Graduation, summer 2018Louis Ashworth

It’s here. You’re clad in a fur-lined cloak, probably choking on a bow tie and wishing it was five degrees cooler outside. You don’t care. Because in some strange sense many of us believe that this day will never come. That graduating from Cambridge, that finishing with Cambridge, is something which other people go through, but not us. Not you. But it is today and everything’s happening at once.

You haven’t finished packing. You need to say bye to your friends. You may need to keep an eye on your guests. And you’ll see yourself six feet under the ground of King’s chapel before you miss out on the last free champagne Cambridge will ever give you.

You process as a troupe from your college to the Senate House where you line up in your ranks. You’re surrounded by people you lived with, laughed with, pretended you didn’t see in the corridor and sought out at every opportunity. People you made and cancelled and saw through plans with. People you love, loved, and people whose backs you stroked as their head lolled from side-to-side in a Lola’s toilet bowl. You take the praelector’s finger and parade across the Senate House floor. You collect your certificate. *Poof* and it’s over. From graduand to graduate. Congrats!

“You were launched to this strange land of golden arches and emerald quads by A-levels or IB or some other qualifications”

Well, what now? A three-shot cocktail immediately muddies your mental waters. You feel a hearty mix of relief, terror and joy. These will be in varying proportions depending on the individual. Practically speaking, most of you will now go home. Not Cambridge home, home-home. Others, by force or choice, will do other things.

I spent my graduation evening getting messed up with my best mate and then couchsurfed until the start of my residential job. Simply asking “what now?” is like going to King’s Bunker sober. Sure, you might find a spiritual awakening in that soundscape, but most likely it just shows that you have not thought this through enough. The key difference is that at least on a Bunker night you have a chance of being able to bum someone’s roll-up.

Historic you, a creature with worse hair and less fortitude, was launched to this strange land of golden arches and emerald quads by A-levels or IB or some other qualifications. By an eye to the future and enough uni-themed research to trigger a psychological hernia. But recall the other forces at play. The things you did and didn’t do. Things you had and have and never had. Probably the expectations of others.

What brought me to King’s over other colleges wasn’t the promise of a socialist revolution or even the largest fan-vaulted ceiling in Europe. I chose King’s because it had a gym, working ovens in its off-site hostels, and music practice rooms where I could plug in a guitar amp. Intellectual, right? Understand the difference between what you want, what it’s merely smart for you to want, and what you’re being pushed towards by the wider currents of your life. Then consider all of it. Look inwards, look backwards. Now you’re better qualified to think about what’s next.

“All we can really do when we start to hike along our respective paths is pack well and keep an eye on our feet for blisters”

You’ll make poor choices at some junctions. I certainly did. It’s telling that there used to be a pile of things I thought I wanted the size of Mont Blanc. Now, over half a year later, all that remains of that mountain is a respectable heap of granite. It takes reading your reading list to figure out which arguments you like. Most of us don’t have that experiential base to fall back on. You might remember that a few short weeks ago – when your penultimate term was nascent rather than geriatric – I told you that you’re about as qualified to decide what to do with the rest of your life right now as a fresher is to write a Part ii dissertation. All we can really do when we start to hike along our respective paths is pack well and keep an eye on our feet for blisters.

You might have a vocation. Most of us don’t, and that means a lot of flailing around trying to find a cause which will bring in a respectable income package and enough purpose to stave off the existential malaise. Dwell on what has and hasn’t tickled your fancy so far. After all, if you’re not destined to do just one thing, you get the pleasure of being able to change your mind and try something else. Get into Finance, buy yourself a better life, use your skills in a charitable organisation later on, etcetera. It’s a big ole world out there. Just keep an ear to the ground of your own wellbeing and pay attention to what is and isn’t working. It’s not rash or childish to listen to your brain when it’s shouting at you to turn a strange corner. Keep some faith in your own ability to orienteer.

I’d forgive you for thinking that this whole column has been an exercise in saying “everything will be okay” in as verbose a way as is humanly possible. It’s true that a lot of words were spent telling you that it isn’t always an apocalyptic phenomenon when things go to shit.


Mountain View

Preparation, preparation, graduation

But really, all I’m saying is that while you might not know what to do with the rest of your life, might not even be in a position to know, you’re still wiser than you think. Practically speaking (again): you’ve been walking a long time now. Reflect on the lessons that you learned on the road. Now, just before you start the next leg of your journey, is a good time for you to pause and catch your breath.

So it’s here. You walk out of the gates of your college for the last time as a resident, and look back for the first time as a visitor. You return your gown, pause with your suitcase, and think that you should be thinking something poignant while you’re actually thinking of very little at all. The sun is out, or behind a cloud, or it’s belting down with rain. It’s 2019 or 2018 or 2028. The dreamlike property encroaches on the edges of your memories of that wild ride. Now you get on with things. Good luck.