Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Day 436 +1 - afterthoughts

As you may have noticed, the countdown didn't work, and now we are post-countdown - hence the slightly odd title of this post. I would apologise for the lack of updates but, since my time was filled with making last minute preparations for what I'm about to tell you, I figure I may let myself off.

Yesterday I graduated from the University of Warwick with a First Class Honours degree in English and Theatre Studies which I walked several steps to collect. The phrasing of that feels a bit blunt, and doesn't make clear how surreal it was - I just had to write it out simply to remind myself that it did indeed happen.

I'm still rather overwhelmed, as you might be able to guess - and therefore, in order to prevent this becoming waffley, wishy-washy, and vague whilst I talk about the veritable roller coaster of emotions, I'm going to give myself a structure and go through the day, step by literal step, with photos interspersed. I'll also have video evidence at some point next week, thanks to my dear friend Jade, which means this won't quite be the final post.

So, here goes:

My grandparents have been visiting on their way back to Canada from South Africa, because they wanted to see me graduate. My godmother, Jenny, also came (separately) from SA, and of course Mama and JoJo wanted to be there. My poor Papa unfortunately fell over some speedy Labradors whilst out running on Friday, so he wasn't able to come up from Woking, but we still had a full house...and a small car. This meant that Gramma, Grandi, Mama and I drove up on Monday evening and stayed the night at a hotel in Kenilworth, and Jo and Jenny caught the train yesterday morning to meet us on campus. I say all of that because the other reason we went up beforehand was to allow me to have a sneak-peek at the decorated Butterworth Hall and gauge the lay of the land.

We got onto campus for about 8.45am yesterday, parked the car, and were ably assisted by Claire and Stuart, two of the organisers, in our investigation of the stage set. Upon discovering that there was a ramp across the front of the platform which everyone had to use, we agreed that I would drive up one side, shake the Vice-Chancellor's hand, and only then would I walk. (I'll save the description of how I did so for a bit.) Having established this, I went to get robed up, and found that the tailors had very kindly organised a shorter gown which wouldn't get caught in either wheels or feet.

Cue a photoshoot...

Two generations...

Liminal space...! make the most of the weather before we had to go inside. With the prospect of walking, my muscles were delighted by the heat.

Once inside the Butterworth (for real this time!) I saw that I was number nineteen, because English and Theatre was to be among the first of the cohorts to be awarded BAs, following the PhDs and a few MAs. This made me happy, because the nerves were intense. I glanced around and saw my friends, both those graduating alongside me and those in the Chamber Choir. Then I smiled as the latter lot began to sing, during the procession of the faculties. It was really happening.

They looked like something straight out of Hogwarts!

 The Vice-Chancellor gave his speech, and everyone who could stood. I found the fact that I had to stay seated somewhat ironic, given my plan. Then the ceremony was open, and the first round of candidates were 'admitted to their degrees'. Here began the lining up, and one of my tutors from last year received her PhD. The person conferring the certificates was our Head of Department, Catherine Bates. When I took my place in the queue, Mama and Jenny came with me, because they would soon have an integral role to play. We clapped and cheered for my dear friends, fellow 'Fam' members - and then it was my turn.

Now, I was completely unprepared for the reaction as my name was called. Before I had even driven onto the stage, people were roaring. It was truly magical to know my friends were rooting for me, and it spurred me on to make it happen. So I shook hands with Nigel Thrift...

...flanked by Mama and Jenny. Then it went quiet. The room was filled with an anticipatory hush. Mama and Jenny came in front of me to help me out of my chair and support me under the arms...

...and I stood up, took three steps, and collected my degree:

I was overwhelmed enough with joy as it was but, whilst this was taking place, the roar of support was amazing. I wasn't really aware of anything except the placement of my feet, and how to shake hands and take my degree at the same time with the same hand, but I discovered from photos afterwards that my dear, dear friends had led a standing ovation of all my fellow graduands. I felt (and feel) completely humbled. I just hope everyone could cope with the extremely long pause.

Everything after that is a bit of a blur, but I clapped and whooped for my friends, as they had for me, until I was hoarse. Then Sir Paul Nurse received an honorary degree and gave a lovely speech, after which the Medics got their degrees and recited the Declaration of Geneva. I was particularly happy to graduate with the Medics, because it meant that my Orthopaedic consultant, the man who gives me Botox, was on the platform. His injections are hugely responsible for what I was able to achieve.

Then we all processed out, and us English lot were treated to drinks and nibbles. Cue a 'Fam' photo (minus a few sadly missed absentees) and many joyful (and tearful!) goodbyes...

English and Theatre rules, okay?
...which brought our time at Warwick to a close.

What a day. What a journey. What dear friends I have. There are no more words, except an abundance of love and gratitude.

We did it! #Walkingby2013 #graduation


  1. I have no words to describe how awed I would have been to be there, Jessi. You have brought tears to my eyes just reading your writing (and I'm in the office at work!) and the photos are just wonderful. I hope to see you again in the near future and wish you every possible good thing in the world - you deserve it. xxxxxx

  2. Jess.. I am a colleague of Jenny's and have followed your blog for a while. Your achievement is so incredible. Thanks for sharing it.


  3. hi jess, jenny brought me here and shared this amazing moment with us, her friends. am ridiculously happy and awed and clapping clouds with your journey. thank you for blogging, and for sharing. big hugs, jac