The Art of Exploration: MJ Dippenaar
by Francois Malherbe
An Unravelling Exploration recently spoke to MJ Dippenaar, the newly elected SRC chair for 2014 at the University of Stellenbosch.
I met MJ at a great little coffee shop in Reyneveld Street, called Meraki. Apparently MJ loves great coffee. That made a good impression.
While waiting for MJ I thought back to one of my pivotal moments as first year at the University of Stellenbosch when:
I looked around and saw that the rugby game went on behind me. I sat on the grass and I remembered that my ears made a ringing noise and I knew something was wrong. I played for Simonsberg and I had gone into the tackle too hard and my opponent misplaced his elbow into my forehead, which caused my frontal sinus lobe to shatter.
Plainly stated: There was a massive dent in my forehead!
I loved Simonsberg. I still do. I loved living in a residence and I loved telling the crazy stories when I went home. I did not enjoy the Human Recourse Management course I studied. It was different than I imagined it would be and I stressed a little about that. But the fact that when you are a student you don’t have to know exactly where you are going and you can get away with anything gave me peace of mind.
That injury cost me a year. I had to suspend my course and start all over again in my second year. During the last six months of my first year I had to recover from the head injury and I had time on my hands and I thought. I thought about it all. Why Stellenbosch? Why this course? Why her? Why so expensive? Why now? Why not go on an adventure? You get my point.
I sat outside Meraki. It was one of those brilliant days in Stellenbosch where everything seemed to be in place. On days like this, I remember the why’s seemed to matter less. I saw MJ as he walked over and he looked smart.
Soon we started talking about the actual reasons behind his decision to stand for SRC chair and I started to like his answers. Let me make this clear: I did not want to meet the new SRC chair. I wanted to meet MJ Dippenaar. There is a difference and most of us sometimes miss this point.
We are all too familiar with run of the mill introductions: ‘Where are you from? What year are you in? What are you studying? Which res are you in?’
Mundane, I tell you, and we all fall for it.
What about your uncertainties? What about your passions and what drives you? What about your perception of the world of work?
I kept the questions coming and MJ calmly answered and spoke about his vision for 2014 and about how important it is to have the right perspective on this topic of finding your passion as student at this University.
How old are you now, MJ?
Just over 20.
Your dream at the age of 17?
I wanted the world to realise that it has the potential to change. And that it still does.
What has been your biggest adventure in life thus far?
Life itself. Everyday is an adventure on its own, bearing in mind the right perspective.
List five of your interests?
Reading, thinking, dreaming, road trips and good music.
What makes you feel passionate about being a student?
The possibilities it holds. The predicament we find ourselves in is that students currently have the power to bring forth change, but don’t realize this. We have the opportunity to write the future– but can’t seem to find the right pen.
Let’s quickly backtrack, how many students study at the University of Stellenbosch?
I think it’s around 28 thousand, to 32 thousand, including post grad, military academy and international students.
When you think about ‘the world of work’ after University, does it scare you or does it make you a better student because you know what you are working towards?
A little bit of both. It’s definitely a scary thought. If it doesn’t scare you, you’re not challenging your expectations enough. But in the same sense, how can it not excite you? I’m a very analytic person in a sense – I’m excited when I’m motivated. I’m motivated, when I know what needs to be done. I know what needs to be done, if I plan. And the first step in the planning process is knowing what you’re aiming at.
What do you think of Picasso’s words? “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”
I think this is very coincidental because these words happen to be the only quote I feel has enough meaning, without being cliché’, to be written on the whiteboard in my room. Now this begs the question…when were you in my room?
(I’ve never been in his room. Promise. Great minds just think alike.)
What is your favorite quote, and why does this specific quote have a special meaning?
As you can see – I love Picasso’s quote. But the most influential, are the words by William P. Young, in his book called; ‘The Shack’:
“Paradigms power perceptions, and perceptions power emotions.”
Let’s say you inspire students to follow their passion. One day a student comes to you and in all earnestness tells you that his biggest dream is to become a professional clown, but he’s now doing a BComm in Management Sciences. What would you tell him?
We’ll let’s be honest – the professional clown business isn’t a joke…
But if it’s his passion, nothing should stand in his way. Life is about finding purpose. Don’t be afraid to take a leap of faith in finding what makes you happy – and working your butt off to achieve it.
You are in your second year now. What has been your biggest personal challenge in life up until now?
I believe in relativity. My biggest challenge has probably been realizing life isn’t all sunshine and roses; it’s more like a fynbossie stuck in a Cape Westerly wind. The bad days are just life’s way of helping you realize how sweet the great ones actually are.
You are a very presentable guy, you look smart and people respect that. Do you dress up because you want to or because you have to?
Would Harvey Specter be Harvey Specter, if he wore flip-flops? Maybe – but he looks damn good in a suit.
Together with your crew of SRC members, you will need a weapon of choice to chase down false perceptions of what being a student and following your passion at the US is all about. What is being a student all about? What is your weapon of choice?
Being a student is about finding your passion. We constantly strive to find purpose in what we do – we might as well enjoy the ride. My weapon would be to equip students, to the best of my ability and to enjoy that ride, and maybe helping them appreciate the view along the way.
If you knew you could not fail, what would you do next?
I’d change the social dynamics in South Africa, to evoke a culture of consciousness. But you never know, I’m still working my to do list.
Would you give an hour of your time every week for a student (High School or University) to come and have coffee with you and talk about his/her passion?
Most definitely. As long as it’s at Meraki. #Coffeeconnoisseur
He drank his cappuccino and I realized that he understood something that I would have liked for everyone to understand: Life is difficult. It’s not always easy to take the punches and roll with it- but this guy sets himself up for it and he’ll probably stand up eight times after being knocked out seven times. I like this because it’s like Hemingway said; ‘Courage is grace under pressure.’ It remains to be seen though, but I have hope, because these guys are the one’s out to enjoy life. He understands the truth behind accepting difficult and turning it into potential.
As student of the University, one of your biggest challenges is to stay focused and to not get distracted. If I were to wake you up at two in the morning and ask you what are the three core values that you base all of your decisions upon, would you be able to answer me? It should be a scary thought that you might not be able to do that.
We finished our coffee and I thanked MJ sincerely for his time, but, most importantly, I thanked him quietly within my own thoughts for the way he wants to uphold his values, set within a context of being a student out to carpe every diem and, well, for the way he does not underestimate the importance of a tailored blue suit.