Thursday, 5 July 2012

In Which Kate Completes Her Degree

I got my results a week ago yesterday. My degree was a BA (Hons) in English Literature and Creative Writing and, as you can imagine, I was pretty nervous about the results. I didn't post about it for a few reasons namely: a) I already had a post scheduled, and b) I was celebrating.

I honestly wasn't expecting a First. [Boring details of percentages, harsh markers and surprise last minute good marks in my Creative Writing Project removed for your convenience. Thank me later.] In fact it took me about a week for me to stop surreptitiously checking the envelope with my results in it to make absolutely positive I hadn't read them wrong.

For those who aren't equated with the UK higher education system, the progression is: First, 2:1, 2:2, and a Third. A third is a pass but barely. A 2:2 is considered by some employers to be a bit mediocre but is still a solid degree. A 2:1 is respectable (some employers don't recognise degrees lower than a 2:1) and a First is basically an A+.

There's a kind of creeping awkwardness I suspect only the British understand in telling people you've done well. No one likes to sound boastful and to be honest I'm having mixed feelings even about writing this post.  But for every part of me that's embarrassed to tell people there's a bigger part that is really proud and relieved and wants people to know.

Don't get me wrong: I know that grades aren't always a perfect representation of ability. People get sick and miss crucial lectures; someone checks all the useful books on a certain set text out of the library on the first day of term and doesn't give them back; family emergencies/nasty break ups/flatmate problems erupt weeks before a big deadline, throwing everything off kilter. In Humanities based subjects (especially ones with a creative element) the marker's personal opinion counts for a lot because the thing being marked is not quantifiable in the way that a science experiment either works or doesn't, or a maths problem is right or isn't. In creative portfolios the marker's prejudices against certain genre or subject often go unquestioned.

If by the time you graduate none of these have happened to you, you are incredibly lucky. I've trawled the library hysterically for references books someone has hidden on a different shelf rather than just photocopying the useful bits (it is life's highest satisfaction to find these while looking for another book and put them back in the right place); I've had a fourteen percent difference in marks between one module and another despite the fact the work I turned in had the same amount of insight and effort and which nearly put me off track for a First; I've had volunteering projects grow and grow until they consume all my time; I've had health problems where I'd forget to cook five days out of seven [if you're reading this and you know my mum, please, PLEASE don't tell her about that] and people would try and take me home to feed me up a bit; I had the guilt and misery and sheer unadulterated pain of having my beloved family dog Aisha suddenly collapse hemorraging blood two hundred miles away and die far too young two days later; the next Saturday was possibly the only day of my life when not too sick to stand I've spent lying in bed, eaten by my thoughts; I've been so busy with volunteer projects I'd forgotten about an essay until the week before; I've had my housemates bring my drunken not-yet-boyfriend to my house in the middle of my essay panic in a failed attempt at match-making; I broke up with the same guy the day after I stepped off the train after Easter, two weeks before my three final deadlines (all three of them over two days no less!); I've had at least one fight with at least one housemate every year; and by some miracle I have survived. Not only survived but done fairly well.

Personally I attribute the fact I've come out on top as much to hard work (not to mention a dash of luck and some sincere prayers to Ganesh, patron of students) as ability. I've been to lectures while full of cold, hung over and consumed by grief. When my first essay went through seven drafts (I was one of those first years) and still didn't get a good mark I went to see my tutor to learn how to write a better one next time. When my first year Prose Portfolio got marked down for having vampires in it (even deconstructed vampires) although my main character was as well constructed as any other I later submitted I immediately wrote the silliest high fantasy piece I could think of (about how dwarven women wear false beards because they believe that human men are depraved and will be driven mad by lust at the sight of them) then promptly calmed the hell down and started looking at ways I could disguise fantasy as literary fiction (hot tip: if you imply your main character is crazy and throw in an issue you can pretty much do what you like. I got high marks for a story about a haunted dressmaker's dummy because I threw in a few references to female body image and made the protagonist a bit paranoid). I went straight back to work after my break up (though luckily that was small potatoes) and somehow managed to work through the things that genuinely upset me: fights with friends, bad marks, Aisha's death.

This started off as a post about my results, only there's not much to say except that I'm happy, my family are happy, I'm happy that they're happy, and to apologies to my friend Catherine for tackle-hugging her when I opened the envelope. What I have to say is more about the three years that have brought me here and the person I've turned into. The only way I can describe it is kind of like sitting on the summit of a huge hill, the burn in your legs turning into that strange not-unpleasant looseness of tired muscles, while you look out over the countryside around you and try not to wonder 'Where next?'.

My advice to anyone who's at or going to university: be bigger than the problems you face. Whatever it is, look it in the eye and tell it 'I am stronger than you. You will not beat me. My will is as strong as yours and my kingdom is as great. I will not break.'

Also, don't forget to study.

Have you recently graduated? What gets you out of bed when the world gets scary? Comments, questions and complaints all welcome below.


  1. Congratulations on your university results Kate. Having read this, I just want to say I'm sorry I wasn't there for you as much as I should have been as your friend during the tougher times. I hope to see you again while you're still around.

    1. Thanks Amez. Don't apologise: you've been there every time I've asked. That's all that matters. To be honest I didn't mean it to be a depressing post: there have been lots of good times too, although I've mostly managed to fit those in.

  2. You should get that last quote as a tattoo. Love you x

    1. All of it? Might be a bit long. :P

      Can't wait to get home so I'll see you soon. I give it two weeks before you're sick of me. Love you too x