To be or not to be

In the throes of writer's block in the middle of the  sea.

In the throes of writer’s block in the middle of the sea.

They say that life is full of journeys, with their starts and ends. Before I tell you about my new journey, let me first introduce myself. My name is Michelle Chang Jade Yin and yes, I know its a mouthful. My close friends mostly call me Mick or Mickey and occasionally Michael, which compliments the tomboy in me.

I am the oldest of three children and an avid, nay, obsessive book reader (I once read the whole Harry Potter series without even stopping). I was in an all-girls school throughout my primary and secondary school life. Hence, lifting heavy stuff and talking sass is never a problem (I’m a veteran in both those things). I might look tough on the outside, but turn on Tuesdays With Morrie and I would cry you a river. I like to think I’m a calm person but my friends say that I turn into a Purple Minion (from Despicable Me 2) when I’m stressed. Turning 19 this year, life has definitely been full with ups and down, but I have never regretted the journeys I have been through. So here I am now, in front of my laptop, typing away about the next great journey in my life. I hope you enjoy.

It was the first day of classes for the Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree and, like a little kid, I brimmed with excitement and wonderment. Finally, I thought, finally I will be considered as a scholar. As a person of intellect that will trade thoughts and ideas. Since I was young, I was told that the key to success in life is an education. That, at the very least, I must get a degree to actually be considered for a job in a now highly competitive world. So there I was, throwing myself into the first day of a journey that will secure my future.

In walks the lecturer. She places her files on the lectern and smiles at us. She introduces herself and then tells us to stand up in turn and say our names so that we can all get to know each other. At first, there are some hesitations, especially from those of us who are socially awkward, but then again, it’s just saying our name, how hard can it be? But then she says, “When you introduce yourself, also please tell the class why you chose this degree.” With just that, a look passed through all of us. It was a look of bafflement and fear.

Why did we choose this program? For some, it’s because we are really passionate about the subject. For others, it could have been because this program is one of the requirements needed for us to secure the dream job that we want. But what about the rest of us? Some of us are doing it for our parents. As for the others, whose parents can’t afford to pay for a private university, we are left with the option of going to public universities. With public universities, it’s like playing a game of Russian Roulette. If we are lucky, we get the program of our choice. If we are not, we might get stuck studying a program we didn’t even know existed in the first place.

One by one, we stood up in turn, telling our name and the reason why we chose this particular degree program. Some told the truth and some lied. Some even joked and said, “It’s because I heard the girls in this program were the prettiest.” The mood in the class was light-hearted but it was clear on everyone’s face that they were thinking, “will my reasons affect my future?” The lecturer was silent as she listened to us. No matter what our reasons were, she just smiled and let us carry on. She didn’t reprimand us, no matter how insincere or ridiculous the things we said. As humans, we are a very judgemental species as a whole, so why didn’t she say anything about our reasons?

Once the last of us finish introducing themselves, she finally spoke. This was what she said, “Do not fret about the reasons why you chose this program. What you become in the end of a journey is never determined by the reasons why you start one. Instead what you do along the journey will be the deciding factors. As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, ‘To be, or not to be, that is the question’. So decide instead, whether you choose to be a student or simply an actor that wears a mask of one.” Each of us wears the mask of a degree student, now is the time to prove ourselves as one.

Michelle Chang is studying for the LLB at Advance Tertiary College in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

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