As I flop over delicately in my bed, the sunlight lightly caresses my face and my skin tingles with anticipation of another delightful day as a student in Trinity College Dublin. I gather my thoughts and manoeuvre myself out of bed. What will the day hold for me in the finest institution of education in Ireland? Maybe I’ll complete next week’s reading? Perhaps I’ll critically compare the German and English translations of the Critique of Pure Reason then debate at large with my lecturer as to the true meaning of the synthetic a priori. For some reason, totally unknown to me, another option always seems much more appealing: coffee.
So I dress and leave the comforts of my apartment. Having attended my one class of the day, I can usually be found nursing a cup filled with sparkles and dreams, wondering what I could have achieved had I spent the day in Ussher 4. Realistically, that is the truer, more Trinity option. That’s how the greats become so great. I know I should be reading and analysing and expanding my knowledge about the greatest philosophical works known to man. What’s more, I too should be beginning to add my two cents. I should sit in the library and hammer out a coherent philosophy of how the world works, how language is conducted and whether or not God exists. I could be great. In fact, I could turn the world of Trinity on its head. I would be engraved on benches. You would see my name on spines beside Bentham and Berkeley and students would rip me to shreds.
But, instead of the glory and gold, everyday, I choose to waste this precious time in my academic career drinking coffee. It’s not that I’m lazy. I, like you, got into Trinity. We all clearly have a good work ethic and huge potential. Moreover, I am lucky in that I am enjoying the material I come across and believe that the majority of Trinity lecturers are stimulating and engaging. The big questions are invigorating, I want to find the answers and leave my mark on the academic world. Luckily for me, my grades don’t reflect the true time I spend avoiding the realities of studying and the impending doom that is the month of May.
But for some reason I can’t quite fathom, at twenty one I find myself having an existential crisis about the most primitive academic tasks that cross my path daily, whether they be completing a response paper, preparing readings for a tutorial, or even just getting up in time to make my nine am class. Yet if an arrangement has been made to meet someone for a breakfast coffee at 8:30 am, I’ll be five minutes early.
Virtues of procrastination
But am I wrong? Is it truly wrong that I have spent more time in coffee shops than in libraries the past three years of my college education? Clearly I’m doing something right. Yes, I will hate myself and be locked by a desk for the month of April but I’ll still manage to scrape above average grades and perhaps grow as a human by virtue of the fact I kept it together under the stress. Furthermore, think about all the fantasies I’ve entertained these ‘quick coffee breaks’. The discussions you have with friends over coffees drag you from Hogwarts to Hegel in less than thirty seconds. Thoughts and ideas flow. Jokes are shared. Dates are dissected. You discuss career options, the substance of Descartes duality and that murky and mysterious place known as the future. On rare occasions, one can even imagine a world outside of the Trinity bubble. A world where a fifteen minute coffee break is just that. A world where student union elections metamorphose to a general election. A world where your greatest worry isn’t trying not to pass out at pre drinks before Trinity Ball.
As you both cradle a cup and ponder the complexities of a Trinity lifestyle, you can share your vulnerabilities and, in doing so, engage in a process of interpersonal growth.
On these momentous three hour long breaks, a truer cognition of the human thought process is revealed to you. Theories are tossed over and back, whether that be in an attempt to solve Russell’s paradox or just figure out whether or not to redownload Tinder. We laugh, we cry, we make believe and become the essence of our own fairytale. And maybe, just maybe, you can grow in understanding of the friend who is sitting opposite. As you both cradle a cup and ponder the complexities of a Trinity lifestyle, you can share your vulnerabilities and, in doing so, engage in a process of interpersonal growth. These hours wasted contemplating the big and the small are invaluable despite holding no true consequence. Nothing is lost but time, and that can always be made up for. Nothing is gained but an understanding for not only the individual sitting opposite you, but the people they have met, the places they have seen and the stories that they have discovered.
So the question I pose is this: can the true value of university education ever come exclusively from the classroom? Or in order to fully develop your thoughts, opinions and express them coherently, is a certain amount of frivoling compulsory? The years spent at university are the final time we have to loiter, lounge and make sense our existence on earth before the real world steps in, forcing our days to become filled with bureaucratic business and mundane musings about whether or not to attend the staff Christmas party a month down the line.
If these are the best years of our lives, I would be glad to say that I received average grades in return for above average conversations and relationships. I don’t really care whether or not mathematics can be reduced to logical propositions. But I do care about people and their story. And that’s what I think Trinity offers to us all: an excellent academic education and a sublime education about personage.
Illustration: Mubashir Sultan