Ode to all the jumped-up student societies

Sit down, shut up

| UPDATED Cambridge Union column

Cambridge is a strange and fickle beast.

In many ways, it’s one of the best places I have ever lived. Where do I start? It looks like the love-child of the Clintons’ Christmas card department and the Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, it’s full of exciting people who are passionate about life (or, at the very least, about Life), and, in my whole time here, I’ve honestly never had a boring day.

Then again, that might just be due to my heinously short attention span and tendency to befriend total strangers.

But in the two years I’ve spent in these hallowed halls (okay, I go to Churchill: brutalist walls), there’s always been something wrong with the people here. Or, at least, with that generally Humanities-studying, society-active, student-media-savvy crowd I spend most of my free time with.

Ahh, the true Cambridge experience, I can just about see it out there from my cell window

For a long time, I made the grand mistake of thinking that this select group actually represents the university. A house party I went to last week proved me wrong.

I was chatting to the brother of one of my acquaintances and was shocked to find out he was in fact a third year and not a fresher. “But I’ve never seen your face before!” I crowed (hiccuping slightly). “Where have you been hiding this whole time? You weren’t on the scene.”

It was a cringey, dumbass moment, and indeed his own expression belied a strong sentiment of ‘lol who dis b*tch’ when he enquired as to what exactly ‘The Scene’ was. And that’s when it dawned on me.

He hadn’t been ‘hiding’ anywhere, he simply wasn’t one of those people who’s constantly plastered all over The Tab and/or TCS and/or The Union and/or Facebook. And in my slightly wavey mind, that meant he wasn’t ‘part of it.’

You can’t sit with us.

But what is ‘it’, exactly? The recent furore over the Union’s internal collapse and referendum announcement exposed the rather self-obsessed underbelly of this sector of the Cambridge society. It’s made up of several dozen individuals who all ardently like each others’ statuses, who each are part of at least two committees, who rule the Tab Disqus thread and who probably look a lot cooler on Facebook than they actually are in real life, or within college. I would know – I’m one of them.

Individually, they’re all lovely. Intelligent, inspiring, driven and endlessly fascinating – at least, to each other. But the fundamental illusion that they – we, in fact – have all come to believe in is that the rest of Cambridge actually care when the next bit of playground politics arises on social media. Hell, that they even know we exist.

A part of me (probably the same part staring at the gaping hole in my CV under ‘extracurriculars’) loathes to admit this, but The Cambridge Union, my own beloved Tab, all of them – they’re all castles in the sky. And whilst the people in charge are sitting in 6 hour crisis talks simultaneously trying to carve out a letter of apology to our supervisors for once again missing that essay deadline, or sweet-talking that society contact for a statement, the rest of the university is quietly getting on with their degrees, probably getting a far better mark than us, and almost certainly not giving a fuck when the latest ~development~ emerges.

Artist’s representation of the actual value of those 10 weeks’ blood, sweat and tears

Yeah, so sometimes shit we write gets picked up by national news. But is that really a good thing? With great power comes great responsibility… such as getting the facts exactly right, and making sure that unlikely scenario and all possible consequences have been envisaged. I’m not saying the British government’s decision to cease guarding Assange recently was anything to do with the referendum hitting national news earlier the same day – but it’s a bit of a weird, timely coincidence, is it not? Who knows what the government’s decision may mean for Assange in the near future. Whether he’s guilty or not, are we, as mere undergraduates vested with a tiny bit of nominal power, really qualified to have influenced his future in this way? Or was it really just an odd coincidence, and I, too, am guilty of building a castle on top of this castle in the sky?

By all means, guys, keep doing what you’re doing. Run the societies – someone has to. Enjoy the position you’ve fought hard (sometimes) to secure. I am being entirely genuine when I say that I have a ridiculous amount of respect for all you have achieved, and some of you continue to inspire me.

But – and this is the crux – when it all goes tits up… take it with a pinch of salt. Remember that simultaneously horrible and reassuring fact: whatever decisions you make, whatever friendship cords you sever and whatever sacrifices you offer up, it’s not the real world. It’s merely a microcosm. And for the average Cambridge undergrad, all that blood sweat and tears adds up to precisely 30 seconds of fucks-given whilst they’re bored and procrastinating on Facebook.

After graduation, you may well have 40-50 years of this drama to deal with. Save your energy. Enjoy your time here – and don’t sweat the small stuff.