By choosing AU we’ve activated those essentially expansive impulses within us that make us who we are: special beings becoming something new and more with each day, year, and course. Without risking sentimentality, what are dreams but concrete expressions of our pursuit of excellence? It’s worth defining ourselves, after all, according to who we want to be.
Here we are faced again with a challenge: can we succinctly tell our story and its themes without leaving out valuable vistas of our reality. On one side we could give merely give “just the facts, sir (or ma’am)”, and on the other side, we’d have our memoirs serialized and compiled into tomes completely beyond the scope of all but our most dedicated readership. Perhaps brevity really is the soul of wit; those who eat fortune cookies first will perchance agree.
If we’re giving a biographical account of ourselves it helps to start from the beginning.
To explore this, I wrote two sentences that captured my early years in a nutshell. Their opposition was striking:
1) Jason was conceived in an apartment on the grounds of UBC, a few hundred metres from the counter-culture mecca known as Wreck Beach. He was subsequently delivered by the obstetrics of a Dr. Chong.
2) Jason’s childhood was spent on a sheep farm in the Fraser Valley where he also tended chickens and a fruit orchard. He enjoyed reading library books and playing in forests.
Taken alone these phrases embody what can only be called contrapuntal distinction; they suggest divergent childhood worlds. I’m no autobiographist but to make the story make sense would require some explanation; in fact, how we describe our lives may be crucial to how we identify ourselves. How did we feel about our lives as they unfolded? The story of our life’s being suggests an arcing progression yet it’s up to us to make sense of the series of Etch-A-Sketch lines that illustrate our story. Like constellations in the night sky formed from imagined connections between disparate and distant stars, our personal fable is more than the sum of its parts. To tell our story is to see what appears when we have our truth to behold.
Big events, like our return to post-secondary, reflect brightest as the decades pass. And yet, many aspects of our identity precede our involvement. Take the meaning of your full name; what family and cultural bonds does it reveal? My registry in school by my middle name Hazel led most folks who’ve ever known me to know me as Hazel rather than Jason. The name comes from a male rabbit in the book Watership Down but many folks naturally hear it as a girl’s name. This ontological promiscuity in terms of gendered names led me into curiosity towards sociology. After all, being called a girl clearly has no bearing on one’s actual gender!
Looking Ahead by Looking Back
At the other end of the biography spectrum, far from cover letters and personal synopses, is the final resting place of our identity: the epitaph. In terms of AU we may ask how we plan to imagine ourselves looking back on our distance education experience? At the far reaches of our lives, we might imagine our geriatric selves gnawing on a wafer and writing a few words for our own gravestone.
The aphorism “people don’t plan to fail; they fail to plan” springs to mind. Visualizing the identity of our future selves naturally improves our chance of succeeding at our goals. Yet to match honesty with idealism is more than a nice idea, it’s key to making distance education work for us. Many students struggle at their coursework without a planned schedule. Epitaphs and cover letters are short not only for the expedience of their respective backdrops (stone or paper), but also because they are written to encapsulate themes. Oscar Wilde, for all his trials and tribulations, and regardless of his bedsheets being discussed in court and his manhood ridiculed in the press, left this world with a simple written gesture of himself to adorn his gravestone:
“And alien tears will fill for him, /
Pity’s long-broken urn, /
For his mourners will be outcast men, /
And outcasts always mourn.”
With hard work we can be sure to avert the sorrow that meets many who fail at distance education, and, at the conclusion of the AU portion of our lives, we’ll display a sunny disposition. When others ask about our degree or diploma, we’ll say how proud we are and maybe, just maybe, how the experience morphed us into a better version of ourselves. Whatever our identity embodies, AU can make the experience of life richer and more rewarding.