A speech given at the EUDEC conference in Paris, August 20, 2017
Saying “Goodbye” to Sudbury Valley
I decided to go to university. Not for the degree, but for the experience. I was finally ready to try “school”.
Community had become very important to me, so I found a small school, with small class sizes, where students were “more than just a number”! It was in a small town in the french part of Canada, and knowing that one day I wanted to travel around the world, I thought it would be good to get to know my own country a bit first.
Maybe I’d even learn french! I chose to major in music, because I had played piano my whole life but knew very little about the world of classical music, but if I didn’t like it I wouldn’t be trapped, because according to the website, students were encouraged to take classes in a variety of disciplines for a well-rounded, liberal arts education!
The application process
By the time I had made this decision I had less than two months to complete the application process, which most of my friends had spent over a year on. Things felt almost under control, however, until my chosen school asked me to take the SAT test – a standardized college entrance test in the United States. This was very unexpected, after all I was a Canadian applying to a Canadian university. So on top of all the other work, I began to brush up on my very rusty math skills. Two exhausting and stressful months later, everything was submitted, and all I had to do was wait.
All my hard work paid off, and I soon found myself saying goodbye to Sudbury Valley. Someone once said that your final year at SVS is really the first year after you leave, as you throw yourself into a new life, reflect on your experiences, and put your education to the test. I think there’s a lot of truth in that. The majority of Sudbury grads do go on to university, and one of the reasons is to prove to ourselves that we really can do it. Well the first few months of university were a massive adjustment. But I realized very quickly that it was an adjustment for everybody, regardless of educational background. We were all adjusting to a new place and new people, to new ways of doing things.
Life at university
I learned how to study for different types of classes, to write papers and exams. I realized that not all mandatory readings are actually mandatory. During that first year, more than one prof told me that they wished they had more students like me, which I thought was funny at first, considering I’d never been to a traditional school. But it turns out that many of my Sudbury Valley friends were told the same thing, and i think it’s because of our mentality towards university. In everything we do in life, we think hard
about what we’re doing and why. We don’t go to university simply because that’s what our parents and society expect of us. Another thing I’ve noticed about us is that we are constantly working to shape and reshape our lives, always assuming that when things aren’t going well we can do something about it.
I didn’t love my time at university. The hard part wasn’t school, so much as it was maintaining a healthy balance between the dreaded triangle of school, sleep and social life – and for me social life didn’t necessarily mean partying, I meant taking the time to create and maintain healthy relationships with the people around me. As I struggled with this balancing act, I was constantly questioning myself as to why I was there. One of the reasons I stuck it out for four years was because, go figure, I had no idea what I would do with myself if I quit.
There was still no passion calling to me.