I’m going to have a lump in my throat when I write this. I know I am, it’s inevitable, so let’s all accept that and continue on anyway.
Last Friday I, with shaking hands, jostled through a small group crowding around a couple of sheets of A4 pinned up on a window that meant so much considering how seemingly innocuous they appeared. Degree classification results. I was overwhelmed to discover my name there under the First Class Honours section. I still can’t really believe it; I don’t think I will until I get my final transcript and official certificate. But that’s it, three years of work, or ten years (if you count the additional seven clocked up to get into university in the first place), and this is the final result.
Never again will I experience that vomit-inducing walk towards a table to collect results. Never again will I have to do the night-before-before totting up of how badly I could possibly have bombed my exams and what the damage would be on my final grade. Actually, never again will I have to sit an exam. After ten years this fact is overwhelming to realise.
I’ve seen that moment of realisation sink in on the faces of my friends at university. It might dawn during the triumphant walk (or self-pitying crawl) out of their final exam. It might dawn during the final weeks of term when younger students have yet to do their final exams and they’re instead happily drinking frappucinos and chilling at the castle in the sunshine. It might dawn when they graduate, feeling silly in black robes and mortarboards. It might not dawn at all until they’re unpacked, back at their family homes, and trying to adjust back to a world that doesn’t include university.
Overwhelming is the only word I can think to describe the feeling, but as Douglas Coupland identified in Generation X, when presented with a world of opportunities, the amount of choice leads to no choices being made. Instead, there is stasis, or as Coupland calls it ‘optional paralysis: the tendency, when given unlimited choices, to make none’. I wonder how quickly this fades into ‘mid-twenties breakdown: a period of mental collapse occurring in one’s twenties, often caused by an inability to function outside of school or structured environments coupled with a realization of one’s essential aloneness in the world. Often makes induction into the ritual of pharmaceutical usage’.
This realisation that education, by one’s own volition, is now over is overwhelming and underwhelming in equal measure. I think it’s then coupled with a dawning feeling of ‘oh crap, I suppose I should think about getting a job now’. If you’re like me, you’ll choose the flat-out delusion tactic. Or, if you’re as masochistic as me, you’ll choose to sign yourself up for another year of education – willingly, gleefully even. (Disclaimer: No, I don’t know what’s wrong with me either. Only time will tell.)
But this is a choice to continue education, a choice the majority of my friends and peers are foregoing in favour of this brave new world called life outside of education. I can’t say I blame them, at all; it’s liberating to know that, if you want, you never again have to read journal articles or pull an all-nighter to finish off that essay due at 11am the next day. It’s wholly liberating, but it’s a liberation I’m not quite ready for. Yet. I’ll say goodbye to education, for all of a summer, but I’ll be saying hello to the next chapter (the scary world of MA Literary Studies) come October. To all those leaving education for greener pastures, I salute you. Good luck, I bow down to your bravery.