A Series of Firsts: Graduation

When I graduated last year, swathed in a black gown that, despite all the insistent pinning kept slipping of my left shoulder, I was nervous.

It wasn’t just about going up to get my degree, although I had very sensible shoes buckled tightly round my ankles and yanked that hat so far past my ears even a hurricane wouldn’t take it off. It was because, like all graduates, I suddenly had to face the world.

That day, when I stood on sun bleached grass and infuriated the seamstress with my slipping gown, was exactly a year ago. It was hectic: my dad had taken the day off work but insisted on going to the office last minute. His pokey flat where we lived was a building site with no water, the heating system being redone before it was put up to rent in September. I rung my boyfriend in tears, not even sure I’d make it, before stuffing my family into our sun warmed car for an emergency trip to my boyfriend’s to shower, struggling to endure one of the hottest summers on record without running water.

To me, it was a nightmare.

But, as the calming voice of my boyfriend insisted over our grainy phone conversation, none of that mattered. As I sat on the baked leather of my dad’s car seat, dressed in my last formal dress that I’d stashed away a week before graduation in the hope that it wouldn’t be covered in the thin film of building site dust which has draped itself over all my memories of that summer, pelting down the motorway at the speed my dad always does, I never let myself think that university could be over.

That day was not easy. I spent ten minutes on the curb side fishing my student ID out from amongst the clutter of belongings and sports kit thrown in the car boot, panicked I’d forgotten it for its one, last outing. I made a flying last visit to the library, one of the few brick buildings adorning Southampton’s cement campus, to print the instructions for the day, grateful that my print credits were still valid. My dad, although for my stress levels chose to tell me this after graduation, was walking around like a member of MI6, having forgotten his glasses and was stuck with his prescriptive shades for the whole ceremony, which was held inside the dim theatre at the centre of campus that I’d only ever visited once during my degree years.

It was a day full of difficulties and little stresses and, through it all, the reality never really sunk in. I remember deliberately not thinking about how university was ending as I anxiously fiddled with the hem of my gown on the plush seats at the back of the theatre, eyeing the brightly lit stage, expectant audience and dark stairs I’d have to gracefully clamber up in a few minutes, inanely chatting to a classmate I vaguely knew then and don’t speak to now.

In the end though, I remember the 19th of July 2018 fondly. I managed to snag an extra ticket to the ceremony and squeeze my brother, dad and boyfriend into the packed audience and even spotted them in the gloom of the auditorium from my back row seat. My dad surprised me with a graduation bear in his own little Southampton robe which exultantly decorates my bookcase today. And of course there was the slip of paper that represented endless sleepless nights, hours in the library and agonisingly long exams. But, despite the excitement and happiness and newness of graduation it was still an ending.

That didn’t hit me when I threw my hat off with the rest of my year, hugged my friends goodbye or sat outside on that still scorching evening with my boyfriend, brother and dad and had one last look at the city I’d lived in for the last three years. To me it was still summer, I was still doing computing in September, I still had my friends. Surely it wouldn’t change that much?

I spent so long agonising over the little practical details that I could control: the gown, my family, the order of the day, all the while blinking back the tears of goodbye to what was my last dose of the cosy comfort I’d always had of not being in the real world. I was too overwhelmed by the hectic, busy summer living in that hot, dusty building site, desperately crunching numbers to see if my boyfriend and I could live together on just our starting salaries and years worth of savings to even post a smiling graduation snap on my Facebook page that everyone proudly uploads. I had fully intended to drop down the whirlwind of emotions somewhere at some point.

So that’s what I’m going to do now. I’ve decided to write a handful of posts detailing this crazy year and the few that led up to it, so when I’m old and wise I can see exactly what mad things I was feeling at 22.

Me and The Graduation Bear