On Tuesday, the 25th day of October, I officially became a graduate, with a Bachelor of Arts (honours) degree in English.
In the early morning on the day of my graduation, in that place where you are fully aware that you are dreaming but are still conscious of the actual world around you, I remember feeling very hungry and wanting to make some shortbread biscuits with strawberry jam when I got up. I kept telling myself that once my alarm went off I’d only have one and half hours to get ready for graduation… not enough time to make biscuits as well; but I still couldn’t shake the idea of making them when I got up. My dreaming conscious was determined to make these biscuits.
When my alarm did go off, bringing me to life in the actual world, the first word I uttered was “crap”. Not because I was dreading the ceremony, I just didn’t want to leave the warmth of my bed; it was just getting light out, but it wasn’t light enough to throw my curtains open, it just wasn’t the awake time that I am used to. And I still wanted to make jam biscuits!
Getting ready was easy; I’d organised everything the night before, so I just had to put make-up on, do something with my hair and change out of my warm pyjamas into a white shirt with a pencil skirt. The boyfriend showed up on time, the father wasn’t late home from work (he works early mornings) and then I just threw my graduation survival kit into my mother’s bag and off we went. This survival kit consisting of hair slides, safety pins, tissues, lip balm, comb, blusher, and hand lotion; everything you need to be picture perfect.
When we got to the venue, I didn’t recognise a single face amongst those already in their robes. I was still looking around, trying to find a familiar face when my sister broke my concentration; having done this herself only two years previously, she guided me around to the registration desk to collect my seat ticket, then lead me and the rest of my group towards the room where the gowns were fitted and then swiftly into the queue for the professional photographs. If my sister wasn’t there I’d probably still be wondering around trying to find out where I had to be. It was such a chaotic atmosphere; robes being fitted, photos being taken, presents being given, people in my way.
When all this was done, I went and found my seat with the other graduates. And sitting with other people who were graduating with a degree in English, I finally saw some familiar faces.
I chatted with a few of the people around me; what we’ve been doing since finishing uni in May, where we’re going to celebrate graduating, and the ridiculousness of the hoods on our gowns (which were constantly falling off our shoulders). I turned round to see if I could find my family. I scanned the several tiers above and behind me, when I noticed a lot of hand waving and funny faces being pulled. I turned to face front and muttered to the guy next to me, “found my family”, he laughed, instantly knowing my family were waving like crazy; just like his had been doing only minutes before.
The ceremony started and in walked the procession of tutors from my uni, each wearing the gowns they had graduated in long before becoming teachers. One very pregnant teacher of mine caused a few whispers amongst the English graduates. Last time we had seen her, she was a slim svelte woman, now she looked fit to burst; she must be carrying twins!
I stood open-mouthed when I saw the head of English who would be reading my name out; which quickly turned to smirking. Unlike the square mortarboard hats that we graduates were wearing and the majority of the tutors were wearing, he was wearing a very flamboyant beret of a hat. Which I have just found out is a tam, google ‘graduation tam hats’ and you’ll see it. I love the pomp and ceremony of graduations and the traditional gowns but sometimes they do look splendidly ridiculous. Luckily my head of subject removed his hat when announcing names so I didn’t have to stifle a smirk as I walked toward him on stage.
I was 99th in the programme and there wasn’t long to wait before my name would be called. Once the ceremony was underway, one by one the rows in front of me would make their way to the bottom of the stage, waiting to be given the go ahead. Then it was the turn of my row.
We all stood, shuffling along the row of chairs and down the aisle towards the stage, re-adjusting our gowns as we went. I gave a huge smile to Denise my personal tutor for my dissertation who was sitting on stage amongst the other tutors, and before I knew it, I was stood on the steps to the stage. There was a woman next to me who asked if I was Sophie; yes; “when I say so, make your way on stage”, “go!”
So I went. I walked toward the podium where the head of English was standing, smiling at me; I smiled back and handed him the piece of paper with my name on, and as he read it, I made my way to centre stage where the principal of the university stood (because he is so new, I didn’t even know who the principal was till he got on stage). I shook his hand, still smiling widely and made my stage exit. In front of me now were a couple of staff manning a desk, again I was asked if I was Sophie, and before I could say yes, they handed over my certificate. My degree!
I turned back to the boy who followed me on stage and we both sighed relief as we were directed back to our seats. We didn’t fall, or wobble, or do something we weren’t supposed to. Thank goodness!
Clutching at the folder containing my certificate, I looked at it like it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. In the lead up to walking across stage, I thought about was the process of walking on stage, chatting to the people around me and getting annoyed by the hood that kept falling off my shoulders. Now that the stage bit was over for me, I thought about graduation in the grander scheme of things.
I remembered my first day at uni, and one of the tutors saying that this is where we were aiming for. Three years, huge debts, many assignments, and a few tears later, here we are. I did it!
In class, I often wondered “what’s this all for?” and to be perfectly honest, I still can’t answer this question. It was literally, all for a piece of paper; but beyond that, I’m not sure how the last three years are going to benefit me. With or without a degree, jobs are pretty hard to come by at the moment; and I don’t think degrees have that extra quality about them anymore, maybe several years ago, when they were few and far between, but nowadays, they aren’t so unique.
I am glad that I have one though. Walking across that stage, I felt like I had achieved something massive. It might work in my favour, helping me land a decent job, or it might work against me, deeming me overqualified for less desirable jobs. Either way, I have it; and it’s mine.