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October 14, 2013 | by  | in Features |
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Secret Diary of Grant Guilford

Dear Diary,

Who am I?

On 1 March 2014, I’ll be the Vice-Chancellor of Victoria University of Wellington. That’s who I will be.

But who am I now? I can already hear students asking, “Grant? Who’s he when he’s at home?” I phoned Pat Walsh for some advice. He laughed. I heard a crackle. It sounded like some water had dripped into the mouthpiece. Tears? “Know who you are?” he cawed. “I’ve been Vice-Chancellor since 2005, and people still think I’m Peter Dunne!” Unsure of how to best present myself to the staff and students of Victoria, I asked Pat for some guidance.

“Do I tell them I’m from Auckland?”

“Avoid that at all costs. If they find out … Quit.”

“What about that I was Dean of the Faculty of Sciences at the University of Auckland?”

“Probably not.”

“Does anyone even know what science is, in Wellington?”

“Only the social ones.”

“I see. Well then, do I tell them that I have a Bachelor of Philosophy?”

“Yes, I think they would like that. Where did you study?”

“Massey.”

“Ah. Best to keep that one under your hat.”

“I’ve also trained in Veterinary Sciences.”

“Good. You’ll need that here. It’s a zoo. What do you know about dinosaurs?”

Feeling disheartened, I wondered if anyone would remember me from previous media appearances. I hope not; my media presence doesn’t extend much beyond my staunch opposition to the introduction of millions of dung beetles to New Zealand to speed up the burial of livestock manure. I used to have nightmares about shaking the damned things from my boots, while children consumed cowpat-filled dung beetles. There was just poo everywhere. Now I have nightmares about becoming Wellington’s resident Dung-Beetle Guy.

I asked Pat about his time in the role, to gauge an impression of what would be expected of me as Vice-Chancellor.

“Oh, well. I ah, I manage and coordinate, I suppose.”

“Manage and coordinate what?”

“Papers on my desk. My pens. The contents of my lunch box. If there’s one piece of advice I can give you, it’s that you can never have enough Post-it notes. Oh! And don’t go for a wander at ten minutes to the hour, in case someone asks you for directions.”

“Is there anything more you wish you had achieved in your time at Victoria?”

“Yes. Cellphone reception in the Hub.”

He warned me to watch out for We Are the University, and various other associations with unintelligible acronyms; “View-sah, not Voosah.” He warned me of the danger of the serious faux pas of referring to the student magazine as “The Salient”. He warned me that students were developing an immunity to free-pizza bribes. He warned me not to compliment anyone on their outfit, lest I be taken to be suggesting they were materialistic. He warned me that the students who looked most like hobos were probably the wealthiest, and not to offer them my leftover lunch. He warned me not to point out that everyone complaining about financial hardship was juggling MacBook Pros and iPhones between fingers laden with Meadowlark rings, while flicking expensively cut hair out of their eyes and rearranging Karen Walker scarves.

When the conversation ended, I despaired. The University on top of the hill loomed large and unknown in my mind like Edward Scissorhands’ mansion. I was about to approach, just as Peg had, with a basket full of Avon.

Pat said they don’t even use compasses during O-Week anymore. That I’d need to design a toga that carefully negotiated self-awareness with not-giving-a-fuck. Perhaps something burgundy. I’d need to start now.

I took a deep breath and asked myself, “Who do I want to be?”

I want to contribute to Victoria’s continued national and international success. Whatever that means. I want people to know I’m not Zac Guildford’s dad. I want the people of Victoria to see me as a modern, white, educated, middle-aged Luke Skywalker. I want to learn the Force and become a Jedi, with Ian McKinnon as my Obi-Wan. Most importantly, though, I just don’t want to be Dung-Beetle Guy on my first day at my school.

Yours apprehensively,

Grant.

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