The power of memory

Do your memories of your time at university seem particularly sharp or particularly powerful?

Professor Harlene Hayne, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Otago, delivered her Welcome Back lecture to university staff on 17 February 2016. Her topic was “Building Biographies: Making the Most of Our Residential Environment” and throughout her talk discussed autobiographical memory. Professor Hayne referred to the “rich deposit of memories between adolescence and adulthood”  between the ages of 17 and 23, and a phenomenon called the “reminiscence bump” which seems to magnify our memories of that time.

This resonated with me strongly (as I viewed the live stream from my desk) as it is in this period that students generally spend their time at university: learning, forging relationships, and experiencing life as people independent of their family network. It’s also the time in which students are creating their first homes which may be why naming a flat can have such strong memories and create such attachment for some students.

It’s interesting to me that much of the deeper, more descriptive information I have gathered through this research project has been from older alumni (30+) compared with those who are currently residents of named flats. It makes sense – those living the experience are in the process of forming their memories, whereas those who have moved on from university have those memories to reflect on.

So often it is only with hindsight that we see the value or understand the meaning and impact our previous experiences have had on us. For those who have named their flats, what comes through in the correspondence is a sense of identity creation and belong. It’s another piece of our autobiographical memory that illustrates how our Otago days have shaped our lives.

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