"The joy of Cambridge lay in the simplicity of the time I spent with them, on the days that were grey and unspectacular."Hana Abas

The shock of leaving Cambridge feels like a breakup. For two and a half years, my life has been defined by this institution and its idiosyncrasies. My time is measured by the progress of the two-week supervision cycle – distance is measured by the triangle that connects King’s, Sidgwick and Sainsbury’s. I have come to speak the language of this university unthinkingly; at some point, the archaic-sounding abbreviations that felt so alienating to me in first year became familiar, almost instinctive. A second language in a second home.

Love Letters to Cambridge

These are tough and uncertain times for us all, and a lot of us are left with little closure. Varsity are launching this series to give a platform to students reflecting on the parts of Cambridge they'll miss the most, and to gain some closure through writing. Just email our Features team with a 150-word pitch with your idea!

As a finalist with no concrete plans after graduation, the inevitability of leaving Cambridge has been one of the few constants in my life over the past five months. Despite this inevitability, the abrupt arrival of the end of my time at university has left me utterly directionless – grappling with an emotion that can only be described as heartbreak.

This overwhelming sense of loss is unexpected. Like so many finalists, I have longed at times for the freedom of life beyond Cambridge. The Cambridge bubble is suffocating; too often, I have found myself consumed by its insularity. I am tired of the petty hierarchies of college politics, the social-climbing in the Cindies smoking area so reminiscent of my sixth-form days.

The idyllic vision I had built of Cambridge as a fresher has shattered; over the last two and a half years, I have grown disillusioned with an institution intent on prioritising profit over the needs of its students. Too many of my friends have been failed by the random lottery of the college system and found themselves victimised by those in positions of power.

“Those final days of colour were meant to be the ones that would make this whole experience worth it.”

Only this week, I have watched in horror as friends, unable to return home, have been coldly abandoned by those with a duty of care towards them – even as their lives threaten to fall apart. I have felt myself crushed by the relentless weight of academic pressure and reduced myself to the figures on my essays and exams. It’s difficult not to feel disposable in an institution whose stated priority in a time of global crisis remains ensuring ‘academic rigour’.

For myself and so many other finalists, this has been the reality of ‘the Cambridge experience’. My Cambridge has not been the Cambridge of films and literature, all narrow cobbled streets and dreaming spires. Like the battle of a toxic relationship, I have fought to stay afloat in this university for nearly three years; as my final exams approach, I am left drained and exhausted. So, now that I’m finally leaving, why do I feel like my heart is breaking?

Heartbreak almost always leads to romanticising. We cling desperately to an ideal of the other person, and to an idealised version of the relationship itself. Lorde put it best when she described it as a ‘supercut’; a highlight reel of the best moments. Again and again, we rewrite our own histories, retouching our own memories until the sharp edges begin to soften (note – just add a different Sharon Van Etten song each time for the soundtrack). Often, the ideal is so much more comforting than the reality; it reassures us that a failed relationship had some value, that it was worthwhile.

“The truth is, like with any breakup, the closure I so desperately need will come from my friends.”

I know all of this – I’ve been there. And yet, when I picture the Easter term that my friends and I will never experience, I can’t help but see it in vivid colour. Pink skies over the river at sunset. My friends, golden in the final haze of post-exam freedom. King’s College Chapel lit up one last time, vibrant amidst a kaleidoscope of glitter and sequins. The sense of elation that comes from a cheap bottle of cava, and the cloying stench of it in your hair. Photos on the wall on King’s Parade at 5.30am, barefoot and barely awake.

I catch glimpses of the moments that were meant to be shiny; the satin dresses and the way the sun on your face feels different in Grantchester. Hugging my mother at Senate House, familiar faces in unfamiliar gowns.

I’m searching for closure and I can’t seem to let go. Those final days of colour were meant to be the ones that would make this whole experience worth it. The grand finale, the big farewell; the Cambridge you show your relatives in photos. Now that I can never have it, I can’t help but wonder – what was the point of the last two and a half years?


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Mountain View

A love letter to time

The truth is, like with any breakup, the closure I so desperately need will come from my friends. The joy of Cambridge lay in the simplicity of the time I spent with them, on the days that were grey and unspectacular. The strange sense of sisterhood that comes from a late-night library session, tearful and delirious at 1 am. The comfort of a hungover meal on Thursday afternoons, telling the same stories each week with different characters. Nights out filled with chaos, and nights out that were boring. Cooking – often approached with lofty ambitions before reverting to the security of the same pasta dish on repeat. The endless stream of forgettable conversations, and then those conversations that I could never forget. Trips to Sainsbury’s, the pub, Van of Life (too many times). The bickering and the tears and the laughter; these unremarkable moments have given meaning to my time at Cambridge.

It will take time to come to terms with leaving Cambridge so suddenly and with so many things unsaid. But a love letter to Cambridge is inevitably a love letter to my friends. Stay safe, and stay wonderful – I’ll see you on the other side.

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, the following information and support is available:

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