By Caden Shapiro
If you are reading this I’m just about to graduate, or maybe I already have. Our graduation will look 162 different ways this year – it will also signify 162 different endings. For some it will be family huddled around a laptop in Toronto, cheering when your name is called. Others will be in South Korea, China, or Bali. In some places there might be a light breeze that you can’t help but stay outside and feel, or a bad storm where you can’t seem to get close enough to the fire pit. For a few it might be a solo ride, no family joining, just hop in and hop out. And in a year we condemn, how fitting is that ending? If we were in a large crowd at school, in 162 different seats, when Principal McKinney sounded off, 162 different things would be running through each of our minds. That one metre of space between chairs is now more like 100,000 but the experience is just as personal as if it were one. Personally, I don’t know what to think. Maybe I don’t think, because my 1 of 162 is that this feels the same. It feels the same minus some temporary endorphins powered by the solidarity of 162 completions of a daunting two year program. We still have to move forward. We still have to navigate life. We still have to take ownership of who we are, what we’re about, and how we go about our business. That’s what I think – that I still have a long way to go. To learn how to be a better brother, a better friend, a better son, a better human. I hope this journey doesn’t stop for me. And that’s what this means to me, a nod to the work that’s been done, but a humbling feeling towards how much is still ahead. My peers, most of which came as boys, leave as men. I know my growth is a testament to prior student leadership and a great deal of support from faculty over the years. In reflection, some of that support was not very conventional, but it was some of the best.
I vividly remember one class in a Friday towards the end of the year. It was just getting towards that time of the year where the weather started to really turn and when we would get to afternoon classes all of us would kind of look out the window, (including teachers), and mutter “why aren’t we outside right now?” Anyways, this teacher realized that maybe 95% of us were not doing our exam prep and were instead just horsing around on our laptops. He questioned this, and was met with sheepish Sophomore replies. He then said, which I’ll never forget, “you really think I want to be here right now?” He followed this up with some other stuff about our preparation, upcoming exam, and performance but those words kind of left me shocked. He didn’t want to be with us? It hurt my feelings. For a second. Then in literally that moment I thought to myself why would he? Why would he not want to be with his family outside, somewhere on the water, as far as possible from this place? And I thought to myself, dangit I would rather be on a baseball field far away, sun beating down on my cap, not a thought of exams in my mind as well. I didn’t have enough humility to comprehend the fact that my teacher wouldn’t want to be hanging out with us. I was entitled. It was some of the best support I ever got because it forced me to use self-awareness. You know, it meant a lot more to me than just that. But part of me is still figuring it out.. and as I’m also finding out that the more I realize, the more I understand there is nothing to realize.
I do want to take a moment and speak to the younger guys who are reading this. If you ask us what’s the best advice we can give, 162 of us would give different answers. Mine would be offering the challenge of active reflection. I have a notebook. I don’t journal daily, sometimes not for weeks and weeks at a time, but I make sure to come back to this little notebook. I open to a random page and just start writing, start reflecting. Maybe it was something big like an event that happened, something I was proud of. Or adversely, something that stung, a sadness I internalized but can’t quite shake. I write. I do it for all different things. I think the most effective is re-visiting goals, and on May 22nd I wrote:
“I hate asking myself WHY after work sessions — good results, bad results, or in between I just want to trust what I’m doing and stay on the path… nonetheless when a single goal is so absolute, I feel it is hard getting past outcomes that don’t contribute to the attainment of that goal. I feel empty or lost when progress is reversed or grinds to a halt. Perhaps it is the resiliency to push through uncertainty, or certainty of adversity that is a separator. I guess I’m deliberating on a game… but that game in question is failure, and failure is life. But also, when I meet my goals I feel this overcoming satisfaction which seeps into my work. I felt it that day, satisfaction for reaching a goal, I felt myself soft and going through the motions. I know Laozi and perhaps other zen philosophers would encourage me to detach when the task is complete, let go. But I’m not after that in this stage of life. In fact, I know if I build on these goals and I put everything into them – that after.. I can and will embrace those truths. I’ll be content with the result because I’ll have no reflection. Rather, all that reflection was active through the journey- I was relentless in considering what I was doing, what I could be doing, and how I was doing it. This will keep me at peace and this is how I want to close out on my goals. I’ll be danged if when I’m trying to push the rock up the top of the mountain if when it falls, I watch it in regret. So.. if I watch the rock hurtle down the mountain… it will not be in awe, shock or disgust. Nor will not be in joy or lightness. Rather a cold-detached understanding, appreciation, and respect for the journey. When that happens I’m faced with another choice as I look up the mountain again. I quickly scan the horizon, peering for a look at other mountains, checking out to see how others are making out, but I snap my head away. Others aren’t on my mountain and I am not on theirs. I can feel the wind biting at me, pushing me back down. Rockless, I feel the cold air touch my arms and send goosebumps across my body. I look down and see warmth. I cock my chin upwards and see the wind more violent, whipping around the mountain and loose rocks shutting down the side. I want to take a deep breath but I don’t. A rock loosens at my left foot, and I take a step up.
Mindset is everything.
Adversity is everything.
Self-Awareness binds, grit and aspiration propel.”
A bit all over the place. But that’s how my five years at the College went. It’s been a pleasure being affiliated with TBAW, part of the 200 Lonsdale community, and a classmate to all 162 of you.
Take a step up the mountain today.