Hold on to your dreams

The soundtrack to my college life this week has been Joni Mitchell's "The Circle Game"

The soundtrack to my college life this week has been Joni Mitchell's "The Circle Game". As awards ceremonies are organised, we are also interviewing prospective students. So "the seasons they go round and roundand the painted ponies go up and down", and the college carousel sweeps us along.

Prospective students for our creative and digital industries school have come to fulfil their dreams. In my area, applicants dream of many things, including success, recognition and fame. It's not surprising they have high hopes. Creative courses demand a great deal of self-belief and a sense of unique abilities - success in a competitive industry isn't achieved by the timid - and most students are not short on these qualities.

It's fashionable to criticise such bumptiousness. Concern is expressed about talent shows on television which have led to an increase in applications for courses round the country that students see as fast-tracking them to fame and celebrity. The concept of "talent", meaning being good at something and taking a pride in it, has changed. Research suggests that young people value only skills which will help them become celebrities. Talent is what gets you on the box.

Student expectations are high. The writer Hanif Kureishi, who tutors a university writing course, is reported to have suggested, with tongue firmly in cheek, that "writing courses, particularly when they have the word 'creative' in them, are the new mental hospitals", and he gives all his students the same high mark to avoid any upsets.

The concept of "talent" is the problem. You've either got it or you haven't. Such a concept omits much; the importance of discipline, of reliability, of effort, of trying again: steady, learnt qualities which fuel success.

Concern about dreams of celebrity is therefore understandable. Yes, many dreams will remain unfulfilled. But is it so wrong to dream? At interview, Andrew informs me he's writing his autobiography. He's 16. "I've had an interesting life," he says. And I think: hang on to your dream, Andrew, because you've got a tough year ahead.

While starry-eyed candidates confess dreams and ambitions, I talk of attendance, discipline and motivation. I tell them they will find the course demanding, that they won't be able to edit out the tedious bits. And if that's not enough, then I know the inevitable part-time job will do the rest.

Every year, our students find themselves working long hours stacking shelves or cleaning toilets, and that keeps feet firmly on the ground. I heard of one student who held two jobs, including one where she dressed in a big furry animal costume to keep kiddies amused in a park. Despite her initial enthusiasm, she found the older kids a trial, because they tormented her and pulled her tail. Tall and athletic, she chased them. They realised she could run fast and that scared them, she said. Now she has only one job.

As I shuffle the application forms, our new intake have a lot to learn. For many, part of that will be bittersweet - sometimes culminating in the discovery that, as Joni Mitchell cautions, "dreams have lost some grandeur coming true".

But, I say, let them dream.

Carol Gow lectures in media at Dundee College.

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