Second Runs & Bright Torches

Are you serious?

In the past 24 hours, I have asked myself, and been asked this more than a few times. Why so? Well, less than 24 hours ago I submitted my application for the captaincy of Ursaia (Green) House for the second time in four years. For a bit of context, the House Captain is usually, or implicitly, the position which a freshman takes up three to four weeks after he enters the USP, as a member of one of the six “Houses” which organise the USP community. And I am a senior in my final year at the USP…

If you are a Mature, Working Person, this is all very trivial and facile, extremely childish. I mean, who organises and divides people along such arbitrary lines? (Yes, maybe we should divide people along better arbitrary lines, like the colour of their hair, or a particular verse in some common Book they read, or the way they pronounce or say certain things; those make more sense, of course.)

But for me, the House holds a little more subjective significance. House Ursaia was the place where i made my first real friends in university. In my freshman year, I successfully ran and was elected as the third House Captain of that batch. Usually, the common refrain year after year is for the House to be a “vertically integrated” structure – i.e. with seniors and juniors actively interacting with each other. You build a sense of community when you have a random bunch of people with different interests and experiences talking together. That’s sort of the reasoning behind the ruckus. Sometimes it works, because they have common experiences (such as freshman orientation camps – no sexy cheers involved; sorry TNP), or because they take classes together, or because there simply is a chemistry between a group of people. Sometimes the sense of community sticks.

And if you’re lucky, this natural chemistry sometimes carries through over the years: seniors who have meals with juniors, help each other out, simply out of a uninhibited altruism. It can be immensely satisfying to know you can guide someone who is walking the same muddy path you once stumbled along.

Over the years, however, due to an uneven confluence of personalities, commitments and agendas, I have watched the House System gradually disintegrate. And this is understandable, if you are a leader who has never had to deal with the complexity and criticality of the USP community, thrust into a position where you have to be a social butterfly to intimidating seniors you don’t really know. And this is understandable, if you are a quiet senior who likes the community and company, but are too shy to stick yourself out to speak to random strangers, unless there was an excuse to do so. Small talk and socialising can be extremely exhausting, if not often pointless. Especially for something as vague and ambiguous as “house spirit” (can eat one or not). Especially when you have a whole load of assignments to do. Or when your nice quiet little room beckons…Why bother with awkward conversation when you have good friends?

This is a question I have asked myself often. Why bother? This evening, on a crazy whim by some fellow Year 4s, we decided to troop over to the Ursaia Buayee Reveal session. We weren’t too old for curiosity yet, but we were old enough to flee from awkward conversation. Safety in numbers. This evening, I re-discovered the answer, at least partly. Why bother? Because say what you want about the cynical, jaded senior; in small doses, s/he actually misses the company and conversation of a place and a context s/he can belong to in some sense. In simpler, more tangible terms – it’s nice to have an excuse to talk to old friends again, even as you meet new ones. That’s what I am guessing, anyway.

 Why bother running for House Captain, though? It was nice to see my old friends together again, after so long. It was nice to see Year1s shyly and curiously milling around us Year 4s, eager to speak but unsure of what to say. In the history of House Ursaia, it must have been an unprecedented first to have so many seniors in the room with so many freshmen. I thought it would be a good, if crazy experiment, to see if I could bring people from all four years of Ursaia together – by running for the Captaincy. 

Curiosity Wanted?

Are you serious? Variations of this include, “are you crazy?” and also, “are you too free?” We have yet to get to “would you like fries with that?”, the standard refrain of the Arts student, but I am fully expecting to field this question in Tuesday’s Q&A.

Why am I running?

The answer expands and oozes in a lot of different directions, and to try to encapsulate it in a few words is difficult. I have nothing much to gain from it: the CV is already sufficiently rich with other things to Impress the Employer with. I also have Level4000 classes, and then a Honours Thesis to write in the next semester. I have escaped the grim orbit of Prestige as far as this is concerned, having been the House Captain once before already.

I suppose you could condense and pack it into a word, which is more like a suitcase bursting at the seams: curiosity.

I’m curious about how a jaded, cynical senior will attempt to integrate all four Years into something amounting to a real House. Usually a Year One runs, and is elected as House Captain. Then s/he tries awkwardly and desperately to reach out to seniors who don’t know and don’t care to know them. This has always been a problem. It isn’t anyone’s fault, just an inevitable disjunct in expectations and wavelengths. The ‘real’ House, which in truth has been a very wishful and strange theoretical pipedream, envisioned individuals from all four Years enthusiastically interacting with each other, sharing experiences and weaving a more tightly-knit USP community. This vision forgets that the USP community is made of very independent cats with their own routines, habits and social circles. So the reach of a Year One is honestly limited, even if s/he relies on seniors to reach out to other seniors. So I’m fundamentally curious about whether or not this vertical pipedream can actually realise itself – and if not, why not?

I’m also curious about my juniors. Say what you want about weird creepy seniors who attend FOPs to erm, get in touch with… freshmen (how many double enchiladas can you find there, hurhur). But it’s nice to know there are people you can help. People you can give advice to, and guide along the way. It’s nice to have a conversation with people with new dreams, new ideas, new hopes. You were once there too. It’s difficult to quantify that kind of feeling in personal gain or lines on a CV. It’s nice to glimpse the future through the hesitant interest of someone only three weeks into this community you’ve been part of for ages.

And finally, I’m curious to see how this election will pan out. What happens when a Year 4 runs in a contest normally run by Year 1s? How will the vote split? Will the seniors turn out in force to vote for one of their own, in the lack of any other options, or simply to watch the world burn (favourite pastime of seniors)? Will the House Committee, with its heavier vote weightage, kick the arrogant senior off his high horse?

Suddenly it’s a little storm in a teacup and we can pretend we are political pundits. So the only way to find out, in lieu of anyone boliao enough to try…was to try it myself. I would humbly and happily accept the results whichever way they play out; if anything, I had also run to raise awareness of the fact that Ursaia Year4s actually exist too. Show face a bit. It is a strident and loud HELLO to the freshmen who wear the same URSAIA shirt as me, but whom i do not recognise any longer. It’s a strange feeling indeed, to have the lift doors open and see someone you don’t know wearing the shirt your committee designed and distributed. I run out of a curiosity to see what the future of USP actually wants, and holds, for all the recent rhetoric about “senior-junior interaction” – which is what my application implies to promise.

Burning Bright

This has been a rambling, meandering post; certainly not my sharpest, because I always find it so difficult to sell myself. I did not, and do not intend for this to be a campaigning post (shane on me) being far too realistic to expect people to vote for me on the strength of a sentence. This has been more of a personal reflection of a wet blanket, hoping that airing the idea will illuminate the decision a little better.

Submitting my Captaincy application was not easy. As a lazy person who has borne the brunt of countless House meetings I had to ask myself if I wanted to run the gauntlet again. There is still a part of me terrified, and screaming at what I have done, just contemplating the road ahead, a road I have walked once enough to know some of the difficulties that lie gleefully in wait.

But Ned Stark once told his son that the only time a man can be brave is when he is afraid. The Lonely Planet adage is to decide to GO and then make things up as they go along. As I reflect on this crazy path I have taken, George Bernard Shaw came to mind. I thought it was worth sharing his little meditation in full. I can think of no other, weirder context more suitable at this point for this breathtaking poem:


 The Torch

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.

I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.

I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no “brief candle” for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.

(George Bernard Shaw)

I’ve been in this community nearly four years now. It has frustrated me, hurt me, cut me, and on a few occasions brought me close to tears. But it has also illuminated me, challenged me, guided me, and pushed me to become much better than I was. It’s been a wonderful adventure that has taken me to a dazzling array of new horizons, great people(s) and stunning places, both on and off the computer screen.

At the tail end of this bright, great arc across the midnight firmament of my university life, I want to try one last time to build a Home for an arbitrary amalgamation of people who have made me into the person I am today, for better or for worse.

I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”



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