Graduation came a bit out of nowhere. I’d spent the week previous working up to 14-hour days on a residential course for Year 12s on campus, and although uni had been flooded with capped and gowned graduands every day of the week – including many of my friends – it was still a bit of a shock to wake up on the Saturday and remember that this was it. It was my turn now, and after three tumultuous years my undergraduate career was about to be punctuated with a very final full stop.
It’s a cliche, but the day’s a blur of grey skies and grey gowns billowing in the wind. My outfit had been picked out weeks before (I hadn’t had much of a say, in all honesty…) and I distinctly remember being glad ours was the late afternoon ceremony – the very last of the summer, in fact – as it allowed more than enough time to a) get properly ready and b) having done so, take more than enough of those all-important photos.
The weather had been predicted to be dire, so although the wind was threatening to send our caps flying into the campus lake as we queued on the bridge waiting to be let in after collecting our tickets, we were just glad it wasn’t pouring with rain. In the queue I was properly reunited with Jess, Becca, and Frankey, without whom I’m not sure I would have made it to the end at all. (Selfies ensued.)
Of course, as always with these things, graduation itself felt a little anticlimactic. We found our seats, which were checked multiple times (the seat order was the same order the certificates were handed out in, so it was kind of important) and then, after being given strict instruction on how everything was going to work, when to walk across the stage, and so on, had to sit around for about forty minutes while our guests filed in. The ceremony started with a procession, followed by some speeches – some more engaging than others. It didn’t seem to take long before it was time for us to actually graduate.
We stood row by row and – rather efficiently, I thought – made our way across the stage to the applause of the congregation, to collect our certificates at the other end. There was a lot of clapping, followed by more speeches, one of which was by our honorary graduate Dr Penelope Curtis. Curtis is the Director of the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon, having formerly been Director of Tate Britain and the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds. I was pleased we were honouring an arts professional, and even more when she encouraged us not to go to London, to invest in and look for opportunities outside the capital. It’s an important message these days; those of us – and there are many – who are priced out of London must take and hone our talent and ingenuity elsewhere.
There was a bit more talking, though I sadly didn’t find any of it particularly unique, and at some point a musical interlude that I felt didn’t really fit the tone, and then, just like that, it was over. Not just the graduation ceremony: university was done and dusted.
More photographs ensued, this time with added degree certificates, and we popped along to the English celebration for a free glass of something alcoholic and a go on the department’s new printing press, but the day kind of fizzled itself out. We handed back our gowns, and went on our ways.
My parents and I headed into town. I’d booked us at The Rise restaurant at The Grand Hotel for dinner (I wanted something special), and the staff there had been kind enough to decorate the table and even write me a “congratulations on your graduation” card. I’d really, really recommend The Rise: the food, cocktails and service were all phenomenal, with the menu putting what they describe as ‘a Yorkshire twist on British favourites’, and I thought the prices were actually pretty reasonable.
From there I made my way across town to meet friends for drinks, but really I felt the evening was pretty subdued, and I certainly didn’t quite know how to feel. The last three years have been incredibly difficult, but at the end of it all I can see why people say these were the best year of their lives. I’ve cried more than I ever thought possible, but I laughed just as much. A lot of my friends were desperate to get started with the next part of their lives, but not me; I felt done with uni – with lectures and seminars, with being judged on how I read a book – but not with York. Not with my social life, or the freedom the student lifestyle not only allows but encourages.
Graduate life loomed unpleasantly dark, and although I’d known it was coming for a while, somewhere in the haze of cap-throwing and selfie-taking, it had started for real. I didn’t know when I was next going to see my friends, or even where I’d be living in two months’ time when my rent ran out. The insecurities hit me like the first dark evening of autumn – the one where you suddenly realise the nights are closing in. And I didn’t know how long it would be until the light returned.