I remember coming to this city at eighteen years old, giddy and awkward with my thick fringe and the old hoodie I’d adopted from my boyfriend at the time. I was full of nervous excitement for university and for living away from home. I was impassioned, poetic and wide-eyed; full of big expectations for what would be the next three and a half years of my life. I knew, vaguely, that university would change me. But I’d never imagined the ways in which it did, or the person I’d be at the end of it.
Almost four years later, I was sitting uncomfortably among what felt like hundreds of other Arts graduands, all of us itching for our turn to walk across the stage and receive our degrees. And I wasn’t sure how to feel, so I ended up just feeling everything.
I had – and still have – a strange duality of feelings for the moment of graduating. Graduation is something that is at once so impersonal and so personal, something that feels both like a hard-earned reward and a celebration that I just don’t quite deserve. It felt like my day; yet it was about far more than just me, it was a day for the hundreds of other people – friends, acquaintances and so many complete strangers – who’d all achieved the same thing I did. Many of them more than I had – Honours and Masters and PhD students altogether with those of us still freshfaced from undergrad. And all of us walking through town in the parade, all of us in our academic gowns, stoles and trenchers. All of us glowing, finally feeling the sense of achievement we’ve been anticipating for the months between handing in our final assignments and putting on our graduation robes. These streets we’ve come so well, closed just for us so that we can pour down towards the sea. The marching band playing as if exalting our hard work. The footpaths full of our loved ones, all here to celebrate our success.
I can easily and confidently say that graduation day was the best day of 2016. It was so much more than I expected. I didn’t expect to feel so very loved and cared for. I didn’t expect the people I loved to go to such lengths to make sure I had a more wonderful graduation than I could ever ask for. These are people who have been there all my life, who have supported me and loved me unconditionally, even through my ugliest moments. And finally, finally I felt like I really had done it. Here was the confirmation I’d needed so much.
Graduation was happy and dizzy. It was daunting. It was exhausting. It was history and tradition weighing down on us. It was a bookend on such an important era of my life. It made me think of the strangeness that is being human: all these odd things we create for ourselves, like university and degrees and academic robes. It was about me, but more than that it was about us. A few short hours shared by hundreds of strangers, who are all brought together – briefly but importantly – by this thing that we’ve accomplished.
University has been around for hundreds of years, in all corners of the world. In graduating, I wasn’t only joining the hundreds of others around me in that hall who had achieved degrees. I wasn’t just joining my friends and family who have degrees. I was joining hundreds of years of history and millions of others throughout all that time.
I’m privileged to be among them. Happy to be among them. And above all, I am proud.