Letter to: Graduation Anxiety

As exams begin to finish, it's time to talk about what comes next

It was around Halfway Hall last term that we first became acquainted. You arrived in various guises; creeping up on me as questions of bloodcurdling enormity, implied insinuations amid casual discussions with friends and family about potential careers.  Each time you were an unsolicited visitor that made it feel as if the ground was sliding and slipping beneath me. You created moments of murky panic, before I flung you back into the furthest peripheries of my mind.

In turn, you morphed into another beast: this time in my inability to focus on the present. I told myself and those around me that ‘I need to think about it’ when confronted with questions about life after university—though I never did think about it. The thought of prolonged reflection filled me with a mixture of existential distress and a hollowing dread.

You are a peculiar nonentity, fed by the looming inevitability of student debt, growing underemployment and the 9 to 5 lifestyle that is only really fun when Dolly Parton sings about it. You seem to thrive on the numerous ‘what ifs’ and ‘did I make the right choice’ fears, coupled with the age-old adage that university is supposed to be the best years of your life, making anything afterwards appear darkened with an expectation of disappointment.

Graduation marks itself as a jarring change: change in occupation, relationships, residence. As a point of severe transition, it is accompanied with a sense of foreseeable loss that you are bolstered by. The familiar structure of Oxford life, with its eight-week terms of binge drinking and deadlines, will be peeled away and replaced with a void I have to fill with cover letters and Skype interviews.

I can already see myself looking back with fond nostalgia on the essay crises I currently abhor, becoming one of the misty eyed alumnus that I have seen return to college. This is the effect you have had on me: my personality is split. I feel as if I am living my second year as both the protagonist and the distant spectator, already feeling like its coming to an end.

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Until it does though, I suppose I will accept that you are now a part of this limbo I am in and have been in for nearly two years. This delicious purgatory in between adolescence and adulthood. The change is an inevitability, and it has unfortunately dawned on me that I will have to make an actual decision at some point soon, and hopefully once I do, you will be less of a burden and more of a stimulus to just get on with it.

Once I have survived finals and join the ranks of Oxford graduates, I hope that you will have grown into a nervous exhilaration for what is to come.

Yours sincerely,

Becky Cook