In today’s world, the transition from one stage of life to another is often marked by certain rites of passage across different cultures. These rites are usually ceremonial or ritualistic events, such as marriage or graduation, and they often include some difficult obstacles or challenges that are believed to aid in the maturation process.
University serves as a contemporary rite of passage, a period of transition from adolescence into the “real world” of adulthood. In its essence, college provides students with the education, knowledge, and necessary skills to become successful and sensible individuals. It presents them with a multitude of challenges that are deemed essential for an emerging adult to mature - which is more than merely a path to secure a job.
Hence, high school students in our society are often bombarded and placed under a lot of pressure during their final year, and after they graduate, to determine where they are to attend, and what they are to study. Yet, most students at that age are not mature or conscious enough to make such vital decisions.
At that point, they are presented with a crossroads, to either follow their “passion” or take the path that promises them a good-paying job. The problem is, many of them at that time of their lives are clueless as to where their passion lies, and they don’t want other people to decide that for them. We often hear the word “passion” used as the hanger that successful people use to justify their success and wealth, and they would often throw phrases like: “Find a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” But that’s easier said than done, so what is passion really? And where do we find it?
According to Merriam-Webster, “passion” refers to a strong feeling of enthusiasm or excitement, either for something or about doing something. Passions are often things we enjoy doing all the time. Today, the internet is flooded with guides and instructions written to help people find their passions, commonly done through self-reflection and self-exploration. But I believe such queries should also be conducted outside of ourselves—through exploring and not being afraid of trying new things out. We might be passionate about something—we just don’t know it.
I am reminded of a phrase that NYUAD’s emeritus president John Sexton constantly repeats: “Play another octave of the piano.” This was his high school teacher Charlie’s basic mantra. Charlie’s explanation was more like a mandate: “If there are notes you have not touched, reach out and touch them. If there is a food you have not tasted, if there is music you have not heard, if there is a place you have not seen, if there is a person whose story you do not know, reach out to experience more fully the wonders of creation. Expand your horizons. So long as it is legal and moral, try anything new at least once.”
A few years ago, new voices and ideas started to emerge—voices claiming that a university, or any form of higher education, is unnecessary. Believing that one can get hired and be successful in their career without a degree and that a person can get employed if they exhibit the required talent and skills for that particular job. And while some of these claims are correct, they are not entirely true—at least not for all careers and not in every part of the world. You surely can’t become a doctor, an engineer, a pilot, or a diplomat without some form of higher education and field training. And yet, some jobs—especially as the world is becoming more digital—can be obtained with extensive expertise in computer programing, data structures, algorithms, etc. These skills can be self-taught using the abundance of free materials on the web.
I believe high school rising juniors and seniors should reflect, ask timely yet timeless questions, and know themselves better prior to their graduation. They should explore the different passions they have, and learn more about the related careers that line up with those passions. I know this sounds like a difficult task—it certainly was for me. But it is necessary, as doing so will save them time, distress, and wandering.
Undoubtedly, the university journey is fraught with challenges. But if you are passionate about your chosen field and you push yourself, you will succeed with flying colors.
Hamza Ahmed Abushahla is an engineering student at the American University of Sharjah. He explores, through his works, the spaces of identity, belonging, language, and identity.
Is it unethical? Sure, it is — unless you believe in transparency and inform both parties about the matter and they give you the go-ahead (which is unlikely in most cases)
If the affluent among us contribute directly to society by buying bread for the poor, it will build direct access to the needy, cutting all bureaucratic tapes