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October 4, 2012

I will graduate today.  Today I receive my Bachelor of Arts, with Honours, in Political Science.  Yet, what does this really mean?  Many of my family and friends will attend to commemorate my hard work, and there was certainly a fair deal of hard work that went into my degree, but is getting a degree really a reflection of one’s work?  My rough estimate is that with tuition, administrative costs, student fees, and such, my degree cost approximately $25,000.  While in no means detracting attention away from the work that goes into a degree, I would argue that a degree is a way of preserving privilege; and this is certainly much more about luck than it is about hard work.  After all, who gets a degree?

How lucky I am to have been born into a family where my parents make more than $10/day.  Over 5 billion people are not so lucky.  Luck would also have it that I was born in Canada where our education is largely subsidized, therefore I will not be graduating with massive students debts that I could not escape (for, at least in the United States, one cannot declare bankruptcy on student loans).  But the luck continues, and not just mine either.  My father was fortunate enough to have found employment in Canada Post, a unionized position secured by the government that would give him the job security to put money aside in RESP’s for my education.  Luck would have it that I was this man’s son.  How many hard working savants were not so lucky, I wonder?  How many geniuses spent their lives toiling needlessly in fields where luck would see them die of poverty?  Certainly it is not that these people do not work hard enough, their very survival depends on hard work to an extent that most of us reading this will never know.

I cannot help but think that there is, really, nothing more to a degree than a piece of paper that is awarded to those who spend enough money at their local university.  A degree does not, necessarily, go to one who has read all that I have read.  It need not even go to one who has read far more than I have, and I am certain that these types exist.  Nor does it go to those who write with more vigor and talent than I, which unfortunately must be many I am sure (as I have heard my usage of commas is still atrocious).

As one that hopes to go to grad school, the situation becomes altogether farcical.  Why am I perpetuating this, then?  Will an MA or a PhD make me a brighter individual?  Will it make me more intelligent?  No, certainly not.  A degree does not do any of these things.  It will, instead, be my reading and writing exercises that improve here, and through them the development of ‘higher’ thought processes.  These certainly come down to hard work; though I cannot say the same of the funds used to pay for these degrees.

But what of the one who does the work and attains the skills, but does not -or cannot- pay?  One does not know, but he or she certainly does not get a degree.  As such I think it is quite clear that: A) luck largely influences one’s economic position; B) one’s economic position largely determines one’s ability to pay for a university degree; and C) that great minds who refuse to play this game are denied the privilege of a degree.

Needless to say, while I am proud of my studies, I have no attachment to this piece of paper I will be receiving.


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