By Alissa Kruidenier
There’s a question, one single inquiry, that I have wanted and wished to ask each and every one of you since I first set foot on our unique, brilliant campus. It’s only fitting, then, in our time honored tradition of procrastination, to ask you this now – weeks, even days, before I leave: What about you makes you worthy of being here?
Before this elicits a lot of laughter, and potentially some offense, allow me an explanation.
During the integration week of 2014, Frederic Mion famously stood before the bright-eyed cohort I have learned to think of as my family, and stated that perhaps not all of us got here without the misjudgment of the admissions team, that perhaps we still had to prove ourselves worthy. We were shocked; after all, each and every one of us had poured our heart, our time, and a nice amount of our self-worth into SAT scores and Concours results and trying to get that 20 on our BAC. So began, with that one simple statement from a man who is seen as a campus celebrity, the doubt that grew in many of our hearts. Were we truly worthy of being here? Or were we just mistakes?
In the days that followed, in the ego crushing period known as “integration week” which is commonly seen through the haze of smoke and Poliakov, my peers would joke that they were the ones Mion had singled out in his comment. In a time where the beginning of a university education is about to commence, when spirits are raised and the world seems limitless, SciencesPo showed us what it was truly good at: bringing us forcefully back to reality.
So, let me ask you again, in defiance of anything Mion has said, or that teacher who gave you a seven has said, or what you have told yourself: What makes you worthy of being here?
I do not, nor have I ever during my time here, believed that we ask ourselves this question enough. In a system where a thirteen is the average, where we all take the same courses, where we feed off of one another’s competitiveness at worst and excel from exposure to one another’s genius at best, it is easy to forget that you are here for a reason. So, what was it? Think past all those academic articles you have had to read, look beyond the nine you scored on a presentation, and remember why you are here.
It is far too easy to fall into the trap of self-doubt and deprecation, too easy to forget who you are when you have so much to do. In fact, work tends to come first to the point where we have little else. Work, party, sleep, and repeat. For those of us, including myself, the cycle is all too familiar. And through the cracks of the cycle can fall both our personal confidence and our sanity; through the cracks, the memory of why we deserve to be here can all but disappear.
But perhaps that’s a bit too harsh, and maybe not all of us here have attached the entirety of self-worth to school success. SciencesPo offers just as many opportunities for profit as it does for loss. Where else, in this entire world, could I have been inducted into an international network, given opportunities to explore and adventure to my heart’s content, and have near-limitless champagne at least twice a year? The answer is nowhere; nowhere else, in this time of my life, could I have been simultaneously given and deprived of so much by a little ancient Jesuit college in the middle of Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine.
A juxtaposition of loss and gain is truly a common experience for many of us here. Weighing these factors leads us to an internal consideration of what this school might owe us, and how we may owe it.
After all, one has only to look at the debate over whether we need more support for students, whether we are owed something, to see that the topic of school-administered student wellness is anything but concordant. But for some, the question of purpose is beyond why they got here or how they stay; for some, the question is wondering why they stayed in the first place.
As a generally clueless North American, I, like many others of my kind, was recruited to be here. Most of us hadn’t heard of SciencesPo, many of us barely knew French, and one of us even thought it would be possible to obtain a typical degree in International Relations. Each student came here, whether from across the Atlantic or an even closer border, clueless to what this experience would hold. But we were all promised two things: that we were here for a reason, hence our admittance, and that we would be looked after.
Now, for someone who has gone through lycée, being cared for is not the same reality as being coddled by my Southern Californian High School. And this is where the conflict over whether we ought to institutionally care for one another’s sanity lies, because in a school where we are pressured and pushed and pounded into the system, sometimes people break.
The hardest time to remember why we are here is when we feel as though there is nothing left. Maybe this sentiment has only flashed briefly through the minds of many, and pummeled the psyche of a rare few. But I remember feeling broken at a time when the student life advisor was given the oddly translated title of “Handicap Mentor,” and when no crisis hotline spoke English. There was a truly odd lecture on the uses of political body language instead of a seminar on sexual assault, and the on-campus psychologist was present only once a week for an approximate three hour period.
We’ve come a long way, this much is clear. Arguing with Ruchet about the apparent ‘coddling’ of over-stressed and under-confident students is almost as dynamic as speaking about the topic with the students themselves. Because we cannot agree, either instinctively or simply culturally, on what or how much the campus administration ought to support us and remind us of why we decided to pursue our dreams here in the first place.
Should we instate walk-in therapy, a peer counseling network, and online support forums? Should I have stayed in California if I had wanted any of those things? Overall, it’s unclear. Two hundred of us will like a post on Facebook detailing the heartbreaking story of why one of our cohort left over the lack of support from her sexual assault, and the consequent administrative information session will attract less than sixty attendees in real life. This is where the sentiment slips through the cracks, where it becomes easier to read and forget than it does to drag yourself up and remember.
What makes you worthy of being here? Were you the most politically active student in your school, did you want to run a country, did you give the admissions officers the best interview they had ever heard? I may be naïve, I may be only a year more experienced than some of you and a few years younger than others, but if there is one thing of which I am sure it is that you are here for a reason.
The distance we have come is nothing compared to the debate which we must engage one another in. For those of you who are staying, as well as those of us who are leaving or who have already left, it is time to form an opinion and stand for it. SciencesPo, it is said, gains an even stronger student network through an uninvolved administrative body. So if the system is too centralized, if the bureaucracy is too thick to wade through, then the best resource we have – and perhaps the best one we have always had – is one another.
The greatest draw and resource within this school are the students themselves; let’s face that one particular fact at the very least. But if we are separated, if we divide ourselves between culture or indifference or that one Hobbes reading you have to do which will totally take you all night and you’re very sorry but everything else will have to wait, then we are the ones who stand to lose more than we gain.
If we allow the reality we are dragged back down to, to be the one shaped by the administration of SciencesPo, we allow ourselves to be complacent. We allow the system to dictate our state of being. Yet, out of everything I have seen from each of you who I have met and those of you I have only had the chance to observe, complacence and laconic acceptance of authority is rarely present.
More than asking why you are worthy to be here, more than asking you to remember what makes you exceptional, I would ask you this: What do you hope to achieve here?
It is only through first realizing our worth can we then begin to come together as a community of self-activists. Again, nowhere in this epic and disorganized world will I have the chance to be surrounded by brilliant peers who I know I can rely on to be my support, my family. Like every good family, interactions can be disjointed and inconclusive and uniquely frustrating, fueled by competition and sleep deprivation. But the times when we are synchronized, when we all sit in the slight dapples of sunlight in the courtyard and laugh and smoke and debate with one another, that is when we can claim to be what almost no other university can.
So why not embrace the debate: What should we become? This campus is newly born; so young it doesn’t quite know what to do with its rapidly shifting population rate and simply horrendous wifi network. The answer, if you were wondering, is not apparent for the simple reason that none of us have spent the time finding it between one another.
Were there any of us who did not come here hoping to achieve something? Did any of us start right away by deciding that the minimum would be good enough, that a few likes on Facebook would be real enough, that alcohol would help enough? This stance is taken, as most things are, at the risk of being misunderstood. It is not that this is an occasion to dwell on our campus’s apathy, but rather one where we can rise above it.
I know I am not alone in the knowledge that being here has given me more understanding, more appreciation, and more motivation than ever before. “Home,” wrote Robin Hobb once, “is people. Not a place. If you go back there after the people are gone, then all you can see is what is not there anymore.” Leaving these people, this network, this community of scholars, marks a moment to which none of us can fully go back. And if I cannot truly return to these exact rainy Reims days after I have left, if I am taking the last breaths of my glorious time here, then all I can do is hope that you and I will not waste it.
Remember your worth, and remember why you came. Remember what you wanted to achieve, and remember that half the achievement here is scoring above a twelve. But most of all, for now and for later, reflect upon how we can steer the course of this campus. Perhaps my inquiry ought to have come sooner, because you all deserve more appreciation than a last minute and hurried goodbye. But if we can grow to support one another or convince the administration to do the same, if we can make sure every student here is cared for and heard and acknowledged, then it will be the most powerful self-realization this campus could ever have. You are not, nor will you ever be, an administrative fluke. Do not let that slip through the cracks, and never forget to stop asking yourself what we can become.