Choosing the University of Toronto

Edited by Ann Marie Elpa 

 

Last year, upon the insistence of my guidance counselor, I took a campus tour at The University of  Toronto. After I showed him my (terribly embarrassing) university research folder that included years and years of meticulously arranged, color-coded, organized information regarding universities all around the word (divided by country and continent of course) he asked me to arrange a similar folder to answer the question of what I want in a university. Take inspiration from everywhere, explain to me why you want this so badly, he said, with more faith that I had managed, and we will know which school is right for you. 

I tried to approach this assignment with the same sincerity I put into schoolwork, which was something I had always truly enjoyed - but I just could not take myself seriously. I couldn’t look into my own eyes and ask myself what I want, and why I wanted it so badly – without feeling ridiculous about it. I felt like as if I was looking back at a mood board for my wedding that I’d been planning for years – only to discover that, realistically, I didn’t have the budget to provide a limousine for each guest. I suppose this embarrassment was because the first things I reached for as a source of inspiration were my favorite campus novels, my favorite movies that featured university students, and  hazy old pictures of my grandparents from their time at All Souls College in Oxford. 

My view of academia has always been heavily romanticized – cloistered halls, hallowed classrooms with high ceilings and great acoustics, teachers that would change your life and friends who would leave a mark on your character. University was significant, and life beyond it was – droll, dull, adult. Mundane. I could smell the rotting apples on the ground at twilight in Hampden College that Donna Tartt spoke about in The Secret History, and I envied the characters’ time spent in Oxford in Brideshead Revisited. I felt the reverence with which Belle regarded a library, with which Lizzie Bennet closed a book. My grandfather’s eyes glazed over with wonder at the mention of his time in All Souls – that’s what I wanted. Something to look back upon, a story. When someone asked me about myself, the first thing I wanted to think of was my time spent learning, truly on my own for the very first time. I wanted university to be the place I became.

When the folder was created and reviewed (and the answer was simplified to so you want gothic revival’), within a week I was off to UofT to check out the campus. Leaving the subway station at Queen’s Park the first thing I noticed was the lack of sound as I approached the campus. Toronto is a quiet city anyway, the heaviness of the winter air swallowing the sounds of traffic and pedestrian conversation – but there was a certain crisp quality to the quiet I could not put my finger on. 

It was the same quiet that bites you when you enter a church.

Like Narnia, the city disappeared behind me as I entered King’s College Circle – I didn’t know then but I was already sold, and I was looking at my future college building, judging its gargoyles. The reverence with which the tour guide spoke of the school, the shining eyes of my grandfather in another body. 

The thing about the characters in campus novels was that whatever fateful thing happened to them in college, that marked them forever – there was no life for them beyond that. Their futures were spent thinking about the past, in constant reminiscence. UofT, on the other hand, screamed  forward!  forward!  forward! Who will you be tomorrow?

In the end, beyond the romantic notions I held regarding academia - I chose UofT because I was a curious child, constantly reprimanded for my inane and seemingly unending barrage of questions, and for the first time I felt as if I was in the place where someone would answer those questions. A place I was allowed to ask those questions. UofT is a school for scholarship, and it promised to not only entertain curiosity, but to nurture it within its students. You chose UofT if you truly had a love of learning, if the feeling of your mind expanding once you’d understood a concept or a classroom debate sent a jolt of pleasure down your spine. How wonderful it is to be able to learn at all, what a pleasure, what a privilege! 

Tomorrow, I move in to Whitney Hall, and I’m looking forward to truly enjoy being able to learn and ask questions, ask all of the questions. 

And of course, gothic revival.