My time at McGill has been bittersweet. As someone who came to the university right after the 2012 Quebec student protests, dissatisfaction with the administration was at an all-time high. While most current undergraduates have either forgotten or not experienced that era of McGill, that undercurrent of dissatisfaction remains. Oddly, now that I look back at my time here, I no longer feel the dissatisfaction that plagued me for so long. Perhaps it is just nostalgia, but I find myself remembering my frustrations with amusement and fondness.
My earliest memory at McGill was participating in Rad Frosh in the Fall of 2012. I was underage at the time, so I chose to participate in an alternative frosh rather than a wet one. As it turned out, I only attended the first day of Rad Frosh before tagging onto Arts Frosh events for the rest of that week. The main reason for this was the tone of Rad Frosh that year—within the context of the recent student strikes, it was extremely critical of McGill. I remember reading their orientation brochure, which declared that “James McGill was a slave owner” and criticisms of the administration. The irony did not escape me; I was a first-year excited to begin my time at McGill, and yet my introduction orientation seemed focused on the school’s problems. I remember wondering why these people attended McGill if they were so dissatisfied. I was bemused, and would soon become familiar with that feeling.
The next absurdity came quickly–2012-2013 was the year of the McTavish flood. At the time, Montreal was undertaking extensive construction on McTavish (sound familiar?), and crews had accidentally breached the McTavish Reservoir, quickly flooding lower campus. Memorably, Engineering students created a makeshift dike to protect their beloved McConnell building, and students holed up in various libraries to wait out the flood waters. Living in Upper Residence at the time, several of my friends took unwanted baths while trying to cross the river that had engulfed Robert-Bourassa Boulevard. However, these events were all overshadowed by the now infamous Flood Girl. Her falling and eventual acceptance of defeat encapsulated the universal weariness felt on campus that day. Flood Girl has heightened her myth by maintaining anonymity, and is symbolic of all students by capturing the absurdity of McGill in a uniquely relatable way.
After the flood, Winter semester exams arrived. The McGill gym was unavailable due to construction, and so finals were held at the Scotiabank Theatre. Looking back, it was completely ridiculous. We were given food trays that slotted into the drink holders to use as desks, and were crammed into theatre rooms shoulder to shoulder. There was no way to maintain space between students and no way for invigilators to do their jobs. If you made the mistake of sitting in a center seat, you could forget about leaving until everyone else was done. The lighting was movie-theater quality–dim at even the highest setting. Whatever expectations I had of university, they did not include leaving an exam while passing people in line to see the new Hobbit movie.
Exam implementation continued to be a source of incredulity at McGill that year. While the Fall 2014 semester saw the gym reopened for exams, amusingly, an exam session in the Fieldhouse was interrupted by a fire alarm two hours in. Students were evacuated and many had the foresight to grab their phones on their way out. While officials scrambled, opportunistic students looked up answers and went over their notes. The administration chose not to address the problem or schedule a new exam. Perhaps they realized it would be a logistical nightmare to force a retest, or perhaps they lacked the resources to organize one. Whatever their reasoning, everyone appreciated the ridiculousness.
I could write a dissertation on the ridiculous things I have witnessed while at McGill. I have learned that sometimes the best way forward is to handle things as they come and laugh along the way. Sure, dealing with the seemingly endless nonsense at McGill can be frustrating, but post-McGill life is sure to be equally ridiculous. Now that I am leaving McGill after five too long yet too short years, I can finally appreciate the absurdities of McGill with a light heart. And let's be honest—McGill probably takes itself seriously enough for all of us.
Due to an error in editing, a previous version of this article incorrectly stated that McTavish Street was flooded in Fall 2012.