Letter to my first year self: graduate reflections

We asked three 2020 graduates to write a short letter to their first year selves, to reflect and consider how they have grown and share the lessons they have learnt over the years at university. Last term was unlike any other, especially for finalists – the goodbyes, graduations and closure were all interrupted. We wanted to give a space for a few finalists to think and reflect on their time at Durham.

Dear First Year Lotte,

Looking back, there’s so many things I’d love to say now. But I’ve realised that’s the whole point, if fresher Lotte knew everything third year me is now aware of – she would have had nowhere as much fun. Durham has been a rollercoaster ride, mostly brimming with opportunities and bizarre encounters, but there’ve been some tumultuous times and that’s totally okay.

There was my fourteen-night stint of socialising following freshers week, when I was terrified of missing out and said yes to everything. But I wouldn’t change it for the world because I met all sorts of people. And, Lotte, the other Hild Bede freshers will still be there in three, stuffing their faces with hash browns at brunch in three, even five, weeks time. Remember you’ve got three whole years so save some of the best till last!

Also, your second year, living arrangements will be high pressure. You’ve been in controlled, rather quaint, college environment till now. We argued about the lack of bins, the washing up, the leftover pasta in the plug hole, the late night soundtrack… I’ll say no more. But at the end of the year, whilst watching the sunrise on observatory hill, we reflected on what a good year it was. That was after bouncing around at summer ball, like a sweaty mess, to Tom Grennan’s ‘Found What I’ve Been Looking For’.

So, fresher Lotte, Durham will give you everything you wanted out of a uni experience. In you, I really did find what I’ve been looking for. You’ve given me far more than just an academic education, but rather, an education for life.

Best wishes,


Prishanti Pathak

To my dearest, energetic first year self,

Me and you are very different, but you are on your way to me and it’s the safest, kindest place to be. With passing time you will hold on to Faiz Ahmad Faiz more dearly and Meena Kandasamy more faithfully. You will experience new intensities of longingness and reverence for the culture, your home and the womxn around you gave you.

University life will gently nudge you towards that dreamy little college library of Collingwood, smelling richly of coffee beans and old and new books. You will be drinking in that coffee and those secondary texts the department recommended – you will cherish what you consume, but your tired self will end up amongst Tagore’s poems. You will experience a delicious liberation reading revolutionary material in these little spaces of this colossal university life.

These are also those spaces where you will exchange words, paintings and pictures with some really kind, intelligent friends. And we will hopefully keep them for life. We will see that unfold together. I cannot wait to see you embrace your anxious side, and grow into the unapologetic, curious womxn and daughter we are meant to be.

University life will also pave roads to such depths of queerness and friendships developed in the queer community, you will feel a new, sweet belongingness. You will be equipped with new tools, new theories, new lenses to see the uninvestigated layers of all our fragmented lives.

Sometimes you will light incense sticks, drink in the wisps and smell of it, fondly think of this new stillness till it almost ends (the incense). Then you will get back to writing about The Hungry Tide, relaying the passion you found from your fav tutor on the postcolonial module. House parties, library seshes, Osbourne’s, HeForShe Durham, Women’s Association… they will carry memories of you and you of them and that’s such a unity that I love. Never fail to keep being yourself, keep leading.


Prish x

Shauna Lewis

It has taken me a while to come to any conclusions about my time at Durham. I think every graduate will agree that this has not been the end we expected. Everything came slowly sputtering to a halt in a way which made it hard to find closure.

Now that I have had time to reflect, I recognise a time period in which I learnt about myself and my degree. As I made friends, I realised that I had let people push me around in the past; inside and outside of seminars I learnt that I did have something worthwhile to say; I even learnt I could wear clothes other than black without feeling self-conscious. I grew more than I realised and it wasn’t until after I could see that it was for the better.

It came with ugly realisations as well, though. The realisation that whilst I may have had a formative experience at Durham, other students had been let down by institutional bias and that the university would often listen to the sound of money rather than the students they were meant to protect. These are not realisations I enjoy. When I tell people about the university I went to, I want to be proud of it. I’m often not.

That being said, people mostly do find their little corner of Durham, however small it may be. I hope the incoming freshers find their safe spaces and enjoy their time here; I like to hope that when our generation is in charge it will be the students who come first.

Thank you to the graduates that shared their letters. We wish everyone the best of luck whether they are starting at Durham, carrying on, or beginning something new.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.