Anti-advice for a new university year

Sorry, you’re on your own

Mike Sudoma

I’ve been asked to write some advice for you, the prototypically average first-year student, to help you succeed this school year. I have two disclaimers, so we can start this print-based relationship off right. 

The first disclaimer I need to make is that I have no idea who you are. Even if I were to subject you to platitudes like “stay positive” or “eat right”, they would only apply to a criminally exclusive idea of a “student”, which of course is condescending and offensive. You probably have enough to deal with right now (like trying to fit into a potentially generic and oppressive learning structure, for example). 

The second disclaimer is that I have no idea what it would mean to achieve “success”. I, for example, am a 24-year-old, newly-minted graduate with all the “rights and privileges” now owed to me (pay up, universe), who qualifies success mostly in terms of inspiring conversations and getting up on time. Others no doubt qualify success at university by the units of ethanol-based beverages consumed, the number of hamsters studied in their natural wheel-based environment, a paucity of interactions with disciplinary committees/angry authority figures, or successfully keeping your eyelids firmly planted in the back of your skull for greater than 60 per cent of your studies.

Perhaps you don’t go to class and are unsure not only about why you are reading unqualified advice from some guy, but also questioning your presence in this particular form of post-secondary education. All of the above are valid of course, but the diversity makes it quite challenging to offer non-platitudinous and meaningful advice. So I won’t try. 

Accordingly, as teachers, construction workers, and AM radio hosts all try to tell you things, remember that they’re probably full of it. Whenever someone from the advice-giving scene tries to bestow upon you their wisdom, they’re likely just regurgitating what worked for their more wealthy friends that they miserably and fruitlessly measure themselves against. Ignore them. 

Equally, I am white, male, and possessing all the built-in privileges that accompany those characteristics to offer much unique wisdom outside of whatever you can read in self-help books or on daytime television. If you’re one or both of these things, however, I am qualified to tell you to try and talk less and listen more, which will help everyone out (including you).

In summary, if you’re looking for inspiring and reassuring platitudes, I’m not very much help - if you must seek these out try park-benches, recycling/garbage bins, or your mom’s lunch-box notes. Those should help you out. Otherwise, go with your gut.

The only thing I’d like to pass on is my congratulations - some of you will have had to struggle very hard to get here (you’ll know who you are), and I admire and respect that. Others are just lucky. Without knowing whether attending university feels like an accomplishment to you, I’ll just express my blanket congratulations. 

Best of luck.

Rorie Mcleod Arnould is the usually-serious President of the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association and can be reached at

Published in Volume 69, Number 2 of The Uniter (September 10, 2014)

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