Whilst the uncertainty of uncertainty is certainly exciting, I feel a strong sense of foreboding as I enter the final year of my undergraduate degree. We, as future graduates, are “students who make a difference”, as one University of Stirling slogan goes – but to thoughtlessly adopt such a slogan would be to adopt the infantile; to leave the slogan unanalysed, intellectual suicide.
Have I made a difference in three years at the university? Will I have made much more of a difference, assuming that I have already made one, by the time I graduate? If the propaganda is to be believed, every feckless student makes a difference, whilst reality suggests that my status as a difference maker is highly dubious.
My CV reads quite well – work experience with a couple of companies and charities; a solid, if less than outstanding, academic record; involvement with student media. I must be a difference maker, and I love to hear it. I love clicking Study with Stirling on the university’s homepage. Nothing can surpass the feeling of viewing the photograph of the happy two difference makers, both Stirling alumni, staring back at me. They’re special and, simply by association, so am I.
At least, that’s what I would have thought had I not sardonically rejected any such notion when I graduated from secondary school.
As I sat through the awards ceremony on a warm summer’s evening in Cyprus, abandoning my thoughts only to collect a couple of minor awards myself, I inwardly condemned the self-indulgence of the ceremony.
Listening to fellow graduates’ speeches about our peerlessly special graduating class was no less desirable than receiving a spiky suppository. No matter how I contextualised it, and in spite of the praise from our parents and teachers, I could not pass the test of self-deceit. I am no difference maker, and it is not without effort that I struggle to think of a title as glib and self-important as that of ‘difference maker’.
However, there are some occasions upon which students hear the truth about themselves. One such occasion took place in June this year, when English teacher David McCullough Jr, addressing the graduating class of Wellesley High, Massachusetts, said: “You are not special. You are not exceptional.
“Even if you’re one in a million on a planet of 6.8 billion that means there are nearly 7,000 people just like you.
“We have … come to love accolades more than genuine achievement.”
That is, in essence, what I find to be so abhorrent about the term – being addressed as such does little to establish the fact. The crux of the issue is that we become difference makers by actually making a difference – telling yourself, or listening to others’ assertions, that you are a difference maker simply will not do.
Although I’m not yet ready to resign myself to the likelihood that I will never make a real difference, I’d still rather a university slogan along the lines of “students who strive to make a difference” or “students who shag, drink and party to the max”.
Perhaps part of the problem is just that: when comparing the two slogans, the perceived benefits of shagging, drinking and partying outweigh the only partly imagined perils of striving to make a difference.
By bestowing everyone with the accolade of “difference maker”, the university is in danger of negating the desire to make a difference.
As I prepare to graduate, reconciled with the realisation that I cannot shag, drink and party my way to making a difference, I strive for genuine achievement over empty accolades.