It’s graduation week in Durham. Once again the time has come for grads’ formals, final trips on the Princey B, and a last boozy rendition of ‘Country Roads’. Well, that last one is probably limited to Chadsians, but you catch my drift. A whole wave of friends, teammates, and strange third years who once bought you a drink in the bar is leaving. Come October, they’ll be replaced by a new cohort of freshers, wide-eyed 18 year olds whose naïve enthusiasm will amuse exhausted second and third years and whose dedication to lectures will disgust those of us who have long abandoned the practice of actually attending a 9 o’clock.
(My one 9 o’clock scheduled during second year was on a Thursday. You can probably guess what the average attendance looked like.)
My Facebook feed is littered with photos of graduating finalists, decked out in their gowns and hoods and seeming a lot older than they did when dancing in Lloyds a few weeks ago. It’s… jarring, frankly. Ignoring the college family system, the finalists during your fresher year seem like the wise old parents of college; they’re old hands at all this, have hilarious stories dating back two or three years, but are still just old enough that you can’t help but be a little intimidated by them. The second years, by contrast, are like your cool aunts and uncles. Their fresher year wasn’t so long ago that they can’t remember what it was like to be a slightly nervous newbie, signing up for all the college teams and suspiciously eyeing the luminous college drink, yet they’re still experienced enough to demand a level of respect. Then there’s the added level of mystique the second years receive from living in such far-flung locations as the Viaduct and Whinney Hill (it’s only when you’ve gone back home that you realise how ridiculous it is that 10 minute walks are considered far in Durham). Who are these strange people that drift into the college bar on the first Wednesday of Michaelmas term only to disappear at the end of the night, absorbing the warmth from a box of Urban Oven’s finest because they forgot/refused to bring out a jacket? It feels like a bizarre combination of approval and welcoming when you become known and liked by the second years, and seeing them disappear to become actual adults and find unpaid internships is somewhat terrifying.
Honestly, it’s doing nothing for my early-life crisis. Just last week, I shut down and stared at the wall when I realised that I have friends training to be doctors. Doctors. That seems entirely too responsible for any of my friends to be attempting. And anyway, I’ve never met a doctor who wasn’t old, overly fond of drab colours, and hilariously awkward when talking about birth control; is that what’s going to happen to my friends when they graduate med school? Will they suddenly age twenty years and lose their finer motor skills when it comes to their handwriting?
God, are they going to become responsible members of society?
That is probably why it is so much stranger to see this year’s finalist graduate than the previous year’s. These are people I’ve sang with, drunk with, played sports with, and stumbled up the Bailey with. My mental images of them decked in green and swigging champagne at six in the morning are going to be replaced by images of them in suits and uniforms in offices all over the country, all over the world. No more seeing each other at formals, no more bitching about the cold winter mornings at Maiden Castle, none of it. They’ll be gone and I’m not entirely ready to see them leave.
In a way, though, I’m jealous of this year’s finalists. Not because I dislike Durham or have any particular desire to leave anytime soon – with my plan to study a Master’s degree after Durham, I’m pretty much set on avoiding the real world for as long as possible – but because they’re leaving with a sense of finality. They’re graduating with their friends and with the knowledge that they’ve come to the natural end to their time in the purple bubble.
I’m just… leaving.
Well, I should clarify. I’m not dropping out; I’m heading off on a year abroad. Seville, to be exact, to teach English with the British Council and hopefully get myself something approaching a tan. However, it has left me in an odd form of limbo. I’m not graduating but I’m not coming back. I’ll return for my final year but most of my friends will be gone.
It feels selfish to moan about getting to live in Spain for a year. Obviously I’m incredibly excited, how could I not be? I get to live in Seville for a year, who could complain about that? There are some nerves – what if I don’t like the people I end up living with, what if my classes don’t like me, what if I have to use Spanish Netflix – but mostly I just can’t wait to go. Still, it struck me on the way back from my college summer ball that not only was I going to be saying goodbye to the finalists over the next few days, but also potentially to most of my own year. As I headed back down the A1 for the final time this year, I was leaving behind two years’ worth of friends. I could legitimately (if I don’t make it to Durham to visit next year like I’ve planned) never see some of these people again. As great as this year’s new Chadsians were, I can’t help but the lament the fact that I won’t graduate with the people with whom I entered the Durham bubble.
This emotional limbo is bizarre and I’ve yet to definitively figure out how I feel about not coming back next year. Maybe this is all a front for my true fear, that I’ll return just to be that weird fourth year in the bar that nobody really knows. Maybe I’m still a little tired from my drive back to Essex on the weekend or just really sad that I won’t stop at Wetherby services for a long time.
I know when I go on my year abroad, I’ll love it. And I know that when I return to Durham, I’ll still love it just as much. Still, I cannot wrap my head around there being two years’ worth of new faces to welcome me, instead of the ones I’m so used to seeing… But enough of this melancholy; there’s a whole summer before I attempt to stretch Easyjet’s luggage allowance to a year’s worth of belongings and leave the country. Next year may even give me a chance to finally use my long-ignored Skype account.
To the latest Durham graduating class, congratulations on all your hard work, good luck for the future and thanks for the great memories. Durham… I guess I’ll see you sometime soon.