"You’ve shown your reality, and it’s remarkable, really, that so much of it is still the stuff of the original illusion."Photo courtesy of Jess Molyneux

To the Cambridge of my sixth-form dreams: it looks like you’re making a comeback. With a year cut short and late September once again the time to look forward to, you’re starting to become the distant, longed-for prospect of the application period. We’ve got you in the bag, though, this time, and it’s an odd feeling to have the same craving for you coupled with familiarity, ownership, and memories we can promise to repeat, rather than uncertainty and not getting your hopes up.

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!

Back then, you were everything. You were the pinnacle of achievement, the promised land, the way into the job market, the one path to bliss. When the soundtrack to my mental life was the Courteeners’ ‘Most Important’ chorus – “you may not know it ’cos I don’t always show it but you are the most important thing in my life” – it was always addressed, in my pretentious, aspiring, teenage head, to you: you stood for everything that was missing at school and home, for brains you’d never seen before, for independence and freedom and history, and punting in the sun.

I used to worry a little at the thought of what might happen if you, the impossible dream, became a lived reality. Would the breath-taking effect of walking through King’s wear off when I did it every morning? Would the buildings become a little less pretty when they became part of the background? Would the library’s charm wear off after the first essay crisis? Would formal just become normal?

"... from propping each other up through and tough times that push the academic dream to the sidelines."Georgia Clayton

You kept your cool, Cambridge, and held your own – you delivered the excitement you’d promised and, two terms into second year, you proved that you weren’t pure illusion. The surroundings were more familiar, the events a little more predictable, the nights certainly quieter, but if the initial buzz mellowed, the magic endured, shaky fresher fever solidifying into timeworn true love, firmed-up friendships, a dab more confidence, routine, know-how.

“You don’t have all the answers, you’re not the centre of the world, and you don’t always have to be – can’t and won’t always be – the centre of ours.”

Your bubble didn’t burst, but the realisation that it couldn’t, as I might once have believed, protect us from a global health pandemic made me take stock. It made me register everything that you had delivered, everything that I had never wanted to leave behind in the vacations, everything that I’ll miss dearly over the coming months. But it also showed me that this wasn’t the first time you’d disappointed, and it probably won’t be the last.

You welcomed me with open arms, but that warmth wasn’t there for everyone: I’m white, pretty middle-class, and had great mentors at my state grammar. You might have been our ideal of perfection, but you burnt out a lot of people trying to live up to yours. You fed my mind and opened it up, but you didn’t always encourage it to be as healthy as it could be, and you’re not going to be around to help readjust to a life that isn’t divided into eight-week sprints followed by a flop.

"...the kind of friendships which only come from sharing both the dream and the realities..."Photo courtesy of Jess Molyneux

You don’t have all the answers, you’re not the centre of the world, and you don’t always have to be – can’t and won’t always be – the centre of ours. You can make hearts beat a little faster, but you can’t heal them when they get broken on your turf. You’re the place, I suppose, where we’re supposed to grow up, which means a little dampening of fantasy, an introduction to pleasure mixed with pain. And your intellectual remit can’t cover everything. Your magic has been mingled with realities in which you don’t always excel as you should, or over which you, I’ve learnt, have no governance, to which you can’t be the solution.


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Mountain View

Nobody said it was easy

It isn’t a deal-breaker. You’ve complicated the picture of yourself which it was naïve for me to have; you’ve substituted it for a slightly grittier, slightly more ordinary, slightly less dizzyingly ecstatic lived experience. But you’ve filled the gaps between the two with the kind of friendships which only come from sharing both the dream and the realities, from getting through unrealistic reading lists together; from having both intensely intellectual and petty, everyday arguments; from learning to be separated and loving to be reunited on a termly basis; from propping each other up through and tough times that push the academic dream to the sidelines.

You’ve shown your reality, and it’s remarkable, really, that so much of it is still the stuff of the original illusion. If you gave a little more negative than our idealised versions might have prepared us for, credit to you, you’ve always delivered on the positives. The classes that make you see the world a little differently, the lecturers who you’ll tell first-years to look out for, the supos when you surprise yourself, getting heated on texts you thought you hated. The cliched moments when the daffodils are out in college or the sun’s shining in the centre of town, when you really haven’t lost any of your shine by becoming home. You’ll never properly be your old, illusive self again, but then you never really were outside of my head. Thank you for being fallible, because yearning for you all over again, without a touch of realism, would probably have been unendurable.

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