Full-Time Worker In A Full-Time Student World

I’ve been working for paychecks since I was 14 years old.

I was always taught that if I wanted something, I had to work for it. At 14, it was a trip to Cuba with my then boyfriend and his family. While the trip was in fact paid for, I wanted money for excursions, new bathing suits and souvenirs. 

I haven’t stopped working since.

When I was 18, I attended Fanshawe College and worked two jobs to pay for books, events and anything else I might have needed or wanted. One of my jobs was bartending at a bar near my highschool. I used to get home at 3 AM, study and then go to my 8 AM class on the other side of town. 

My very first year of university, I was 20 and still working two jobs, but this time in Waterloo. I mainly worked as a server at a 24-hour diner. I was the overnight server. I would go to class during the day, leave for my first job to work 5 PM to 9:30 PM, and get changed in the bathroom at the diner to begin my 10 PM to 6 AM shift. Sometimes, I would go to my 8 AM class from work. Usually, I was able to go home and sleep for a few hours.

Working two jobs while in post-secondary has been my reality since day one at Fanshawe. It is something I have had to do because I am paying for university entirely on my own, with some help from OSAP. This year hit me differently with the OSAP cuts. My tuition was covered but I wasn’t given much more than that. What I had been  given was money used to pay for books and to set aside for emergency funds. Nevertheless, I am a student who works full-time hours while attending school full-time, so I don’t have to feel the constant and crippling feeling of anxiety over money. This, however, has occasionally caused me to stress over my grades. This was not anything I was truly bothered by, until one of my professors told me I should be ashamed of my grades and my work ethic.

On Monday, November 18th, I came into my 10:30 AM class and got settled. Aside from class, this was my first day off in a while and I was excited to feel refreshed and free. My professor began the lecture discussing the grades given for our most recent midterm. He began with how many did well but several did not. While I didn’t do as well as I wanted to, I knew it was something I could come back from. This thought was interrupted with a tangent on how those who failed should be ashamed of themselves. Those who failed were going to go nowhere in life, and should be taking university more seriously because if they don’t they will amount to nothing.

I was livid. It took everything I had not to shut him down right then and there. There is a silent reality many of my peers face that most Western students don’t. Many of us live in a vicious cycle of having to work so we can go to school but not doing as well as we know we can because we need to spend time working. Nevermind extracurriculars, which we are all encouraged to take part in.

In high school, I graduated as an Ontario Scholar: a student in Ontario who has spent every semester in high school above an 80% average. Inevitably, my grades dropped in post-secondary, as it was harder, less structured and I began working at least 25 hours a week. I came to peace with this, as I knew I was trying my best and worked extremely hard to push my grades up. This does not change the fact that sometimes a project or test will suffer in order to save something else. In this month’s case, it was the exam mentioned before. I got high 70s in my other midterms and 90s on all papers I needed to hand in that same week but that one exam took the back seat in order to pull the rest off.

Being told I am a failure by a man who has no idea what I am doing in literally every aspect of my life outside of that two hour lecture was infuriating, because I know I am hard-working, smart and usually a time-management queen. This one bad exam does not define me. His lack of understanding and total ignorance for those who cannot eat, sleep and breathe school further proved the biggest problem with how our post-secondary system is set up. We are expected to put our hearts, souls and time into school, but the cost for those who don’t have money put away for them is astronomical. We have no choice but to work, and even the time spent paying for school comes at a price: our grades. Then, we are told to be ashamed. Apparently, we are now failing ourselves and our future. I’m here to say: absolutely not.

We may not pass every single exam, or hand in every paper on time, but we are out here learning the most important lessons you possibly can outside of university: time management, how to pay bills, how to work hard to get every single thing you can and the most important one: your grades do not define your future. They are important to get you where you want to go, but we are so much more than just one exam. Grades are the train, not the destination. They’re hardly even the journey. Westudents who must work many hours a week are growing in more ways than students who don’t have to work ever will. 

I see you, student struggling to sleep because the homework piled on a little more this week and so did the hours on your work schedule. I see you trying to keep your hours at work  while also finding the time to study for midterms and finals. I see you enjoying your one night off for a dollar beer (or several) on a Wednesday night, because you have two hours to breathe and take in a cheap night out.

You’re doing great, babe. You know you’ll get the next exam and I do too. You got this. Your independence, strength and life management skills are priceless and few and far between; and there’s no course at Western for that. It’s all you and you’re a rockstar for living this silent truth. 

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