Learn to tell your friends you love themJake Rose

I remember my first day in Cambridge about as well as I imagine I’ll remember my last: vaguely and, probably, incorrectly. It’s not unusual to find the biggest and most important days of your life fading into the background — that is life. But as that day approaches I’m building it up so much in my head that reality could never possibly live up to it. In a time where expectations should be set as low as possible, I can’t help but think I’m screwed.

“I came here thinking of nothing but physics, and for a variety of reasons, I’m leaving thinking about anything but”

In the quiet place between night and sleep, I often catch myself looking for some lower ambitions: that my last memory — my last thought — of my time at Cambridge is a happy one. I long for my time here to have been the formative and happy years they were always promised to be. On an almost daily basis, I wonder what the conversation between the 18-year-old and the 22-year-old would be. Would they recognise each other? Would they like each other? Has my hairline receded? It would eventually come down to a simple question:

“Did you figure anything out?”

Rightfully, I’d be annoyed at the broadness of this question, but I wouldn’t blame him for asking. It’s a good one. Before I came to university I was already starting to feel confused about what I was actually doing; I didn’t know where I was going, what for, who with or why my trousers always seemed to have holes in them. Truthfully, I haven’t figured any of this out besides the holes; 18 year old me would save a fortune if he learnt to invest in higher quality clothing. The reason I came to university at all was based on a singular quote from Richard Feynman:

“Study hard what interests you the most in the most undisciplined, irreverent and original manner possible.”

This is still some of the best advice I’d give anyone struggling with an existential crisis, especially teenagers who have the naivety and freedom to let their nose lead them into whatever wild and weird subject they want. But as I look in the mirror, I’m starting to think what interested me then isn’t the same as what it is now. I came here thinking of nothing but physics and, for a variety of reasons, I’m leaving thinking about anything but. It’s not science; I’m still in love with the field and the exploration within it, I’ve just taken things as far as they were rewarding, and honestly, was it ever that useful? In terms of the strict utility of the material we learn at university, I’m confident in the opinion that for 99% of us it is about as pointless as a fish with a fear of swimming.

Yet, I knew as well then as I know now that this doesn’t make it a bad decision. It’s perhaps one of the few things I’d agree with my younger self on. It’s a fruitful endeavour to learn how to waste your time, and university was my education in it.

“Your education is incredibly important, but your degree is not your education”

In one of his final pieces, before he died of throat cancer, John Diamond wrote:

“It is, above all I suppose, about passing time. And the only thing I know that you don’t is that time passes at the same rate and in much the same way whether you’re going to live to 48 or 148. Why am I happy? Because I’m alive.”

So when pushed for an answer by my younger self, I’d tell him the one thing I know that he doesn’t: it’s going to end, and it’s going to end soon. Four years isn’t a small unit of time; it’s a minuscule unit of time; to be used fully is impossible, but to be used at all is inevitable. While you’re here you’ll be seeking an education. Your education is incredibly important, but your degree is not your education. To get your education you have to do something. Learn to write a play. Learn to perform, even if just for yourself. Learn to go to talks on topics you know nothing about. Learn to tell your friends you love them. Learn how to roll a cigarette even if you never smoke. Learn how to make getting cheap food a competition. Learn how to make even the dullest and most depressing of days into an adventure.


Mountain View

An ode to my college

That is your education. Take it from someone who’s about to walk out the door: there is no course or exam that can teach you how to live. But if you’ve learnt even one of those things, or something even more bizarre and useless, then I promise you’ll be prepared for a life outside of Cambridge. And when you think back to your last memory of this place, it’ll be a good one.