When the present becomes the past, it opens itself up for reflection. People will always find things to criticise in hindsight, and it is impossible to say anything inconsequential. Jean-Paul Sartre came to me in late second year. One of those many times my study spread its tendrils into my skin, into my flesh and bones. That summer I shed those spiralling, muttering spirits, What-if and Maybe-this. My house seemed the world during lockdown, but for once I felt like I was here and there, miles away, no longer oppressed by worry.
This was a turning point in several areas of my life: academics, creativity, sexuality, and identity. The summer of 2020, I was sure. And I attribute my present success to that small Sartre essay, to the story ‘Deciduous’ that sought to be free of the future’s eye, “to want to…change it [our age/present day], thus to go beyond it towards the future”. The spirits no longer held my writing hand.
I never foresaw myself as good enough to achieve a First in English Literature and Creative Writing when I first joined the University. My sixth form had shut down, and I arrived with a disappointing array of letters, CDE. At the start of third year, I thought an average of seventy-two appeared unlikely and difficult at the start of third year. But the firsts came with ease, and I finished the year without a single hair lost.
One of my lecturers summarised my progress on the day of my graduation. He had enjoyed watching me go from someone “shy” and “unsure” to someone who really knew what they wanted to do. His words were affirming. I have proved something.
And it is the case with being a student, that end-goals and career prospects are all the questions we get. University is about doing what you love, progressing as a person, achieving an absolute that can never be taken away. It is something that the real world can not compete with. Changing location, following passions, and enjoying a unique social life are more life changing than those who never went may understand.
I can feel the End’s touch on my back. This year is potentially my last. Exeter is a chance to make a statement, now, to cast that piece of paper I carried throughout my undergraduate into the shade forever. The End’s touch is not unwelcome – it was always coming. Its cold face doesn’t bother me. I have changed. I am who I want to be.