a temporary Friday liquor license, a place advertised only in the student media. The apathetic students, of course, never came upstairs: Of course they never noticed the Gauntlet, or their student radio, or the student TV.

Upstairs it was comfortably crowded, and not too noisy. Here I knew all the faces. Sweet. Here were the ones who joined clubs, worked on the media, served in student government and volunteered with various causes. It was these students whom the alumni were picturing when they urged us to get involved during our campus years. People say youth is wasted on the young, but me, I managed to get involved. I’m so glad. Memories of people, of learning from people, are just as important as memories of learning in class.

I recall from Newtonian physics that objects lower down have less potential energy. The masses of students squished into the bar downstairs were wasting a lot of their potential. If I suddenly glimpsed them in an unguarded moment they looked like… slugs. Perhaps they got their satisfaction not from doing but from conforming to what others were doing. Perhaps they saw campus life not as a great adventure but as a (yawn) glorified high school drudgery (yawn) enlivened only by parties. I don’t know. In their conversations I found they spoke like clones of their non-student peers, full of energy and clich├ęs, signifying nothing. How bored I was. Until I climbed the stairs.

I remember one evening up at the Gauntlet office saying, “I keep meaning to go home but the conversations here are so interesting.” Doug Mark said, “Me too. Back in residence they’re still talking about dining hall food.” I remember another time, on a weeknight, Doug leaning over the round table in the bar to challenge us, “Remember, you are mortal!” A few days later he headed off hoping he could make a living overseas. And he did.

Here on the lonesome prairie, where many freshmen come to university from small towns, I suppose they fear that on a huge campus they will be lonely. I say: Seek and ye shall find. For the spirited students may be only a small percentage of the student body but in absolute numbers they are abundantly all over campus.

 I seem to recall from quantum physics that, in effect, Schrodinger’s cat vanishes unless I see it. For me the slugs have long since vanished. Doug and Bob have remained.

Sean Crawford
U of C alumnus
Summer 2010
~ It's a small world: One of the men I served with on the executive of the Disabled Students Club is now running for the position of city mayor. After I knew him he went on to be a Member of the (Alberta) Legislative Assembly. Before I knew him he had played on the Mount Royal College ice hockey team. Kent Hehr will always be active in this world.

~The only man I mentioned by name in Students, the Olympics and Excellence, (July 12, 2009) the man with honour, Tony Sabo, used to have house parties, in the years after graduation, parties where one of his keen buddies was the guy who has just now been elected mayor. I think we are the first large Canadian city to elect a Muslim  mayor. Again, for responsible citizens, it's a small world.

~The Friday temporary liquor license, for the elegant Black Lounge, was justified as being to handle the overflow from the bar.

After a few years, unfortunately, the university administration realized something: Freshmen were less likely to drop out if they attended an orientation, complete with icebreakers. With this statistic in mind, they proceeded to treat every individual the same. ALL the freshmen were ordered to take the orientation “for their own good.”
Foolishly, this orientation included a gleeful announcement of the Friday upstairs thing.

The slugs overwhelmed the keeners, and very soon the keen students needed "an overflow for the overflow." They never got it.

~Obviously the writers of Buffy the Vampire Slayer weren’t slugs. Buffy, in her responsibility as a slayer, is doomed to die young, so she aches to have a life.

Buffy:"Look, I realize that every Slayer comes with an expiration mark on the package. But, I want mine to be a long time from now. Like a Cheeto."

Read more:

She manages to survive past high school but then she has to get a job. She cannot accompany her peers going on to university. Whenever Buffy visits them on campus there are always brief glimpses of keen students in the background excitedly talking about the academic things they are learning, things the slugs would have no excitement for. Poor Buffy. 

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