Self indulgent post

I came across this short YouTube video made by someone walking from Pembroke to the Sheldonian to marticulate.

The guy making the video was coming from the opposite end of Oxford to me. When I made the walk we didn’t have mobile phones of video cameras, but the buldings and the clothes were the same.

Coming from Keble, I remember being videoed by Japanese tourists enjoying the scene – hundreds of Oxford students making their way to become official members of the university.

The walk to the Sheldonian, where the ceremony was held, was very exciting, almost exotic. I wasn’t used to ceremony or dressing up or anything like it. I was excited to be with new people and felt strangely at home, as well as completely out of place.

What I remember most is walking back to Keble. The walk only lasts about fifteen minutes, but I made it last about half an hour.

I ended up being separated from my new friends and strolled along slowly, mortarboard in hand, past some more tourists. I remember stopping to be photographed by some Spaniards on holiday.

I felt completely free. The next four years were settled, as I’d be a student, but they held so much promise and nothing was planned in detail – there was just a framework, an outline, for me to fill in and make the most of. I was quite nervous about whether I’d be able to handle the academic side of things and was thoroughly looking forward to the social side of being at Oxford. I had made it, though. A-levels had been passed, interviews conducted, the offer I had hoped against hope for had been made and I was finally there.

We had visited several times when I was younger, seeing St Catherine’s, the college my father had attended. Now, thirty years since he went up, I was there too, studying the same subject. It’s hard to describe the emotion. Pride isn’t quite right, as it sounds too pompous, but it was something like that. Price, excitement, anticipation, nervousness.

This was just over eighteen years ago. For my nineteenth birthday, my parents and sister came up from London to visit me, almost eighteen years to the day. I must dig up the photo of me sitting in my room, beaming, next to my mother and sister.

The last time I have ever felt quite like this was after I had finished my finals. The friends I was due to celebrate with later in the day had their final exam in the afternoon, but I finished at midday.

I sidestepped the people marking the end of exams by throwing eggs and flour over each other and walked back to Keble from the exam halls. I felt completely at ease, relaxed and totally free. I had no idea what I would do, career wise, but I wasn’t overly worried. Something would turn up – at least I knew I wasn’t going to be a teacher, lawyer, accountant or management consultant, like most of my fellow students. I might have vaguely liked the idea of being a diplomat, but I hadn’t got through even the first round of entry tests, so that was ruled out.

My sub-fusc was a bit tatty by then and I think I was wearing a gown that I had pinched one evening from the college bar, after someone had pinched mine and I realised I was gownless, with finals coming up. It was a bit too small and my suit didn’t fit well, but it didn’t matter. I could be a scruffy student for a bit longer.

I remember getting back to my room and lying on the bed for an hour in complete stillness. No work to do, no revision, nothing to hand in the next day. Just a couple of days more in college, a week staying at a friend’s house and the Keble Ball the following weekend. Enough money to cover things. After that there was going home and the small matter of finding a job, but I’d started the process and I knew something would turn up. I was fairly sure I had done all right in my exams.

Both occasions felt wonderful. I’ve never consciously tired to recapture those emotions, as they were tied to such specific circumstances. I do enjoy remembering how I felt on both days, thoughts usually triggered on my birthday, when I’m forced to mark another year and reflect on where life is going.


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