Waiting at the side of the stage in the Great Hall to walk up to accept my Bachelor of Arts degree, most of my mental power was focused on not tripping and face planting in front of the dean. Standing in front of one of my lecturers, Pascale Aebischer, as she read out my name however, a wave of emotions hit me and I walked across the stage smiling and close to tears, suddenly overcome with an enormous sense of pride in my achievement. Though over in seconds, this moment was without a doubt one of the best of my 22-year existence. Observing the other students as they walked up, it was easy to tell that everyone was experiencing their own unique blend of nerves, pride, even exhilaration. Some appeared strangely calm and laid back, perhaps finding the whole ceremony to be quite a surreal, out of body experience. In truth I found that to be the case for most of grad week.
Most graduating students will have spent the best part of two decades, and all of their memorable lives, within the education system. Our lives revolved around getting up and going to school every single day and even when the big move to university came, we still had that reassuring and familiar routine that begins in September and comes to a welcome yet temporary end in June. To know all this was finally at an end was at once difficult to comprehend and terrifying. Graduating with a degree in English, this sense of being ejected into the real world is exacerbated as a large percentage of us were still either unsure or completely clueless as to what to do with our lives.
However, what I learned during my last few months at university and in these last few weeks since graduating, is to embrace this current lack of direction and to realise there is no shame in admitting at 22, but also at any age, that you are not sure what you want to do with your life. If anything, it is a compliment to your personality and character that you can arguably see yourself in a whole host of roles and industries and this, far from defining you as unsuited for any particular career, proves you could excel in a wide range of positions. It is the thinking and worrying about our futures that is the scary part; once you have launched yourself into it, graduate life is not only a lot less terrifying, but actually a lot more manageable than you initially may have expected.
One of the reasons for this is that university will have changed you, and for the better, whether you realise it or not. Of course, you may have a far above average knowledge of the different historical arguments regarding Hitler’s involvement in the Holocaust or of representations of African food in post-colonial texts. But that is not really the reason why choosing to go to university was one of the best choices I have ever made. I am leaving Exeter a more confident, assured and articulate individual. The experiences I have had have certainly changed me for the better and resulted in life-long friendships with people as close to home as Newport and as far flung as Australia.
Looking back at my time at Exeter, the best way I could describe it is as unpredictable, ranging from rugby tours to Edinburgh and Dublin with Welsh society, to a year abroad in the Netherlands. It all seems almost arbitrary but I wouldn’t change a thing. That then would probably be my biggest piece of advice to first year students: to never compare their own university experience to others, whether that be friends from home or at Exeter. Ultimately you will make your own decisions about the experiences you have and the friends you make, which means that at the end of your degree you will leave not only knowing a hell of a lot more about your field of study, but also about yourself.
Education is truly the most powerful tool; the resultant change in world view, the friendships you will form and your own personal growth are priceless, clichéd as this may sound. You will ultimately leave not only better equipped for the real world but also a better person. All this being said, it did not make the experience of a final Cheesy Tuesdays in Arena (sorry, not Unit 1), dancing the night away to mediocre noughties pop any less heart wrenching. For all 2018 graduates, good luck in whatever you do and remember that Sidwell’s will always be there to welcome you home.