I always dreamed of going to university. I grew up watching American and British television shows that depicted universities as hallowed institutions with sandstone and ivy, places with libraries so big you could get lost in them, where undergraduates made friendships that would last lifetimes and learn things they'd never forget.
I desperately wanted to have the quintessential university experience, and when I graduated Year 12, I applied to five different programs at five different institutions, and was accepted to all of them.
Growing up in Canberra, I had very much bought into the narrative that I should leave as soon as I could. I think that's the cultural cringe we internalise here in the Nation's capital, but it definitely influenced me to enrol at the University of Technology Sydney. I lasted three months before homesickness, and a profound sense that the course wasn't right for me, had me boarding the Murray's bus back home.
I had initially applied to study a Bachelor of Arts at The Australian National University (ANU), and reapplied for mid-year entry. My friends were all at ANU already, and for the six months I had to get through before I could join them, I would regularly meet up at one of the campus cafes and wistfully listen to their conversations about classes and lecturers and everything they were learning.
I spent that time working at a call centre, saving money, and dreaming about university. To say I was excited to get to Bush Week is an understatement!
I dove headfirst into university life, and I can confidently say that ANU lived up to my expectations one hundred per cent. I have such fond memories of walking down University Avenue, books in hand, talking to my friends about the Gender Studies tutorial we had just emerged from. Or sitting next to fellow students at Chifley Library, desperately trying to finish our essays or cram for exams as the end of semester rolled around.
But the studying was only one part of what I gained from ANU. I got involved in student politics (I was ANUSA Women's Officer in 2010, and Culture Sub-editor of Woroni in the same year), and through that met so many amazing friends. I even met my partner via Woroni, another ANU Arts student, and we've now been together for 11 years.
While at the time I felt like the best part of university was the socialising, what I didn't realise until I entered the workforce is how important the critical thinking skills I learned at ANU have been for my career.
I majored in Gender Studies, English and Politics in my degree, and in every course I took, I was encouraged to ask questions, to pose ideas, and to deconstruct what I was being taught. Ultimately, these are the skills I use every day, as a writer, and a communications professional.
I also learned about respectfully debating with others, listening to differing view points, and navigating teamwork. I can admit that, like most students, I hated group assignments, but it turns out they really do set you up for working with other people in professional settings!
I'm still close to many of the friends I had at ANU, and it's been so wonderful to see everyone forge their own careers and paths in life, find their passions, and grow into the bona fide adults we are now. Sometimes we joke about the days we sat at Degree (the cafe that was out the front of the old Manning Clark Hall), holding lattes and trying to cram our tutorial readings (which were still in reading bricks!), or how we'd race to get to the assessment chute in time for our essays to be stamped as being submitted before the deadline.
I remember student protests in union court, and going to gigs at ANU Bar, or poetry readings at The Gods, or sausage sizzles during ANUSA elections. All things that evoke to me the sense of freedom and excitement university gave me.
I still live and work in Canberra, and have the immense pleasure of revisiting ANU to attend and speak at events, and connect with past lecturers and new contacts. The campus has certainly changed in the 11 years since I graduated, but it still has the same energy and spirit it had then. I think it will always feel like a home to me, and I'm grateful for that.