Like eating raw cacao, or watching The Parent Trap knowing about the tragic IRL fates of Natasha Richardson and Lindsay Lohan (fatal skiing accident and going-off-the-rails respectively), the experience of my Oxford graduation was bittersweet.
It was great to celebrate with my family (who’d skipped over from Australia and with whom I’d spent the last week roadtripping around the south-west of England, visiting towns with names like Westward Ho! and Pucklechurch), and reflect on an incredible and challenging year. But ‘smiling because it happened, not crying because it’s over’ is tough advice to take (sorry Dr. Seuss…) – having to say goodbye to my BCL and college friends left me something of a blubbering mess.
The Magdalen grads congregated in the college New Rooms at 9.30am, clad in subfusc. We were run through the ceremony protocol by the Dean of Degrees, then shepherded over to the Sheldonian Theatre via the back lanes (as the Dean forecast inclement tourist weather ie. a flood of them).
We were seated according to college and degree; of the BCL-ers, Keble, Christchurch, Brasenose and Hilda’s were also graduating that day. The Vice Chancellor made a short speech in English covering the usual bases; an ostensibly ‘off the cuff’ joke about an iPad featuring in the Sheldonian ceiling painting (cue weak chortles), a call for donations, and a rather nice bit about the formality of the ceremony honouring the weightiness of our degrees. Things then got kinda esoteric; ie. the next 1.5 hours were conducted entirely in Latin.
I tuned out for a bit through all the gratus caseus, dominum et ceterus and expecto patronums, but perked up when they announced the BCL degree. After intoning all of our names, the proctors paraded up and down the aisle to call for objections. Unfortunately, unlike a good romcom, this did not herald any drama of spurned lovers bursting through the theatre doors.
Us BCL-ers were directed to stand, and herded to the right place before the VC and proctors. We listened to more Latin, bowed at a number of points, and uttered ‘Do Fidem‘ when given a sharp nudge to the ribs. We were then swept out of the Sheldonian to a side building where our porters changed us into our new academic gowns. (This was kind of necessary for me – like a baby who’d spit up on itself, my subfusc gown was still stained with the splotchy remnants of trashing shaving cream. Also, according to my dad, my short black skirt looked like a poop-filled romper. Thank god for the swathing capacity of gowns.)
Once in our new, heavily embroidered academic muumuus and fur-lined hoods, we re-entered the Sheldonian where we were ‘clapped at’ and bowed some more.
Each degree award went through the same rigmarole. The ceremony was broken up only by the titters that followed the occasional stumble over a name, stumble over heels, or excitement of seeing the creative ways that people segued a bow to the wrong person to one in the right direction (the most popular choice seemed to be an awkward full-body hula hooping motion).
After the ceremony it was picture time. Cue lots of obnoxious poses and attempts at insouciant ‘school’s out!’ mortarboard tosses.
Then lunch at college, cream tea with my family at the Old Bank Hotel (a source of great poetic circularity as it was where my mum and I first breakfasted when she dropped me off almost a year ago), and dinner and drinks with college friends.
At this point, I was forced to say my teary goodbyes. I was just grateful that I’d had the foresight to leave notes in people’s pigeonholes, of all the things I was too choked up/emotionally retarded to say to them in person.
I left Oxford early the next morning, Barcelona-bound.
Reflecting on the year
If I am Jennifer Grey in this story (which is likely, given my face-dominating nose and propensity to make daft remarks like, ‘I carried a watermelon’), then Oxford is my Patrick Swayze (fleeting but life-changing romance) and the theme song for this year is (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.
I am so grateful for the incredible people I’ve met, the travel I’ve done (to Tignes, Edinburgh, Whistler, Copenhagen, Budapest, Vienna, the south-west of England and now onto Spain and Germany), the time I’ve made to explore other things (like this blog and writing generally), and that I gotten to live the Oxford dream that I’ve had since I was a kid.
Graduation Day felt very momentous; though the ceremony itself was somewhat lacking in pyrotechnics, the surrounding celebrations carried the weight and excitement of a year-long experience which I’ve loved and learned so much from.