Will Cambridge finalists be sorry to leave at the end of the academic year? After I was met with sarcasm, expletives and eye-rolls upon broaching the subject with my fellow finalists, my conclusion would have to be no.
This response is not difficult to understand. Surely it would be bizarre to miss the Cambridge experience; the late night essay crises, ego-bruising supervision reports, and regular bouts of imposter syndrome. On the brink of the final teaching term at Cambridge, finalists seem anything but sorry to be leaving.
This collective feeling at the beginning of this term is evidently a product of The Finalist being up to their ears in work, dissertations, and existential dread. This dread is so pervasive among finalists that it might as well have been sewn into the gowns they’ve mocked since they were freshers, that now symbolise the last bastions of routine, institutionalised living, a long-term life plan. Where is The Finalist going after Cambridge? Who knows, but the one thing that is certain is that all of them, even just a little, will be sorry to leave when the day comes round.
A small piece of marginalia recently uncovered in a UL book read “Student, you will suffer they will make you work so hard that you might regret applying – but it will be over. I have 3 months to the end”. I am not fooled by the acidic tone, because I believe it really hides fear. Fear as to what The Finalist will do next. Cambridge will soon be over for them, and there are only a mere few months before exams and the end of their academic career here. They wonder how anything will ever quite match up to this experience.
“It seems to me, that rather than being overwrought by the stress of the previous two years, the finalist is, if truth be told, finally coming to a realisation that they have been exceptionally fortunate to have studied at such a place”
The Finalist is nearing the end of their time at Cambridge, and as such has attended (and skipped) lectures from world-class experts, supervisions with their nerdy academic idols, and trod the hallowed halls filled with the memories and legacies of all those who have come before. It seems to me, that rather than being overwrought by the stress of the previous two years, the finalist is, if truth be told, finally coming to a realisation that they have been exceptionally fortunate to have studied at such a place. What an extraordinary privilege to have been educated here, and how privileged the University has been to have had them. All of you, from all these disparate areas of university life, have all existed together, and got along, because you are all united by one thing – academic excellence. In my opinion, it is this realisation, of the importance of knowledge and learning, that’s brought The Finalist back to lecture halls this term. Love of learning is an intrinsic part of who we all are, and why we are here.
So take heed, Non-Finalists, and appreciate what you have here at this university. When you see the jaded Finalist, studiously attending lectures they previously wouldn’t have bothered to get out of bed for, consider why they are really doing so in this last teaching term. It isn’t necessarily due to worry, a sense that they are having to ‘work so hard that you might regret applying’; it’s because they are re-discovering what they knew as freshers – that they love learning and their subject. They worked hard to be here and want to relish that accomplishment for as long as they can. The Finalist may seem as though they are through with Cambridge and its trials and tribulations, but they aren’t really. Even the Finalists who rolled their eyes as I asked whether they were “sorry to leave” conceded, after probing, that they would “miss the post-essay crisis elation, in a really weird way”, and “that satisfaction you get when you finally understand your reading”.
It would, however, be a shame to learn only to appreciate academia as a finalist. I would urge you all to cherish all aspects of this weird and wonderful bubble, in which plays are rehearsed and performed in a matter of weeks, papers written, choirs trained, orchestras tuned, debates won and lost, athletes challenged and old rivalries played out before baying crowds at Varsity matches. That’s without even discussing the collective suspension of reality in which we’ve all engaged – namely objectively questionable club nights, drinking societies, and formals. Non-Finalist – attend – you should learn from The Finalist and remember that you were chosen, and for good reason. You deserve to be here, and you should relish your time, both within academia, and more importantly, outside of it.
Finalists, congratulations on making it to your last teaching term. There are hurdles to come but you should be proud of your part in the creation of this world – this fantastically beautiful, varied, eclectic and eccentric sphere that has been your home for the last three years
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