‘Cambridge guilt’ is not productive
Cantabs aren’t special, but they also aren’t average.
We should be winding down, but instead we’re getting wound up.
We Cantabs are on the finishing straight of a gruelling term. No doubt at least one of your friends has already submitted their final essay. You’re brainstorming creative ways to procrastinate this easter while you dream of home cooking, chunder-free sheets and the warm embrace of your dog.
Yet how can we decompress from our frenetic Cambridge lives when a simple debate about institution-blind recruitment is making us consider whether we actually deserve the advantages that are conferred upon us by this institution?
It seems that there are two issues at stake here. Firstly, whether we can claim to be superior to other graduates by virtue of our sheer Cantab-ness. Secondly, whether we’re actually making the most of our Cambridge experience.
As college endowments swell and students become ever more driven to succeed in the corporate rat race, it’s unsurprising that just a little guilt for just how stimulating a place this is creeps in. It’s not just stimulation that gives us the edge either. The very name: ‘Cambridge’ invites the kind of shock and awe that befits the VK levels in my bloodstream.
Yet is this instant respect and admiration legitimate? Yes, we all worked exceptionally hard to get here. It’s an undeniable fact that we fight tooth and nail to keep on top of our huge workloads. We endure awful mental health, poor nutrition and social anxiety all alongside crippling work set by unsympathetic supervisors.
We do however also spend obscene amounts of money in some of the worst nightclubs in the planet just for the opportunity to hear cheese while sipping lurid-coloured, over-priced, sugary drinks while we should be grinding away in the library. What about this makes us special? What about our world-class extra-curricular societies and teams makes Cambridge students so valuable to employers?
Not even the most arrogant Cantab can say that it’s because we’re just automatically cleverer than anyone from a ‘lesser’ institution. Everyone here narrowly beat out an equally qualified, equally intelligent candidate. These unlucky people aren’t intellectually inferior, less accomplished or worthy of consideration by an employer.
As I’ve already said, we work extremely hard. On average, we do seventeen hours a week more work than the average UK institution, seven hours more than Oxford. We enter as wide-eyed passionate freshers, we leave as deadline-slaying corporate embryos, ready to conquer spreadsheets and contracts just like we conquered our supervision work here at Cambridge.
Even if our employers can’t see where we went to university, we’ll still carry three years of academic steroids into our interviews. We are pushed harder, and become tougher than students of other institutions and we shouldn’t be afraid to admit that.
The idea of ‘Cambridge Guilt’ stems from the idea that we are privileged to be here. We are. Yet this isn’t privilege that we have by virtue of birth, or through the effort of our parents. We sat in interviews with only our pens and our wits in front of the great academics who now call us one of theirs. We made our own privilege, we paid for it in sweat and FOMO and we shouldn’t feel guilty for that at all.
There is also an inherent hypocrisy in the idea of Cambridge guilt. Nobody forced us to come here. No malevolent force forged our UCAS forms, pushed us for interview and made us get the A-Level grades. It’s laughable that we can sit and moan about how much privilege we have as Cantabs while still reaping the legitimate benefits of our efforts.
We may not spend each and every hour of each and every day working to earn this privilege. We procrastinate, we do extra-curriculars, we visit friends and we read for pleasure. Every time you miss an opportunity to do something fun out of sheer guilt for not making the most of our time here academically, you spit on the people who would kill for the same opportunities.
Much like ‘impostor syndrome’, ‘Cambridge guilt’ is completely unproductive. Beating yourself up about how easy it will be to get a job after you graduate, or about how little you achieved today won’t make it go away.
You’re here. You deserve it. You’re not special, but you’re also not average. Your very participation in this institution is you actively choosing to profit from Cambridge privilege and the fact that you’re allowed to do so is a testament to how innocent you should be feeling about it.