Wednesday, December 13, 2006

I love the University of Toronto because everything people say about it is true: it's harsh, cold, inhuman and fiercely competitive. Over four years here, as Clancy Wiggum once said, students will "be broken down to the level of infants, then rebuilt as functional members of society, then broken down again, then lunch, then, if there's time, rebuilt once more."

Granted, other schools are just as rigorous and still others more challenging, but the University of Toronto is as inhospitable a school as any. The only two things it provides students are lecturers and seats. There is absolutely nothing to do but learn which, for the most part, isn't so bad. In fact, a school so utterly unconcerned with my well-being is both endearing and challenges me to do my best. Spend some time at the labyrinthine John P. Robarts Research Library, affectionately known to me as The Bart, if you are ever in doubt of the crushing weight of this university.

Fourteen stories tall, Robarts Library is a massive concrete peacock. It is actually quite beautiful, at least from the outside. The concrete interior, designed to withstand a direct hit from a Boeing 767 full of Chinese ESL students, gives off the impression of a minimum-security prison. One day, I looked up the namesake, John Robarts. He turned out to be a former premier of Ontario, serving from 1961 to 1971. Ironically, Robarts himself was a graduate of the Bacchanalian University of Western Ontario.

However, the crucial blow to the stomach in the Robarts saga is that he committed suicide at the age of 65 in 1982. In this sense, Robarts Library is probably named rather appropriately. Tonight, walking out in a daze at midnight, I heard a girl sobbing while a muffled male voice seemed to plead with her to "come down from there". I didn't flinch. After all, Robarts is open from Sunday morning to Friday night and there are many near-carcasses collapsed at desks, half alive, half dead and half on CCNet. I'm going to go rejoin them in about four hours. There's nowhere else I'd rather be.

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