Following the yellow brick road to GranchesterANIKA GODDARD WITH PERMISSION FOR VARSITY

It’s difficult to say goodbye – that’s a given – and at Cambridge, goodbyes sneak up on you. One moment you’re May-Balling away, and the next people are packing up cars and driving off for the summer. Last year, when I was a fresher, the time between my exams ending on the 16th and the day I left was short enough for me not to think about it too much. I also didn’t know many third-years; goodbyes were almost universally backed by the assurance that I’d see people again in October. This year, things are different. Some of the people I’ve said goodbye to over the last couple of days I might not see again for years, if ever. And that’s really sad.

“Some of the people I’ve said goodbye to I might not see again for years, if ever”

Learning how to say goodbye well is a skill worth acquiring. At least, that’s what my counsellor – who I, like many of my fellow students, have acquired since coming to uni – told me last week. Over the last few days, my most important goodbyes have been with the friends I’m closest to. My college friendship group did one last formal together, and then hung out more casually afterwards; Mainsbury’s-sourced picnics, riverside walks and evenings spent rewatching Fleabag abounded. Then there are the close individual friends I have at other colleges. Where possible, I tried to make time to see them individually before we all left. My favourite technique for this is to lure them onto my paddleboard, where there is no chance of escape, and spend a morning on the Cam.

Pre-goodbye preparations like these are partly rooted in rituals of repetition – the “let’s do this one last time” – and partly in doing new things that we’d wanted to do all through exams, but couldn’t. And goodbyes themselves are a mixture of making peace with something old and looking forward to something new.

A lowly second-year, the only new thing I’ve got to look forward to next Michaelmas is an even more intense workload. Hooray. The hardest goodbyes I’ve said this year are to those who are graduating – or rather, leaving, since some departments are still showing no sign that any of their exam scripts are ever going to be marked. One especially jarring set of goodbyes has been with people who I’m not close enough to to ever deliberately seek out again. As I left Cambridge by train, I thought of all the third-years I hadn’t managed to make specific time to say goodbye to. It felt – and feels – somehow wrong that my last conversation with many of them was probably a half-drunk hello during a Kate Bush act at the May Ball, or a simple wave on the street. “Have a great summer”, I said to a few people, because it felt weird and awkward to say the alternative: “have a great life”.

Perhaps the biggest change to the fabric of my college life next year is the departure of MMLers for their year abroad. Several very lovely people are now never again going to be part of my undergraduate day-to-day life. It’s these conversations with MMLers which have steadily started convincing me I should stay on for a Master’s and squeeze one more year out of the Cambridge bubble. Gruff, a college friend, told me that he’s “worried that college will feel like an entirely different place” when he returns after his year abroad. Stepping back into the Cambridge bubble is something I’ve always imagined must be difficult after spending so long away, but Gruff had a more optimistic perspective; he’s “looking forward to falling in love with the city all over again”.


Mountain View

Post-exam activities for when you’re a real person again

I don’t know whether this is particular to the COVID cohort, but many third-years I’ve spoken to seem to feel like it’s the right time to leave. “Cambridge hasn’t taught me everything; if anything, it’s shown me how much more I still have to learn”, my friend Niamh pointed out to me. And Imran, a third-year historian who’s heading off to a very cool journalism grad job in London, had an amusing take on the situation. “It’s like the final Lord of the Rings film”, he said, “which has multiple different scenes that feel like endings. By the time the credits roll, you’re actually fine with the film having finished.”

With the credits rolling on this year, there have been, as Imran says, “so many moments that have felt like endings”; some very lovely, and most at least somewhat painful. I’ve heard many times that university is a trial run for adult life. Apparently, then, life is going to be full of small endings. One of the best, and hardest, skills I feel I’m learning here at Cambridge is the importance of making peace with a good goodbye.