In the speeches given at the Imagine Day pep rally, Interim President Martha Piper asked the 6,000 first-years to imagine a world without terminal illnesses, sexism, extreme poverty and climate change. She told them that anything is possible at UBC if they can imagine it.
AMS President Aaron Bailey had a different message. He told them that while they are here, there will be some days where they will feel on top of the world and able to conquer anything. But, he said, there will also be days where they will feel like shit — like failures. He told them that this is normal. Everybody fails, and that’s okay as long as you reach out for help when you need it.
Full confession: My dad works in the UBC Communications and Marketing Department. We were both at Imagine Day in the capacity of our respective jobs — I was there as a reporter, he was there along with the rest of the staff from his team. Afterwards, he asked me what I thought of Piper’s speech. I was honest — I said it sounded like it was even more full of hot air than the university’s speeches usually are at these kinds of events. Bailey’s speech really hit home for me because it’s a conversation that isn’t opened very often on this campus. It was a refreshing thing to hear, especially after Piper’s near-comical platitudes.
My dad disagreed. He said he found Piper’s speech empowering, whereas Bailey’s, in his words, was “a downer.”
My dad isn’t a student. He hasn’t been a student in a long time, and those in leadership positions at UBC have made it clear that they haven’t, either. I understand where they’re coming from — Imagine Day has always been about pep. It’s the first day of university for 6,000 first-years. This transformative experience is about to begin, and it’s the job of the UBC Orientations Team to give them a positive and empowering start.
But in every interaction I’ve had with the Orientations Team — whether it’s working for them or watching them work — and with UBC itself, the overwhelming impression has been one of an almost-frenzied positivity. If the manic joy was backed up by a dose of realism in regards to what students are actually facing — sky-high rates of stress, anxiety and depression, for example — this naivety would be easier to swallow. Instead, the university chooses not to treat students like adults who are capable of hearing the bad news along with the good. University will be awesome, yes. It will hopefully be some of the best years of your lives. However, you will also have days where you are exhausted, depressed, stressed and absolutely terrified of how close you are to failing.
As long as the university continues to pour forth with Piper-esque statements which border on promising unicorns grazing along Main Mall without acknowledging the troll in the Rose Garden, they’re doing every single first-year they welcome a major disservice.