Interview with a Two Time Champ

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By Caroline Petersen

This article is exclusive to the online Edition 1 of VARSITY Newspaper. 

With university back in full swing, it’s often hard to maintain a set schedule to increase your productivity as a student. Many students face the distractions of a night on Long Street, the trials and tribulations of parents constantly breathing down your neck, and juggling a messy love life. However, for third-year UCT student, Diaan Mynhardt, all of those obstacles are out of the way. Diaan is 38 years old, married, on his way to finishing his first degree, and thriving! Unfortunately for him, Diaan has a whole new set of obstacles that the average university student doesn’t have to consider, yet he still manages to triumph academically. So, what is his secret?

Image courtesy of Diaan Mynhardt

Diaan started studying Computer Science at the University of Pretoria. Like many of us stepping right out of high school, Diaan had no idea what he wanted to do and was pressured by his parents into doing a degree he had very little interest in. After a year, he called it quits and jumped right into the working world as a successful graphic designer. Diaan’s recent move to Cape Town opened up many new opportunities: great jobs, Cape Town’s wonderful terrain, mountains and oceans to explore, but it also offered him the opportunity to finish what he never completed. Diaan felt like he still had so much to learn, saying “I got to a stage where I wanted more from life and I wanted to know more. I’ve always been curious. There was always this [thought] that I hadn’t lived up to my potential”.

Diaan had a set of hoops to jump through just to be accepted as a student because he is older. Diaan explains that there are policies for older students. He was rejected twice and had to appeal through multiple letters to finally be accepted. The irony of it all is that Diaan is now a Dean’s Merit List student! To many of his peers, he is the man they turn to when they need help, perspective, or just a good summary on a lecture. However, friends didn’t come easy to him.

Diaan explains that a challenge for him wasn’t necessarily trying to normalise his presence in the classroom for lecturers, despite being older than about a third of them – the struggle was with the students. “I find it quite easy to have a good relationship with lecturers” but, he says that fellow students “either [are] quite fascinated by this old guy with a big beard in class or they’re quite hostile,” possibly wanting to keep him at arm’s length. Along with this, Diaan is married to Isabelle, another older student who has decided to study again, and has to keep up his full-time graphic design job he started in Pretoria. Diaan balances his university work, a job, and a home life with many mundane issues of dealing with clients, home maintenance, rent, and taxes– issues that students are still quite sheltered from if they’re privileged enough.

Because of his fight to get into the university, Diaan has an intense drive to academically succeed. With limited time on his hands, scheduling and time management have become essential to surviving. Diaan has kindly shared some tips and tricks for our fresh first years and golden oldies as to how they can also do as well in university despite the distractions and temptations of doing everything other than actually buckling down and getting noses stuck in books.

Image courtesy of Diaan Mynhardt
  • Structure your life. Diaan even goes as far as scheduling in reading time – just to make sure it gets done! But be strategic – you don’t need to do them all. Leading to the next point…
  • Put down the drinks, Diaan theorises that most of the top students probably don’t spend their weekends in Tin Roof. In Diaan’s famous words, “You can have a social life when you’re done. You’ll have more money then anyways”.
  • Go to classes. This is essential to maintaining your day-to-day structure. Even if the lecture is recorded, it’s not the same. Diaan has found that sitting in a class and engaging with lecturers and students around you is worth your while, saying “It keeps me sane and keeps me going”
  • Use a calendar. Paper or digital (though he prefers computers), he doesn’t care. Just use one.
  • Be okay with change. Diaan shifted his whole life around and made a scary leap of faith by committing to a road less travelled. However, he explains, “It’s far too easy to just carry on with what you’re doing”.
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