Suggestions for Unseasoned Sailors

A letter of encouragement for first year arts students

And as Charybdis pulls you into the whirling nether, which it will, recall that old English proverb, ‘a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.’

Dear First Year Arts Students,

Here you stand, on that threshold of uncertainty, prepared to disembark on an arduous and enlightening adventure. Before you set sail, consider the following:

As you wander off course, which you will, do not lament the cost of your degree, for its true value is determined only by you.

You will meet students who glide through school uninspired, who maintain a disinterest in personal growth and improvement, yet keep reasonable marks. Ignore these people. When they graduate, they will walk away with worthless degrees.

You will meet other students who invest themselves emotionally and intellectually in their studies, who tread deep and paddle hard. Befriend these people. Their degrees will become symbols of fortitude, courage and growth.

When the Sirens shout, “you’re wasting your time,” which they will, remember that growth is never a waste of time, and with focus and perseverance you will indeed grow.

When you’re writing that essay on pluralism in the Canadian public sphere, or discursive paradigms of consensus, or Dracula, and you start asking yourself, “what the hell am I doing with my life?” or worse still, “what the hell am I going to do with my life?” remember that you are going to live life properly. You will live a life flushed with experience and astonishment.

Arts degrees equip you with the tools for doing this. Once you have invested yourself in Dracula, and other such texts, for three or four years, you will foster critical faculties pertinent to every facet of living.

You will have the tools to overcome heartbreak, resolve social conflict, and, perhaps most importantly, learn. Regardless of your vocational ineptitude, people will hire you because you work with principle, compulsion and intrigue.

And as Charybdis pulls you into the whirling nether, which it will, recall that old English proverb, “a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.”

You will ache for security during such occurrences. You will want reassurance that one day you will have no debt, a car and a large house. The sooner you stop worrying about these things the better.

Remember that arts degrees are not for cowards. They are for the brave and the bold. They are for adventurers.

And if you’re a smart adventurer, and you maintain focus and perseverance, you will eventually find treasure, and treasure supplies a special kind of security – it’s the sort of security that builds a foundation for greater adventure and even better treasure.

There is a popular mentality which claims university should lead to a career. In Japan they have done away with this notion. They recognize that students arrive not in careers related to the content of their studies, but careers fostered with the willpower and good-thinking developed during school.

So next time, when you feel like you’re drowning, and you wonder what the hell you’re going to do with your life when you’re through with this nonsense, remember the answer: whatever you damn well please.


Chris Hunter, former arts student

Chris Hunter is mostly a writer, but periodically draws profit as a teacher, musician, and designer. He’s never been sailing before, but hopes someone reading this will find him and take him.

Published in Volume 68, Number 1 of The Uniter (September 4, 2013)

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