Despite an absence from blogging in almost a year, this momentous occasion in my life has glued my fingers to the keyboard. I guess it had to be done.
On Wednesday 16th September 2009, I arrived at Cardiff for my first day as a student. I can still remember the click of the lock as my parents pulled shut the door to my flat and I was left alone to drown in my longed for independence. Back then I was the shyest fresher on the block, awkward and anxious of socialising. I can still remember clearly my first night in Cardiff, playing Jenga in the Pen and Wig and enjoying one of my first legally purchased pints.
Freshers Week was an immediate and unexpected trench of the University experience as I realised that my serious and introverted nature still left me in a niche minority. In the first few weeks I was bored and fearful as much as I was excited and on more than one occasion I found myself alone in my cupboard sized bedroom wondering whether my faith in University life had been disastrously misplaced. However I know now that the opposite was true. During all those teenage years whilst I longed for University, at no point did my expectations or dreams fly as high as the rollercoaster that I have been privileged to live these past four years.
University life has been filled with hundreds of talented and amazing friends who have all contributed to creating the person I am today. Every achievement, success or lesson learnt has been the effort of teams, friends and acquaintances, some of whom I hope will remain best friends forever.
These four years have been so much more than just networking, learning engineering or developing a CV. The opportunities to engage with societies, organise and attend events, write and edit newspapers, contribute to relationships and directly participate in politics have been extraordinary memories that will continue to boost my life beyond graduation. Yet, the experience has been more than just the accumulation of short term events and campaigns.
Here in Cardiff, for the first time since childhood, I have truly felt a permanent sense of belonging and purpose. On so many days I have woken up with a sense of ambition and focus, ready to tackle the next door knock, the next lecture, the next article, the next meeting, the next event. The environment has not just been friendly but also forgiving and understanding. Students, more so than any other group in society, have an attitude that making mistakes is an acceptable symptom of the shared journey into adulthood. During these four years I have learnt to be much less ashamed in showing weakness, expressing a controversial opinion or flirting an emotion without being fearful of the consequences.
I started out too nervous to contribute an opinion at a small Green Party meeting, to leading its local election campaign. I started out unable to make a five minute speech without my hand shuddering with anxiety, only to go on and speak in front of a crowd of 2,000 and debate across the country. I’ve knocked on countless doors, ran around campus as a Victorian villain and drank far too much in cheap night clubs. I’ve occupied lecture theatres, published my written opinions to thousands and had urgent phone calls with protest organisers. I’ve had dinner with elected politicians, shouted outside the vice-chancellor’s office and skipped many lectures. I’ve had many fond successes, made countless mistakes and regret none of it. In many ways I have become angrier, in other ways more tolerant, but in every respect I feel stronger.
Every single day these steps, small or large, have been the result of pressure or support from others. Their enthusiasm, their understanding and more importantly their acceptance, have been the catalysts that enable my day to day actions.
I am still, on the whole, a member of the awkward and introverted niche that I always have been. I’m still that overly serious kid, full of scepticism, doubtful of my place in society and lacking the visible signs of emotion or motivation that genuinely lurk beneath my skin. But I’m also proud to be an eccentric dreamer, an optimist and more ready to say ‘yes’ than ever before. I have more emotional capital than I thought I was capable of storing and a profoundly diverse range of friends, centred round a beautiful girl that I’ve been too lucky to find. Regardless of logic, I feel as though none of this could have happened anywhere else.
The last few days in Cardiff have been exciting, but also frightening. In making the move to London it feels as though I am sacrificing this entire life that I have spent so long building up. I’ve spent four years gradually enhancing dozens of friendships, only to go to a place where I barely know a soul. Every day I have been filling up recycling bags of degree notes, folders, campaign materials and other memorabilia, selecting the essentials worthy of my suitcase. Over several weeks I have experienced my final committee meetings, lectures, visits to Engineering, exams, socials and chats, each time contemplating my imminent exodus.
Moving to the big city of London and starting a professional job is a big scary step, but one I have been working and preparing towards. I’ve faced these challenges before, including the move to Cardiff four years ago, and I’m confident I can achieve things here. But the biggest emotion over the last few days has been sorrow not of the future, but of losing the past. I wish I could embrace the new world of work without having to give up the student life and the friends embedded within it. I wish that I could see my fellow engineering students in the offices of my conference company, come home to the same housemates and wander off to green party and debating society socials in the evening. Yet the passage of time, the only true enemy I have in this world, makes this dream impossible.
University is always a life changing step in the lives of anybody who attends. For me, it is so much more. University has never just been the next step on the ladder of education, but a completely new world compared to the small Welsh town that housed me for 18 years. Despite my parents’ protests, Cardiff quickly became a place that I was proud to call home and a city worthy of its pedestal in my heart.
Throughout my time here, there’s been a quote that I have referred to on a regular basis, which has guided and focussed my passions; “Life is not about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself”. However if Cardiff has taught me anything, it’s that life isn’t just about creating yourself, although I still cling to the sense of power and purpose the phrase commands. Instead, my life here has been about opening myself up, allowing the world to peer into my weaknesses and strengths and mould me accordingly.
Life is about creating yourself, but life is also a team effort. Life is surely also about finding the right people, the right friends, to help create and guide you along the way. And that, in short, is by far the greatest lesson University has taught me.
Cardiff, it has been a pleasure, but now it’s time to tackle London. Good luck and Goodbye!