Wednesday was a big deal for me, I finally graduated from Durham. I’ve been there for eight years and completed three degrees, but when I graduated wearing the big red PhD robes I knew it would be for the last time. And it was a strange, bittersweet thought.
I drove up to Durham the day before my graduation and, although this route has been one of the most well-travelled in recent years, it was one of the strangest journeys of my life. The other times I’ve graduated I’ve already been in Durham, working towards my next degree. But this time I was taking time off work from my non-academic job, and travelling back up north for the occasion. It was then that it first occurred to me that maybe I was moving on, and I hadn’t even realised it yet. My years at Durham have been some of the happiest, most challenging, and most rewarding in my life but the prospect of severing my ties with my alma mater is a sobering thought, one that loomed large in my mind on the journey. The drive through Robin Hood country, Yorkshire, and finally through County Durham is always beautiful, but nothing really prepares you for the grey majesty of Durham, the Norman bastion commanding the surrounding landscape into submission. It is in the heart of this ancient architecture that graduation takes place with a number of processions leading into Durham Cathedral where the service is held. All graduands (a Durham term for those who are about to graduate) were first asked to report to the Great Hall in Durham Castle. I loved this bit of graduation, walking into the great old hall of Castle is like walking into a scene from Tudor history, or onto a film set. In fact, this was the place where they filmed Harry Potter:
Then we formed the traditional procession in the castle grounds before walking in pairs out of the great Castle doors, across Palace Green, and into Durham Cathedral. This was my favourite part of the day, the medieval backdrop really made you feel like you were part of an ancient ceremony.
Once we were in the Cathedral, and after the academic procession had arrived, the ceremony began. I spent the ceremony thinking back on my time at Durham. I have spent eight years at this university, and I have developed more as a person than I ever thought possible. When I look back on my first years as an undergraduate they seem a lifetime away, almost as if they had happened to somebody else. But when I walk around the academic department and my old college, those days seem like only yesterday. I’ve made so many friends here and learnt so much about the world and about myself. I’ve worked hard, and partied harder. I’ve delivered academic papers and gone to white tie balls on a regular basis. I’ve discovered the pains of life; everything from the inconsequential embarrassment of misapplying make up for years to learning how to cope with the death of a close friend, something that will stay with me for the rest of my days.
Most of all I’ve learnt that I can overcome any obstacle put in my path, as long as I have faith in myself and the support of those around me. The PhD was a struggle of gargantuan proportions, and I only succeeded thanks to the emotional support of my family and friends and the dedication of my amazing supervisor. Graduation day isn’t just a celebration of what I have achieved, it’s my parents’ and supervisor’s achievement too. And it’s on graduation day that I realise just how much I will miss Durham, and how much it has contributed towards the person I am today.
Wherever I go and whatever I do in life, my time at Durham will always be with me. Maybe this isn’t really goodbye… it’s just au revoir.