NICOLA STEBBING FOR VARSITY

As my exams begin, it is fast dawning on me that another Cambridge term — albeit a very strange one — is almost over. This realisation has an almost surreal quality to it. If the coronavirus crisis had not hit, I would have spent the days after exams relaxing with friends and sitting out in the college gardens. Excitement would be building for May Week, hours spent speculating about the events ahead. It is difficult to not feel that the end of exams this year will be somewhat anticlimactic. It doesn’t seem possible that any celebration at home could match what would have been. 

 "If the coronavirus crisis had not hit, I would have spent the days after exams relaxing with friends and sitting out in the college garden"

I have experienced this sense of anti-climax to some extent all year. As a second year I have found it difficult to feel that I have achieved as much as those in the years either side of me. The end of first year was a celebration of survival, as I finally felt that my transition to university life was complete. Meanwhile for me — as for most finalists — the end of third year will mark the completion of my degree, an achievement which makes three years of work worth it. There are no such obvious landmarks in second-year. The pressure to perform academically remains constant, and the need to start considering life after university has at times felt unrelenting. The atmosphere of Cambridge sometimes makes it difficult not to compare yourself to others, and end up feeling like you have not achieved enough.  

The challenge of a term in lockdown though has put an end to these feelings, and provided a new perspective on my time at Cambridge. Revising for exams has been much more difficult when done solely from my bedroom. What I once thought was the small joy of working in a new library, became all I wanted to do. I realised that walks along the river have become a routine way for me to unwind. Even procrastination seemed more boring without a trip to Sainsbury’s for snacks. I have spent a considerable amount of time attempting to recreate these activities, before realising that it is simply not possible. At home the pressures of work, which once felt so overwhelming, seem minor in comparison to how much I have missed being in Cambridge. Lockdown has made the university experience a somewhat isolating process, and in doing so has highlighted what made it so great in the first place. 

 "Lockdown has made the university experience a somewhat isolating process"

Life at university is enjoyable to a large extent because there are always people to be around. Lockdown has made me miss the hectic nature of college life even more than I expected. In Cambridge I bump into somebody in the gyp almost every time I go to make a meal. There are always plans to be discussed, whether that’s booking onto a formal or sorting out fancy dress for a bop. The constant sharing of space means friendships at university seem more intense than they do at home. This, then, is the reason why I think that there is a certain joy in celebrating the end of exams with a Zoom meet-up. It is true that no one is completely in focus, and sometimes the WiFi drops out and you’re unexpectedly kicked out of the meeting. But for me Zoom represents the strength of friendships, as it stems not from convenience but from a genuine desire to spend time together. It has made me appreciate both my friends, and the effort they are willing to make, more than a normal term would have. 


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There is no replacement for the end of exams in Cambridge: nothing at home can recreate the joy of being with friends, or the excitement of May Week. However, ending the Cambridge year in lockdown has made me rethink the way I value my time at university. Those tangible forms of success which often seem so important are nothing compared to the friends I have been lucky enough to make. For that reason, I think that a Zoom call may in fact be the perfect way to celebrate the end of the year.

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