Some of life’s inevitabilities are far away, like caring about pensions or (more scarily) learning to love Radio 4. Others seem so far away that they exist in a fictional fantasy, affecting not me but a future version of myself with whom I feel little identity, such as the prospect of one day having children, or of ghastly dinner parties with smug, alliterative couples like Jeremy and Jennifer. (If you’re reading this Jez and Jen, apologies.) But, like the post-Park End hangover, some of life’s unwanted, uninvited inevitabilities will smack you in the gut, emerging from nowhere, making you dizzy and dazed. Leaving Oxford is one of these: time to wake up from the dreaming spires.
To our eighteen year-old selves, three or four years felt an interminable, endless amount of time. We could almost see it: a vast expanse of future experiences, stretching gloriously before us with no horizon in sight. ‘I’ll do everything,’ the young fresher thinks. Meet new people, do new things. Fall in love at least once, hopefully pull more than once, go out every night, yet still have moments to sit in the quad and breathe in timeless, cloistered bliss.
The raw, honest truth is that while you, the fresher, will do all of this and more, you will also close your eyes one night, tired after a shoddily produced first year essay, and open them in the morning to find yourself a 21 year-old, haggard-looking finalist with only the world’s toughest set of exams between you and the termination of the Oxford experience. Sit down in Exam Schools the next day, hear ‘you may now open your paper,’ look down. Now look up again, it’s been 6 weeks- you did Finals, and you’re moving out for the last time; Broad Street is in the rear view mirror and there it shall remain.
This is where I, and the three thousand leavers of 2013, find myself. There exists out there a dauntingly opaque milieu of opportunities, each plausibly achievable yet simultaneously elusive, impossible to grasp. It was the looming inevitability we never really thought of: one day everyone has a last day at Oxford. And beyond that you have to start afresh, doing your best to take all you learnt and prove to everyone why we rightfully went to the best university in the world.
Some will run away to South America. Others will sign contracts of conventional ‘success,’ taking up the office cubicle in a generic bank or corporate, where they will sit until one day thirty years hence their own grown child will apply to Oxford. Some will cling to those halcyon undergrad days by doing a postgrad, some will enter unemployment. Most will do their best, given their very vague guesses at what they actually want to do, to find a job that might go somewhere, move out, be poor, and face the beginning of their next chapter with nervous fortitude.
I consider myself to fall into this category. This column will discuss the perils of moving to London, the plight of starting work, the annoyance of post-university poverty and efforts to find friends and maybe the odd love interest beyond Oxford’s walls. And hey, if it all gets a bit much, I’ll just come back for a Bop, and pretend I’m a fresher all over again.