The following article is written by VP Societies & Volunteering – Muhammad Firdaus & published by Seren.
As we reach the end of the first semester and the coming new year, I look back on the past three months (has it really only been three?!) since the start of term with amazement.
The 2018/19 academic year has been a special one so far. This is the first time students born at the turn of the new millennium begin university. What’s so special about that? Besides the obvious impending mortality creeping up on this particular 1992 kid, it means we’re seeing the first emergence into maturity of a generation born into a messy, messy world.
I never thought I’d reminisce about the good old days before the age of fifty, but to plagiarise Douglas Adams,
“In those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were real men, women were real women and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri.” (Adams, 1979)
The economy back then was stable, politics was (relatively) sane, the Berlin Wall had fallen, children could be trusted to stay home alone and fight off intruders, and the apocalypse appeared to have been averted. 90s kids grew up in a period of safety, more or less, and I still remember a time when I didn’t have the worries I do now: Islamophobia, climate change (didn’t it used to be ‘global warming’?), an economy apparently being ruined by our love for avocado toast, and the increasing likelihood of a world without Sir David Attenborough.
And this year, the veterans growing up in this mad world have emerged into adulthood, taken off the training wheels, and hit the ground running.
It was during Serendipity in September that I sensed something was different in the air: Students both local and international were asking me about opportunities to volunteer more than they were asking me about societies. It was clear from the very beginning that there was a keen sense of a need to help make a difference.
As term progressed through October and November, I began to hear rumours of the freshers from every corner of my Societies & Volunteering domains: “The freshers are really keen”, “They’re super engaged”, “Our active membership has doubled and we don’t know why”, “So many of them applied for our volunteering project we had to turn some of them away”
If you are a first-year undergrad reading this, I congratulate you. I may not know you, and you may not know me, but I like your style, friend.
At the start of this month, I mentioned this amazing phenomenon of how keen students have been this year in the Sustainability group I sit on and found the staff in the Sustainability Lab agreeing with me: “They’re not just keen to get involved, they’re also willing to learn. Sometimes we get people telling us ‘Here’s what you should do’, but this time they ask us ‘What can I do to help?’”
Last month, I was in a meeting with the Vegetarian & Vegan Society and they reported the same thing: “We’d always been this small sort of society, but this year so many people are interested!”
Everywhere I look, our students – you! – are going beyond just your studies and getting involved in making the world a better place, one step at a time. Beach cleans, after-school sessions with children, visiting patients in hospitals, raising money for charity, donating to the needy, helping out with tea parties for the elderly, coming together to organise events, collaborating to make stuff happen…
It moves me. And it reminds me why I ran to be a Sabbatical Officer in the first place.
I am not somebody who believes in grand sweeping gestures or overnight revolutions. Experience has taught me that before you can solve the big problems, you must solve the many little ones. Change can only come through the constant, consistent effort of making everyday choices. Do we choose reusable or disposable? Do we recycle? Do we look at where the ingredients for our food come from? Do we throw our excess away or donate them? And when you start making all those little choices, they add up. And when lots of us do it, the change is multiplied.
How do we tackle climate change? How do we fix the problems in our society? It all begins with the little choices that we all have to make every day. And by the time the big choices come along, you’ll find that you’re prepared for them without even realising it!
I look forward to seeing what else you all get up to next semester, and for now I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Hapus!