Because one spends so much time in the school, it is very convenient to think that it means everything. The plethora of tutorials and assignments, the never-ceasing project meetings and presentations, and the perpetual movement from one deadline to another… More importantly, the mere completion of these endeavours is woefully inadequate. The incessant competition and continuous assessments mean that one has to heighten his or her commitment, to be more outstanding than his or her counterparts. No rest for the wicked.
The danger, of course, is that one loses sight of the bigger picture – of the community, of the country – and overlooks the potential contributions one could have within many domains.
Which is why it is tragically ironic whenever college bureaucrats emphasise the need for their students to engage in co-curricular and voluntary activities (here), so as to highlight how they might be holistic / passionately engaged / active citizens, no? The beauty of a university lies in its tremendous diversity, but we seem desirous of dabbling in the pedantic ideal of a “model student”. A few weeks ago, NUS President Professor Tan Chorh Chuan spoke of developing students as well-rounded individuals, “with the crucial qualities of inquisitiveness, initiative, inner resilience, imagination, inclusiveness, and integrity”.
The “i-NUS qualities”, he summarised fondly.
Moving out of the school gives one a lot more space for discovery, to flexibly explore so much more. It is also a way of proclaiming that you refuse to have these stereotypes foisted upon you (that is, if this is what you truly desire). And I suppose if you replace “school” with “work”, this mantra is – hopefully – going to be meaningfully applicable, even in the future.
School (work) is not your life. It is but a part of it. We have to remind ourselves all the time.