Written by Alan Stein.
I sigh. ‘2*****651’.
At the end of 2017 I finished my fourth year of university. That number is tattooed into my brain. I had just pulled an all-nighter and submitted my assignment online at 11.57pm the night before it was due—three whole minutes to spare!
Another semester done. Before taking a celebratory beer from the fridge I thought:
‘This isn’t what I thought university would be like’.
All my lectures were recorded. I had no classes where attendance was marked. In my mind, the university saw me as just my student number scribbled on a series of low-quality papers. I barely knew a soul on campus and honestly I was okay with it. I knew it wouldn’t be like the great American college movies anyway.
In 2018 it was week one of trimester again and, as usual, I had to go to the first week of lectures, fall asleep into my notebook and vow to never do this again. However, this week was different. I still fell asleep in record time (I blame the 8:00am start) but I heard about a weekly free lunch provided by Chabad on Campus which may have been worth the trip to university. Chabad on Campus provide chaplaincy for Jewish students at universities across Victoria and hold regular events catering to all backgrounds and affiliations, but I had not seen them at Deakin before.
Fast forward six months and I barely missed a lunch or a lecture after that. I knew people on campus from the lunches and my classes. My marks started going up. I was still submitting assignments at 11.57pm but they were better quality. What happened?
It was a gradual change. At the lunches I met people from my community—the Jewish community—with whom I could relate, then found these people in my course. Suddenly I had a study group and people to whisper my snarky comments to mid-lecture. Then I met others around university with similar interests and exchange students with fascinating insights into their countries. Going to classes meant I could engage with the teachers directly. University had now become a hotbed of academic progress, sharing ideas, and making friends.
In short, I was no longer just a number to the university or the people around me. I was on campus with a name, a personality, and a real identity. Now in 2019 I am Secretary at Deakin Australian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS), writing blog entries for WORDLY, shaking hands with politicians, and enjoying all that university life has to offer in my final year. I should never have left it this late, but I did (coincidentally this is the same thing I say at every 11.57pm assignment submission).
In Judaism, community is essential to spiritual and physical life. The great 12th century Jewish philosopher and scientist Maimonides once said in The Laws of Teshuvah (Repentance) that ‘one who separates himself from the community, shows himself indifferent to their distress and goes on his own way has no share in the world to come’ (Abramson 2017, p. 100); the Jewish version of the afterlife. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in a 2015 lecture titled ‘The Spirit of Community’ adds that ‘the community is where we develop virtue and a commitment to finding a common good in society’ (Sacks 2015). These ideas permeate through Judaism and I believe carry over to university where a multitude of interest groups from anime to zoology exist for students to express ideas, effect change and engage in recreation with other students.
It is easy to confine yourself to your student number and a trail of assignments, but it is worth exploring both yourself and Deakin University to see what else is available aside from the shunt and shuffle of notebooks and lectures.
Maybe you’re after a leadership opportunity, political and social activism, academic prowess, professional networking, or a new sport to try?
Or maybe you’re just after a free lunch too.
Abramson, H 2017, Maimonides on Teshuvah: The Ways of Repentance, Touro College, retrieved 24 April 2019, <https://touroscholar.touro.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1000&context=lcas_books>.
Sacks, J 2015, Vayakhel (The Spirit of Community), Covenant & Conversation, retrieved 24 April 2019, <http://rabbisacks.org/the-spirit-of-community-vayakhel-5775/>.