One small step for man, one giant leap for…a fresher?
To infinity and beyond!
Ryan Gosling is hitting our screens this month as Neil Armstrong in the film First Man about NASA’s mission to make him the first man on the moon (clue is in the name, I know).
And whilst I may not be breaking cosmological ground, I am hoping to make a size 5 imprint here at Cambridge. Not to be over dramatic, but this whirlwind experience certainly feels like I’ve been launched into outer space. The food is dubious, I don’t know which way is up and there’s a very real risk the pressure could kill me.
However, just like Gosling’s character, I am also acutely aware how lucky I am to be here and how few people get this incredible opportunity.
The interstellar inspiration for my Cambridge journey is humanity’s first astronaut with a PhD, the first man to urinate on the moon: Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin.
Trailing nine minutes behind the man who got to make that speech, Aldrin was originally rejected by the NASA space programme as he wasn’t a qualified test pilot. So many of us can understand the feeling of rejection, having to fight against incredible odds to get to Cambridge.
After all, how many of us did Duke of Edinburgh, took part in hours of work experience or generally sold our souls to AQA and OCR to get a shot at wearing that matriculation gown? If you ever think that maybe you’re a bit of a keeno, just remember, that in the dedication at the front of his doctoral thesis, Aldrin wrote "this is dedicated to the crew members of this country's present and future manned space programs. If only I could join them in their exciting endeavours!" – That is some 2am Tinder level hinting! But it worked.
On 20th July 1969 Neil Armstrong and Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin made the first lunar landing in humanity’s history. An extremely stressful time, Aldrin has been very honest about his subsequent battle with depression in his book "Magnificent Desolation". He lost many years to alcoholism, leaving his bed only for “booze and fried chicken”. If a man who received the presidential medal of freedom and experienced international fame can have a break-down, then I think we can forgive ourselves for feeling overwhelmed or depressed when in this alien environment.
Hormonal imbalances do not discriminate. In an interview with GQ this year, Buzz Aldrin summed up the "Cambridge fresher experience" succinctly and accidentally when he spoke of his emotions upon seeing the rocket, "we didn’t know what we were feeling. We weren’t feeling."
We should just take a moment to remind ourselves of this when we are engulfed in the meteor shower of messages from college, course and CUSU: yours is a universal response. Whilst there may be alcohol and chicken in our near future, for both comfort and recreation, Cambridge University do have support available for when it all seems to get too much.
Whether it is your tutor, welfare officer, college nurse or Nightline, there are places to top up your oxygen tanks and recharge your batteries.
Armstrong may have been the first man on the moon and he may have retired gracefully from space. But there were also significant milestones he didn't get to achieve like rapping with Snoop-Dogg [random, long but true story].
Arriving at Cambridge, I have realised that I won’t be the top of my year and I won’t be the first (wo)man on the moon. So, I am learning to be kind to myself because I may be nine minutes behind my cosmic colleagues but I’ll get there, at my own pace, fighting my own battles. You should do the same. You can do it. You will get your degree. And you will pee on the moon.