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Know Who You Are

20/06/2013 12:22 BST | Updated 19/08/2013 10:12 BST

Rappers, university and being happy

Two weeks ago, this article appeared in the Guardian.

It explained why Adeniyi Adelakun- aka rapper Niyi- gave up a 'life of touring and partying' to study English at Cambridge. Furthermore the story explained how well he was cared for at college and listed the hoard of people who looked after him. Niyi named 11 members of his college's staff from the chaplain to his senior tutor- all giving him 'every bit of support.' The myriad questions hurtling through most readers' minds will not be helped if they finish the article as Niyi details his jet-set life and fun-filled times and joyously states that he has no regrets about going to university and how happy is there.

Significantly this article in the Guardian came out in the same month as an NUS (National Union of Students) survey of 1200 students saying that 1:10 had experienced suicidal thoughts. 14% had considered self-harm, 38% panic, 80% stress, 50 % insomnia and 40% feelings of 'worthlessness.' Finally, in contrast with Niyi's idyllic experience, 15% felt upset by the 'insensitivity of a lecturer.' Paul Farmer, the CEO of MIND has said "Despite the prevalence of mental health problems and stress among students, many people are not seeking help, perhaps because of the stigma that surrounds mental health concerns." He urges higher education institutions to "proactively create a culture of openness where students feel able to talk about their mental health and are aware of the help available." If we see university experience within the current climate of financial struggle, the picture of not a bright one for many teenagers.

However, for many young people and we must remember this; university is a great time in their lives. It is a period of new-found freedom, great friendships, challenge and excitement. Perhaps the key to enjoying this all-too-short period in our lives rests in the way we manage expectations and especially in the way that school-leavers measure themselves and shape their sense of self and their aims for the future.

Across the pond at Harvard's Graduating Ceremony for the 2013 Leavers, Oprah Winfrey, one of the world's most successful women, counselled her student audience about the value of 'failure.' Her opening line that "There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction" may raise a few eye brows, but it stresses the importance of all young people, especially the very brightest, being able to cope with change and also the importance of never measuring your self-worth by the grades you score or the reports you are given. Of course these things are significant, but they are not a weighing up of a person's value or a defining of an identity. Her address finished by stating that there was only one real aim in life and one real way to be fulfilled and content with yourself and that was "To fulfill the highest, most truthful expression of yourself as a human being. You want to max out your humanity." Perhaps even more so because her speech was given in the birthplace of Facebook it is striking to hear someone urge people to go out into the world, physically interact with others, be compassionate and therefore to define themselves by their sustained decent treatment of fellow human beings.

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