Graduation is an odd day.It’s sort of what you pay for when you head off to university isn’t it?
Throughout your final year at university, graduation seems so close and yet so far away. The only things standing between you and that day in July are some heavy-duty essays and cumbersome exams. Yet you find yourself wishing so dearly the graduation day would keep holding off, because once you finally shake that Principal’s hand, you know it’s all over.
I’m thrilled I had a fantastic graduation day, I almost want to call it the best day of my life, but I won’t, because that’s lame. It was great from the minute I woke up, to the minute I received my (fake) scroll, to the minute my head hit the pillow that night.
Here’s how my day unfolded!
I awoke pretty early, we planned to leave at 9.30am, even though my ceremony began at 1.30pm, but there was a lot to do – or so my graduation checklist sent to me by the university told me.
Getting ready was a faff, the hair and make-up had to last all day in extraordinarily hot weather and sweaty face and frizzy hair were not an option.
Then there was the family, when four people are all getting ready at the same time, it’s chaotic, but this was horrendous – shouts of ‘I’m going in the shower next’ and ‘Who’s got the hairdryer?!’ were being screamed across the hallway, and we ladies spared no time for the men as we grabbed the extra few minutes in the shower whilst they bounded around the house exclaiming how they needed help de-creasing their shirts. (Why my dad would leave shirt ironing till the morning of my graduation is beyond me.)
We left the house promptly considering the morning rush and found little traffic on the M25 despite it being a weekday morning. Arriving onto campus was the first oddity of the day – I’d spent three years glued to the place and now a month apart from it, I was giddy to see the red-brick glorious building come into view. Car firmly parked, we gracefully trotted – appropriate verb considering I was in high heels – down to collect my gown and mortarboard.
Donning the gown.
After picking up the tickets for the family, I left them waiting outside in the courtyard whilst I nipped inside a room to get fitted with my robe.
This was the best bit. This was the moment I had always wished for. For as long as I can remember I’ve longed so very much to wear a graduation gown and cap.
They formally dress you in the gown, which I at first found a little bizarre since the last time I had someone dress me I was five! But as the gown fell about my shoulders I felt confident and excited, I almost found myself blinking back tears of pure happiness. It finally felt real and I had done it. Screw the certificate; I was wearing a grad gown, THE gown. I was chuffed, probably slightly over-emotional and so shell-shocked that I had to do a double-take at myself in the mirror.
The sympathetic lady who dressed me in the robe gave me my cap with a smile and said ‘This means a lot to you doesn’t it?’ – she had felt my nervousness excitement and relief radiating from me. I simply managed a nod and a smile back as she waved me off with a pat on the back and a ‘Good luck dear!’
I stumbled nervously out to see my parents and brother having composed myself and regained control over my manic, eager-beaver smile. Their reactions were very different, my mother squealed and raised both hands to her face in girly excitement and giggled ‘Oh my god.’ My father went with a civilised chuckle and a smile, but my laddish brother was the most surprising, with his emotional gush of ‘Awww Ash!’ Seems I wasn’t the only one to realise the magnanimity of what this gown represented.
The meet & greet.
Now, you don’t always see eye to eye with people from university, but I got pretty lucky. I liked everyone on my course, however some had awkward attitudes and many I probably won’t recognise in a few years time. So it was always going to be a daunting prospect reuniting with the old coursemates I’d shared tables with in seminars, or the oddballs who you were really close to in Freshers week and the awkwardness of time gone by has just made time apart more strange.
I was nervous not only about seeing old faces, but at the same time the nosiness in me was keen to check out everyone’s families. I find it strange that when you’re going to school growing up your parents always knew your friends parents, and they’d have a chinwag everyday when they picked you up from school. But at university, you never see anyone’s parents EVER. And suddenly at graduation you lumber them all together and expect them to bond and make friends just like you have with your pals.
So cue the ‘…Hi! It’s lovely to meet you…I’ve heard so much about you….’ oneliners. It’s endearing to see everyone mingling and interacting with one another. But ofcourse meeting your best friends again is the most wonderful, heart-warming feeling. Everyone got a bit teary, mainly because you’ve grown so used to seeing these faces in every state of student-hood: hungover, tired, stressed, bored, exasperated and joyful. You’ve never seen them dressed in the cap and gown that you’ve all worked your butts off for.
The calm before the storm.
After awkwardly directing my family to the Chapel and Picture Gallery (the venue for the ceremony), I gathered the clan and we headed off to join our fellow English graduands.
Naturally we gossiped about slipping up or tripping over as we walked down the isle, and about having sweaty palms when we shook the Principal’s hand. Nervous chatter consumed the auditorium and as we were sat in alphabetical order.
I surveyed Class of 2014 and admired how far we’d come as a collective. We’d cried over Contemporary Debates in Literary theory together, we loved Shakespeare together, we performed medieval plays together and we’d lusted over the same lecturer together (RHUL English student will understand this reference).
Alas, as the Principal gave his arousing final speech to us about ‘eating more salad because it’s good for you’, we all stood up row by row and slowly began the long waltzing journey to our ceremony.
The first thing to note, is at RHUL the procession the graduands are made to walk to the Chapel is a sodding nightmare. You’re in a line of 100 or so people and you’re being forced to keep in line and walk at a speedy pace to keep up with the person in front of you. Girls, keep the shoes confortable, trust me, the cobbled Founders building does nothing for your feet squished into those new high-heeled stilettos you bought especially for graduation.
The other thing to note in the temperature. So outside it’s topping 28°C, but in a dress, heels, a full-face of makeup, a gown, hood and hat – you’re as good as burning toast. So there I am, struggling to keep up with the quickstep graduates ahead of me and sweating under the blazing heat of the sun. I’m dripping – but my spirits are still soaring.
Eventually I make it to the stage (without tripping up mind) and I give the Principal and the cameras by best beauty queen smile, before promptly exiting the stage and walking all the way back out the chapel and the picture gallery. Whew. But wait, that’s it? The whole receiving of the certificate passed so quickly, it’s almost a blur now. The footage shows me looking wide-eyed, a bit red, worn out and a bit over enthusiastic but I was beaming despite the sweaty gown, plus, didn’t trip over – and that was key.
The sound of trumpets, laughter and clapping filled the Founders Quads as families reunited with their new graduate sons and daughters while the sun’s rays beamed down and lit up the grounds of Royal Holloway – campus had never felt so welcoming or beautiful. The centre of the South Quad stood Thomas and Jane Holloway witnessing the graduation of another round of scholars. Flutes of sparkling wine and snazzy canapés were distributed amongst the crowd of 200 odd. Everyone was smiling, and the only thing people complained of was the lack of shade!
Next came the photographs, I’m talking all the poses you can think of. With the hat, holding the hat, throwing the hat in the air, profile shot, looking over the shoulder shot, the looking in the distance shot, the funny face, the holding of the scroll shot, the proud smile, the demure smile, the hand on the hips shot…you get the idea. I distinctly recall the cramping of my jaw and cheek muscles.
Next was the group photo with all the English grads. We certainly looked the part – smart, sophisticated bookworms one and all. I managed to nab a space in the front row (being small has a perk after all!) The throwing of the caps was the most thrilling part of the group photo, black specks scatted the air and the moment was caught in a snapshot second. So suddenly they tumble down and for those few seconds you fear being severed in the neck by a flying mortarboard. Nonetheless we made it out alive and proceeded to endure the difficult task of finding our own hat!
The graduate’s farewell
After photographs, the procession winds down and slowly it dawns on us that we must say goodbye, for kind of, sort of – ever. I hug the girl I sat next to in a Medieval seminar in second year with the promise of ‘staying in touch’ but hell, we both know we’ll only know what the other’s up to via a Facebook stalk. I give the lovely lecturers a hug and a thank you, and finally, it’s the hugs and kisses with those closest to you that pull on the heartstrings.
You’ve shared a special day with them, which I can only compare to what feels like your wedding day, and now you’re expected to part from the ones who have seen you for almost everyday in the part three years. Of course you’ll stay in touch but the future is so uncertain, next comes job hunting and the big bad world of work – it’ll most likely be coffee dates, lunches and drinks in London to catch up with one another. Never again will you have the same experiences you had at university. This has become even clearer to me having graduated three weeks ago. My university ‘student experience’ was a ruddy good one.
Ultimately, graduation was fabulous. It felt like it was my wedding day – walking down an isle in a special outfit with all eyes on you – except that it was also 150 other students’ wedding days too. We got a degree and now it’s time for the next chapter. So with this cease the day attitude, I jet off on the adventure.Farewell RHUL!