University of Cape Town (UCT) Vice-Chancellor (VC) Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng once again rolled out the blue carpet as she welcomed the country’s top performing matriculants to Glenara for a Blue Carpet Scholarship awardee luncheon on 18 February.
Professor Phakeng welcomed the bright-eyed students as they gathered in their numbers at the VC’s official residence, Glenara. She thanked the students for choosing the institution to further their studies.
“We have now chosen you to be part of the Blue Carpet Scholarship. You are here because we want you to succeed, because we know you are destined for success, and we want to aid you to do that,” she said.
It was a strong cohort, with study fields ranging from medicine to science to film and media studies. The students shared anecdotes and relayed their hopes for how their studies will shape the country.
It was, however, left to guest speakers Anza Tshipetane and Emily Wang, who have walked the corridors of UCT for several years, to regale the students with details of what to expect with regards to their university experience.
First guest speaker, Tshipetane, a final-year medical student in the Faculty of Health Sciences, said the first couple of weeks at university would most likely be a battle of emotions.
“You could bear feelings of excitement or feel overwhelmed. Most of you will be living in residences and not at home, and suddenly, the support structures you had in high school will be gone.
“But for some it will be a case of ‘I have always wanted to be here to fulfil my dreams’, and now you are here and guess what? You are going to make your dream happen,” she encouraged students.
Tshipetane spent the better part of her presentation offering sage advice to the first-years.
“This new environment is fast paced.”
“Build a community of friends you can lean on as far as academics go. You might be used to getting As and doing it alone, but this new environment is fast paced. From the first day, find people you gel well with, on both a social and academic level.”
She hailed the university as being replete with opportunities, which she encouraged students to grab with both arms.
“Leverage the opportunities available. As high school ends, university begins and when university ends, you need to look for jobs and while it’s premature to be talking about that now, the way you tailor your university experience will determine if you are employable or not.
“Or even better: being an employer because UCT is an environment that can nurture you into [becoming] an entrepreneur.”
Wang, who studies actuarial science, presented a three-pronged approach to getting by at university, and admittedly, it is advice she said she wishes she had received during her initial years at the institution.
“Coming to university will be the greatest freedom and challenge you will face,” she said, adding that “three things I wished I had known [were important] three years ago, as a first year: confidence, resilience, participation.”
Confidence, said Wang, is something even shy and quiet people possess because “it is about having that moment where you tell yourself ‘Let me breath and greet the person next to me’”.
That moment, she noted, was difficult, but worth it. “It’s nerve-wracking speaking in class, but that moment of asking equals years of academic success.”
As far as resilience goes, Wang implored the students to not let failure define them.
“I have failed before, but I did not let it define me. I saw that as an opportunity to discover myself. Failure is a natural part of the learning process. Learn from mistakes, pick yourself up and keep moving.”
Participation, Wang said, will help in the long run because if you are not participating in the myriad of activities at your disposal at UCT, how else are you going to meet people?
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