By Aoife Osborne
Cast your mind back, if you can, to September 2018. It’s Trump’s second year in office, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have been married since May and the term ‘coronavirus’ is reserved exclusively for epidemiologists and zoologists. It’s also the year that a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Aoife Osborne starts in UCC. Armed with her Norton Anthology of English, new blue hair and an alarming amount of naivety, she skips off into this new chapter of her life.
And then the universe puts out a metaphorical banana peel and she falls flat on her face, Lizzy Maguire-style.
I’d grown up through primary school being told ‘once you start secondary school, everything will get better.’ Lies. Then I made it to fifth year and was promised college would be the making of me. After a gap year in which I worked, interned and enjoyed my space, I was ready to start this miraculous transition into happiness and normality. I was ready to turn into this beautiful butterfly emerging from a cocoon – instead, I felt more like the caterpillar at the end of A Bug’s Life with his teeny wings, struggling to get his weight off the ground.
I found it difficult to make friends, I struggled with notetaking in classes and the different formats of lectures and tutorials were completely foreign to me. I’d set myself up for an ‘after’ picture and instead, here I was stuck in the ‘before.’ One evening, I found myself bored on campus, waiting for a lift. And then, I saw an Instagram post from the Feminist Society advertising their AGM. I didn’t know what a society actually did, I didn’t know what AGM meant but inexplicably, I found myself walking toward the Boole Basement for the meeting. I got there about twenty minutes early, and saw someone popping up a roller banner for the society. They saw me, said hello with a smile and introduced themselves as Monica, the Chairperson. Now, keeping in mind that I still had no idea what was going on, I was a little overwhelmed and didn’t really know how to interact. I think I may have said my name, and that I studied English. Sheepishly, I asked what was FemSoc, and what did it actually mean. It seems now like a stupid question to me, but nonetheless Monica answered comprehensively and with enthusiasm. ‘We run different events and things for students relating to feminism – panel discussions, we have a conference, we do The Vagina Monologues every February. But tonight’s actually our AGM, you could run for a position on our committee if you’re interested?’
I responded that it sounded great but that I was only in First Year – almost the same way I turn down a cigarette by saying ‘sorry, I don’t smoke’ with sort of a thanks-but-no-thanks connotation. Undeterred, Monica shrugged ‘you could always run for First Year Rep, you’d be able to let us know what’s going on in first year circles and tell us what you think would work.’ And I know it sounds really cheesy to say that something sparked inside me but I don’t know how else to put it. I found myself intrigued, and excited and inexplicably, when the call-out for First Year Rep came, I ran for the position and was elected.
Over the next three years, I found myself working with so many different societies; by the start of this year, I had sat on four different committees across three societies, worked in a collaborative capacity with many others, curated and ran events, planned a whole intervarsity conference, directed a play and made so many friends. By the time I started into my Final Year last September, societies were just a part of my college life.
And then, the universe decided to throw another spanner in the works.
I suddenly found myself without my job, and didn’t know what to do. Anyone who knows me knows that my work for me has never been ‘just a job’ but an escape. I guess the technical term would be ‘career bitch’ or ‘workaholic’ but if that’s the label someone wants to put on me, I wear it with pride. All I knew was that I felt like a part of me was missing again. And then, as if by fate, another post turned up in my Instagram feed, focusing on the next FemSoc AGM. I found myself thinking back to my time with the society, and how happy it made me. I thought about how best I could contribute, skills I had that would be useful and skills I could develop through the society again. And in the back of my head, I thought about how this would be my last year in UCC – so if not now, when?
Feeling the nagging little voice in my head telling me that I would be sorry if I didn’t at least try, I decided to try and run for a position. I also ran for a position with the Harry Potter Society, figuring that if I didn’t get one, I could fall back on the other. And as the universe clearly likes to play with me, it gave me a position on both. I thought about turning one down, and focusing on just one position. When it came to it, I couldn’t do it. So here I sit, writing this little love letter, a proud committee member of three UCC societies.
UCC Societies have helped me find myself not once, but twice now. Through them, I have met and worked with some of the most incredible people; many of whom I am proud and honoured to call my friends. I am proud of the things I have learned, done and achieved through UCC Societies. Going into this semester, I’m sad that it’s the last chance I have to make my mark with my little adoptive families but I am so unbelievably excited for everything that we have coming. When I turn down nights out with my friends in favour of weekly meetings or events, there’s usually at least one remark along the lines of ‘but…it’s just society work, right?’
No, it’s not ‘just’ society work and anyone I know who is involved in societies will tell you the same thing. I can’t explain it because rationally, I understand that this every society by definition is a group of people bound together by a shared interest or passion. There’s no monetary gain to societies for the committee members. Unfortunately, the experience isn’t always recognised professionally and sometimes, you can put hours of work into an event only to have a poor turnout. We’re on campus first thing at morning, we stick around until late in the evening once our events finish. We put up roller banners in freezing cold weather, and then we rush to take them down when it starts raining or the wind gets heavy. We carry boilers and speakers and equipment from one building to the next, only to realise we’ve left the tea and coffee at home so we rush to buy some before our event starts. It is hard, and stressful, and tiring. But it’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.
Sometimes, I feel like nobody really expects anything from UCC Society events, because they’re run by students. In my time at societies, I have seen drama and theatre productions ran on a budget of €20. I’ve seen people who’ve never met before work together to make sure an event happens. I’ve seen people give their absolute all purely in the name of wanting to make something wonderful for their fellow students, and then I’ve seen those students laugh and enjoy themselves and relax.
If you’ve read this article as a society person and even a little twinge of solidarity, then thank you. If you haven’t heard it lately, you are a freaking hero for everything you do and you are an integral part of the UCC community. If you’ve read this and you’ve ever been to a society event, then thank you. You have no idea how every committee member feels when they see someone coming to an event they’ve put together and how grateful they are to see you, so I’m telling you now. And if you’ve ever been curious about why so many of us are so passionate about society work, then I hope this little article has gone some way to answering your question. I also encourage you to seriously think about getting involved with societies – find an event to go to, a committee to join, something to do.
You may just end up finding a whole lot more. I did.