Image Description: View west along part of High Street, Oxford, from the upper deck of a bus outside the Queen’s College.
For the first time since The Second World War, Oxford’s students will not be returning to the University for Trinity Term. The consequences of this decision have been widespread and severe in equal measure.
Ball cancellations have left some students seriously out of pocket. And a lack of normal exams has thrown finalists’ preparation into uncertainty. A frenzy of emails from subject faculties, often unclear and rarely reassuring, has flooded our inboxes with contingency plans for next term’s academic proceedings.
All of these bitter administrative pills to swallow. Yet I suspect that most of us see them as tedious afterthoughts to the real sadness that comes with Trinity’s cancellation. When I say this, I mean that they’re the sort of reasons we might snap out to a family member who asks too many questions. Reasons that are clearly plausible. But ones that still buy us some time to hide our true feelings. It’s that private cocoon of emotional uncertainty that’s been spun over the last month or so.
The truth is, moments like those made in Trinity are irreplaceable. Typically, for first years, these include their indoctrination into a way of life governed by Pimm’s, punts and strawberries; the textbook end to a carefree first year at Oxford.
So what does it serve up for finalists? Perhaps an ill-advised decision to go to a ball instead of the library. A flurry of books, gowns and carnations shortly after. Or perhaps when that all culminates, they might create the memories that will plaster social media for a few weeks. Eventually, those might bloom into nostalgia.
For the first time since The Second World War, Oxford’s students will not be returning to the University for Trinity Term. The consequences of this decision have been widespread and severe in equal measure.”
This year’s leavers will see nothing of the above. The biggest kick in the teeth for many of them is that, when they left the University for the last time at the end of Hilary Term, they didn’t even know it. There are unsaid goodbyes, unfinished plans, and there is a massive anticlimax of a University experience for a year group. These un-lived moments will leave them eternally robbed.
There are several ways to miss a place. Depending on who you ask, some students might tell you that what they miss most is the sight of the Rad Cam basking in the fading glow of a summer evening. Others might tell you that they miss the sound of bat on ball in Uni Parks. Still, others would say the smell of the books in the library.
For others, however, these romantic clichés will not even have crossed their mind. They will have had visions for how Trinity was going to pan out. Their minds set on returning for one last bash in those real and imperfect surroundings alongside the people closest to them. Oxford as a city will always remain where it is, and its buildings will be forever familiar, but the place is nothing without the people we share it with.
It may seem bizarre that this has taken such a romantic turn, given that most of us spend far more time complaining about our university than idealising it. Though we still spend hours lamenting the incompetence of exams officers from home, there is a difference between the university itself and our own, personal, version of Oxford. Finalists have the right to be devastated that they will never get the latter back. What’s missed most is more of a broken promise than an object in itself.
Is there a silver lining to our absence? I can think of no better example of a group of people realising quite so fast that they didn’t know what they had until it was gone. For those of us who are lucky enough to return in October, maybe this will change the way we go about things. You never realise quite to what extent you’ve taken something for granted until you can never have it again.
Students will have had visions for how Trinity was going to pan out. Their minds set on returning for one last bash in those real and imperfect surroundings alongside the people closest to them. Oxford as a city will always remain where it is, and its buildings will be forever familiar; but the place is nothing without the people we share it with.”
More globally, this crisis has taught us all how fragile society’s goodness can be; we are not invincible, and we need to make sacrifices to ensure that we can have our lives back again. Absence does make the heart grow fonder. Oxford, a city that seemed so easy to complain about, has never looked quite so special as it does now.
Image Credits: Fumihiko Ueno @ Wikimedia Commons