Dear Fresher Me Paddy Cosgrave

FORMER FRESHERS on their experiences of their very first week of college and the transition to the rest of their lives.

Donal MacNameeDeputy Editor

There are some students you just know will succeed in life. Destined, by some cosmic coincidence or other, to be better – more motivated, more hard-working and able to resist the temptation to hit snooze – these students are generally to be found at the summit of a society or generally setting College alight. We all know them. We’re all jealous of them. We all want to know their secret.

When Paddy Cosgrave left Trinity in 2006, he departed, it is clear, after four years as the epitome of this very student. You just know Cosgrave wasn’t hitting the snooze button. And he has gone from success to success since. He’s the type of graduate that universities point to as evidence that yes, some graduates are in fact equipped for the real world when they leave college. Now in his mid-thirties, an obvious signal of the scale of Cosgrave’s accomplishments came in 2015, when Wired UK put him at 18th in its list of the most influential people in Europe in the field of technology.

Cosgrave is the co-founder of Web Summit, an annual technology conference described by Forbes as “the best tech conference on the planet”. He also runs international conferences in Las Vegas and Hong Kong, as well as F.ounders, an annual invite-only gathering of the world’s leading CEOs. F.ounders, for perspective, was labelled “Davos for geeks” by Bloomberg.

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In short, Cosgrave is an astoundingly successful man – you could spend all day going through his many triumphs. He is also the ultimate advertisement for the benefits of immersing yourself fully in society life while at College. Speaking to The University Times over email, he says that “by getting involved in some societies, sports clubs and societies, I learned skills that I might never have and that at different stages have helped massively”. Well, quite.

Cosgrave did it all during his time in College. To be editor of Trinity’s fabled satirical publication, the Piranha, is a life goal for smart alecks all over campus, and to serve as president of Dublin University Philosophical Society (the Phil) is, to many of Trinity’s high achievers, real evidence that you’ve made it. Cosgrave did both. It’s hardly a surprise that his advice to incoming freshers is to “sign up to lots of things, different clubs and societies. Go to things. Treat the first term like a [buffet]. Nibble on lots of things, and eventually, you’ll find something or some people that just click with you”.

Extending the food-based metaphor (further, perhaps, than is strictly justifiable), Cosgrave, a former BESS student, says that at College, coursework is “sort of like the appetiser in a 3-course meal. It’s just the start. There’s so much more happening elsewhere across Trinity. Embrace it. You’ll have no regrets”.

It’s difficult to imagine Cosgrave, who seems entirely comfortable in his own skin, ever being nervous in any situation. His advice for freshers, though, suggests he understands the perennial worry for new students about making new friends. “Everyone else is nervous”, he says. “It’s an entirely new environment, filled with entirely new people. So just say hello to people. It turns out everyone else is looking to make new friends, and meet new people as well. Everyone’s crazy friendly.”

Coursework is sort of like the appetiser in a 3-course meal. It’s just the start. There’s so much more happening elsewhere across Trinity. Embrace it. You’ll have no regrets

Cosgrave suggests that the essence of College has not changed since his departure: “The underlying common denominator is college is a whole bunch of partly feral 18-22-year-olds running wild, finally for the first time in their lives, and possibly for the last time. Look, my one suggestion is to go to lectures, get your work done, but for f**k sake embrace the place and enjoy yourself.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, he leaves doesn’t have an answer to a question about his regrets during his time. Cosgrave, you sense, is not a man occupied by regrets.

Somewhat bizarre, though, is his suggestion that “I still haven’t found what I want to do”. Perhaps this is why he’s so relentlessly productive, hopping from one venture to another with the zeal of a man possessed. If Cosgrave’s life is what ensues when you leave Trinity not knowing what you want to do, then the future is bright.

On a more philosophical note, Cosgrave says he “started Trinity with a better idea of what I wanted to do than when I left. But I think that’s a good thing. School often narrows your horizons. College most often does the opposite”.

The underlying common denominator is college is a whole bunch of partly feral 18-22-year-olds running wild, finally for the first time in their lives, and possibly for the last time

He describes freshers’ week as “bananas”: “Just go to everything. Sign up for things. Say hello to people. And yes you are going to have to show up to events, night out, not knowing anyone. But news alert for you so does pretty much everyone else.”

Cosgrave, overall, is a mine of advice for new students – despite joking that the best counsel he received during his time in Trinity was “don’t seek advice from people who offer advice”. His was a College experience straight out of the freshers’ brochure, and seemingly because he did what everyone says you should: he immersed himself.

The best thing, to close, about Trinity? “People. You’re surrounded by great, fun, adventurous people from all over Ireland and all over the world. You might not know it yet, but you’re going to go on some crazy adventures with these people. Lots of randomness is about to ensue. Embrace the randomness.”