Walking down High Street towards the end of Trinity Term, it’s easy to miss the hints of confetti on the sidewalk when there’s sunshine soak up and tourists to dodge. But take a stroll around the corner where Exam Schools sits and chances are, if it’s around half-past noon or five in the afternoon, the clouds of glitter and Silly String will be impossible to dodge.
As finalists finish out their Oxford undergraduate days and first-years sit for their Prelims and Mods, the tradition of trashing commences. The aforementioned confetti is seemingly the most popular choice; when I finished my Prelims it was the most ubiquitous tool of trashing and my friends and I used it ourselves this year when fellow second-year classicists took their Hilary exams. But the variety of possibilities is endless.
Some students use food: flour, eggs, whipped cream, syrup, and occasionally even cooked items, as if they’re serving up breakfast upon the gowns of their finishing friends. Others revert to the childhood methods of party poppers and spray paint. Around this time every year, e-mails are sent from the university and from colleges pleading with undergraduates to think of the environment, of the local population, of the quiet needed by students still revising, and to confine their trashing.
But on a sunny afternoon when you’ve just been liberated, no matter how awfully you’re trashed, the feelings of exuberance and invincibility take over. I never understood trashing until I experienced it myself; there’s really no equivalent in the United States, although I suppose one could compare it to having Gatorade poured over the heads of winners in an athletic competition. Academic achievements just aren’t commemorated in the same way. Caps are tossed in the air at graduation, but trashing is different – it’s something done to you.
In the end, it seems, trashing is a necessity; a quintessential part of the Oxford experience, without which your degree is really not complete. It leaves its mark on the streets and sidewalks of Oxford, creeps up the staircases of student accommodation and seeps into halls. It ingrains itself in each new crop of freshers as they leave their first year at university behind, ideas of what they’ll do when their turn to trash arrives swirling in their minds. And it leaves its mark on the gowns of finalists as they take flight into the world beyond the city.