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Welcome to College

It must be exciting to begin a new chapter in your life. Only a few months ago, you were among the thousands of anonymous high school kids who were being guided blindly through the dark hallways of RCH by yellow-shirted Waterloo volunteers. You said to yourself, “Well, I can see myself being here.” You scratched your head, took a few pictures, and rode the 401 back to your cozy homes.

The next day, you fell in love with UofT. The beautiful campus. Computers that work. Arts hotties down the street.

Then your parents told you to either accept Waterloo’s offer or get lost. Parents are always the smartest of people.

It really doesn’t matter why you are here. People come to Waterloo engineering for a variety of reasons. Some can’t afford MIT. Some heard rumours about academic excellence. Some were duped by the prospect of Microsoft internships. Regardless, now you are on your way to become a proud Waterloo grad, and unless something goes horribly wrong, what await you are the cruelest five years of your life.

It is not my intent to offer you any useful advice. If I had any, I would’ve traded those for something more useful than appreciation from first year students. Two excellent skills do stand out to being of some importance, and it would not be detrimental for them to be explained here as I attempt to brush up on my writing skills before my work report resubmit.

The first one is the ability to watch out for yourself while being lost in the day-to-day trivia of learning standardized engineering theories for the purpose of obtaining high marks on examinations where the maximum possible leeway for creativity is to decide between an idealized tool A and an obviously inferior but no less idealized tool B, which, to the confusion of many upper year students, is also occasionally named “A’” or “not A”. To maintain a healthy lifestyle, both mentally and physically, is essential. Since most of you would be living on your own, the absence of excessive nagging of your guardians needs to be counterbalanced by a strict sense of self-discipline. It takes time and energy to stay sane, stay fit, and stay on top of school work at the same time. However, these are exactly the famed “life skills” that a postsecondary education is supposed to offer. Employers will give you all the technical training you need to do your job. They will not teach you how to avoid depending on Big Mac coupons for the rest of yourself.

The second important skill is not to get caught up in the engineering bubble. Engineering schools tend to be very enclosed environments. This is due to the rigid structures that our predecessors have created for us. The structures exist to be followed in order for us to be of competent service to the common man upon graduation. As you may have observed from your faculty-imposed course schedules, the number of electives is very limited, and that of non-technical ones even fewer. Conspiracy theorists reckon that this apparent governmental influence is present so that large quantities of identically-skilled workers can be cheaply assembled to not only meet the insatiable demand of the American Dream, but also to surplus generously for deployment in the Canadian and other underdeveloped economies around the world.

The mistake is to believe that we are in any way better than differently trained creatures on campus and elsewhere. There really is nothing holding you back from the temptation of feeling rather good about yourself right now. However, the coming five years, if done correctly, should be a definite eye-opener for most undergraduates. During these formative years, it is important that you truly embrace yourself to the other side of the world. Diversify your field of study. Dive into the subjects of liberal arts and social sciences without hesitation. An engineer who is well-informed and one who understands the importance of the world serves the society much more competently than someone who is narrow-minded and, to use a highly sensitive technical term, “nerdy”. Economics will help you understand why Microsoft is dominating the world. Psychology will help you understand why we let Microsoft dominate the world. Philosophy will help you understand why Microsoft seems to be immortal. Only when you are capably armed with an understanding of the victor can you then confidently start to plot your own informed plan to challenge his reign. After all, if history has taught us anything, it is that no empire has lasted for ever.

Friday August 29, 2003