Today I am taking my eldest to university for the start of the new academic year. It’s led me to recall my own start at Huddersfield Polytechnic, nervously walking through the campus entrance on the first day, back in 1986.
Opting to take a degree was a gamble. After school, I worked as a civil servant for almost three years. It was considered a much desired ‘job for life’ then and when I told my parents I was leaving it in order to study Humanities they were furious. My dad was staunchly anti-education and frequently said that it made people more stupid. He understood and respected a regular pay packet and thought I was lazy by reverting to student life, which he hoped was behind me. He made it clear that they wouldn’t give me a penny in financial support.
I left home and went it alone. For 6 months I was completely estranged from my parents. I had entered a different world: a world of dusty old books and ideas. Where it would lead, I did not know. It was certainly a new beginning and it changed my life. I started a process that continues to this day. Talk about life-long learning! I’ve remained a student for the past 35 years!
My lecturers were quirky and curious, including Mr Colin Parker, a Huddersfield legend, and my hero and idol of many, Dr Bill Stafford. Rousseau, feminism, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, existentialism, Marxism, Hobbes and more occupied my thoughts for three solid years (not enough women or non-Western thinkers). In January of ’88, I decided that I wanted to be – that I had to be – a professional philosopher. Of course, I couldn’t tell anyone about it for quite some time. It was such a preposterous supposition.
I hope others commencing their university courses find it just as significant in their lives as did I. The benefits can take a while to materialise but as I look back to that day 35 years ago, when I started, I see it as the pivotal moment of my whole life. It paid off. Good luck to all!