10 years ago today my parents drove me and a car full of my stuff to Bournemouth University to pick up my keys before moving me into the lovely purple house on Purbeck Road. They left me there, a short walk from the beach, and suddenly it was time for me to be somebody. I don’t think I have ever been so terrified and bewildered in my whole life.
At that point I had no idea who I was anymore. I knew who I’d been during those two glorious years of sixth form and throughout the final summer with all my friends, going out in a blaze of glory, as they say. But suddenly I realised that I just had no clue who I was going to be from there on in. To say I was frightened would be an understatement. With all of the excitement leading up to that moment, all of the long conversations and dreams about how wonderful being a student would be, somehow I had completely failed to prepare myself for actually taking that step. I felt entirely lost and utterly alone.
I’m not ashamed to say that the adjustment period took me some time. I walked around like a shadow and I cried a lot. I went through all the motions of going to uni, socialising, all that kind of stuff, but I really struggled. There was one horrifying moment with a bus, a long walk, and a sorting office. But we won’t get into that here! (Oh Mum – thank you so much for getting me through that one somehow!) After two weeks my parents suggested I got the train home for a visit. What an idiot, why hadn’t I thought of that before!? I was living as though I could never return home and that I had to live with my lot in life and deal with it. But a two hour train journey and I could be home on a Friday afternoon, back on a Sunday night. Weekends at uni are relatively uneventful anyway as a rule; I now know that those are “local” nights out, so students mostly stick to the beach and house parties.
So that was that. I started returning home at weekends. Then every other week. Then maybe every three weeks or once a month. Eventually I only really returned for holidays, special occasions or generally because I needed a break or change of scenery. I got closer to my housemates, course mates, and other friends. I immersed myself in activities and the lifestyle I’d been so desperate to experience. By the first holiday, which was Christmas, I really did love uni. Those three months had been a steep learning curve where I could so easily have given up. But I didn’t. I am not only thankful for that, but I’m proud of myself. If I’d left not only would I have missed out on the best friends I could ever have asked for, but I’d have had to always live with the knowledge that I just gave up. And that’s not me, I do not give up.
There’s this strange thing that I would never have known about if I hadn’t persevered. It might not seem like much to other people, but to me it is really something. Over time the realisation has become even more clear and profound. I finally really analysed it in my head last night, in fact. I’ll share that with you now so you can try to understand just how enormous an impact university had on me and my life.
When I was younger I’d be going on school trips or Guide camps and we’d all sing the “everywhere we go” song. For those of you who don’t know it, I shall explain. One person sings (shouts) a line and everyone else repeats it back to them. So as a youngster it went a little something like this:
Everywhere we go
(Everywhere we go)
People always ask us
(People always ask us)
Who we are
(Who we are)
Where we come from
(Where we come from)
So we tell them
(So we tell them)
We’re from Bicester
(We’re from Bicester)
Snotty grotty Bicester
(Snotty Grotty Bicester)
And if they can’t hear us
(And if they can’t hear us)
We shout a little louder
(We shout a little louder)
And so it continues getting increasingly louder until someone in authority breaks and you quieten right down. Usually just to start all over again half an hour later.
But here’s the funny thing; at uni the words changed. We weren’t from anywhere snotty or grotty. We were from Bournemouth, mighty mighty Bournemouth! I think that actually tells you all you need to know. Up to the age of 18 we are all just going through our childhood and teenage years, doing as we are told and expected to do. We go to school and work hard, we get part-time jobs, we socialise, we experiment with drinking, we party, we cause our parents to worry, but mostly we try to just get somewhere. Usually that somewhere is just quite simply “away”. When we go to university we are taking charge of our own destiny. We are working to shape our own future and find out who we are and who we can be. We have taken a huge step to steer our lives in a direction that will take us to the stars. Suddenly we aren’t ashamed of where we come from, where we are, or where we’re going. We’ve made a positive choice and we are proud of it.
If anyone is thinking about going to uni but isn’t sure, I really recommend giving it a go. If anyone is there and struggling, weigh up your options sure, but you definitely owe it to yourself to give it your best shot. I’ve been this hash of a grown up for 10 years, and I wouldn’t change a moment of it. Since that wobbly start things have only got better. I have the greatest friends anyone could ever ask for. I know until the moment I breathe my last, they will be my world. They are the stars in my sky and the air in my lungs. My little patchwork heart is bigger than ever, as I’ve shared pieces of it with the people and places I’ve loved, and they have shared theirs with me. Not one of us has a complete heart, original and whole. Rather, we each have this mess of a thing made up of little parts of each other. And in its mess it is undeniably beautiful.
A decade is a tremendously long time and in the blink of an eye it’s gone. But I have the memories and friends to keep me going through the rest of my life. All because of a decision that I made coupled with the unfailing support of my family and friends. So to each of you who got me through those three years and everything since, you are my whole entire world. You are the rocks I cling to when I’m petrified of being swept away by the storms and you are my source of endless love and joy. You are where I go to share every moment of my life, happy or sad, and you are my home. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart. And also, thank you to me for making great choices and attracting perfect friends! Credit where credit’s due, after all!
Tonight I’ll raise a glass to all of us. We made it! Here’s to the next 10. And with all of you on my side, I know it’s going to be fantastic. Cheers!
With endless love and all my heart,