Letter: Response to "What it's like being a 16-year-old UBC student"

This piece is a response to Leo Soh's letter, published January 12, 2016.

“Holy f---”

That actually is what most people say when they find out that I am 19 and in my fifth year. But the look that crosses their face isn’t usually envy or delight. It’s confusion. People try to work out how old I was in first year, how many grades I must have skipped to have been at UBC this long or how that’s even possible. Never once has someone been envious and never once have I enjoyed the conversation that inevitably follows. Yes, I’m younger than you thought I was. Yes, I only just turned 19. No, I’m not a genius — just look at my grades for proof.

I come from a background where being 15 and in first year isn’t weird. I have two older siblings and a twin brother who did it too. I don’t see us as different than everyone else. My brother was a varsity athlete and won a national title, my sister was an honours student and I went on exchange and sat on student council. If you met any of us, we’d seem pretty normal to you.

When I first saw the letter from Leo Soh, I was excited. Young students on campus are not very well understood and often seen as exceptions to campus culture, not a part of it. One of my close friends on campus recently shared with me a story from his first year (which was also my first year) in which students in residence made fun of students my age. I hoped this letter would get passed this and discuss the contributions from younger students to campus culture. 

Instead, I found a letter that tries to justify our place on this campus. Few students question our place here. They don’t argue we are under-qualified, unable to succeed or unemployable. Instead, they seem to ask what we do on campus. Do we drink? Are we involved? What is our experience like? And that’s what I think we should focus on.

At the end of the day, there is nothing that separates us from the rest of students at UBC. Young students are just like you — you just don’t know it yet.

Young students I know have been involved in varsity sports, student government, SLC, Rec, undergraduate societies, Go Global, Rez life, fraternities and sororities. We’re in every faculty, studying everything. You probably have had a class with someone who entered university when they were 15 or 16 and don't even know it. 

It isn’t all peachy. Throughout my time at UBC, I’ve failed. I’ve experienced low marks, lost an election and felt alone. I’ve seen students battle mental health issues, fail courses and lose their way. At the end of the day, there is nothing that separates us from the rest of students at UBC. Young students are just like you — you just don’t know it yet.

I know students who entered UBC at 15 who do like the occasional drink, who did get the "high-school experience" and loved it, and who enjoy their fair share of sex. Going or not going to high school isn’t something that defines us. Having a high IQ isn’t something that defines us. We don’t all have trouble relating to people our own age and we don’t all believe grade 11 provincials to be substantially less than a 200-level math final. 

So what is it like being a 16-year-old at UBC? Well, my experience was pretty different from Leo’s. In my first three years, I swam competitively with a local swim team. I never felt disconnected from my age group. At the same time, I felt embraced by those on campus. As much as being underage meant I couldn’t go to Pit Night every week, I still felt connected to the people at UBC. I haven’t always been the top of my class and I have struggled along the way. But never once have I felt the need to justify my place on this campus that I call home. Never once have I felt like someone looks down on me for my age. My time at UBC has, for the most part, been normal.

The point of this letter is not to say that Leo’s experience is worth less than mine or his experiences are wrong. The point of this letter is that we’re not any different than the rest of the student body. We each experience UBC in our own way, succeeding and failing in equal measure. At the end of the day, when all's said and done, we are UBC too.

Mackenzie Lockhart is a fifth-year 19 year-old UBC student.