Cambridge: the beginning of the end

Bittersweet words from a finalist

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Joan Didion describes how it is easy to see the beginnings of things, and much harder to see the ends. It’s strangely true, especially when you’re living through what you know to be the end of something, and of something as important as university.

Somehow, the three seemingly endless years are almost up. For the last time can I utter the phrase “I’ll get my shit together next term”. And so, if it sounds as if I’m being at all sentimental or nostalgic, that’s because I am. This is not to say that it was all good. Cambridge was for many (and their parents), the goal, the dream, the glittering city of promise; and then suddenly it was a reality.

And in this new-found reality, the cracks started to show quite quickly.

(once) the city of hope and dreams

Freshers’ Week was over, lectures started and the routines kicked in. Time warped in the bubble. It was week 5 and you were struggling to stay afloat through deadline after deadline. Not every essay handed in was perfect; in fact no essay was perfect and even handing anything in was to be congratulated. You overslept. You sacrificed sleep for Cindies because of FOMO and it wasn’t worth it. And in the stress of term, even things like the beautiful architecture that made you want to apply were easy to ignore. You realised that not far under the Oxbridge veneer, people weren’t actually that happy, and they weren’t actually that smart.

There have been many times during my degree in which I have hated Cambridge for all it has represented: hated the work load, complained about the nightlife, and even wished I was at Oxford rather than St John’s. At times, I have felt alienated from the student body, or disappointed and disgusted by them. I have told people I was “fine” so many times when I was barely holding it together.

Not a bad bedroom window view

But equally, there have been times I have loved Cambridge for being its quirky self, filled with traditions. It will certainly be a few years (at least) before I get to live in a castle again, and to look out of my bedroom window each morning at towers and ivy and the Cam. Here we have gowns that make my Harry-Potter-obsessed 11-year-old-self proud, additional spouses and family structures that confuse even Freud, and May Balls to make you forget you ever even sat exams … or at least to numb the pain.

Almost numbing the pain of exams

The other day I went through two years worth of my photos from Cambridge. These covered not only the obvious highlights from May Balls to marriage formal, but small victories: like the first time I managed to make a poached egg without ruining both egg and pan, or the time all the English students in college had a collective crisis over an essay deadline at 3am and ordered pizza. Even less proud moments now immortalised in saved Snapchat stories (rolling on one of Cambridge’s many ‘Do Not Walk On’ lawns whilst intoxicated, anyone?) make me smile in retrospect.

It can be so easy to hate Cambridge while you’re deep in the abyss of stress that term can often feel like, but there are so many things to miss once you leave. I’ll miss the ease and spontaneity of seeing friends (even late at night when all we do is essentially nap in each others presence), my favourite coffee shops, the ability to walk anywhere and everywhere, having random and ridiculous conversations (most not even suitable for the Tab), and procrastinating more than I ever thought possible. I’ll even miss being fined for my many mistakes.

Still clinging on when everyone else has gone home

There’s so much to explore – colleges, gardens, statues, roofs, libraries – and rites of passage like Van of Life and Gardies. By third year, almost every spot in the city is saturated with memories. There was that break up there, that break down there, that kiss there… It can be sad, but it probably just means that it’s almost time to find a new city to corrupt.

My friendship group has correlated each term of Cambridge with a season of a TV show. These final three terms/seasons are essentially the point when the script writers have given up on a coherent plot and throw in rash decisions. So, here we are, nearing the end of season 8, with no clue what season 9 will bring. Though I’m pretty sure it’ll come complete with extravagant plot twists and constant drama, no less. A lot can happen in a term. Oh, and there are finals too.

Even if all I take away from Cambridge is an automatic reflex to scan my Cam card at every door, it’ll certainly leave a lasting impression.