The bursting of the graduand bubble

By Alexandra Bottomer

And here we are, at the end of another year in Durham. Freshers are lamenting moving onto doing work that actually “counts”, second years are consoling themselves with “at least this year was only worth 40%” and a new batch of graduands (the quirky name for undergraduates who have finished their courses but don’t have their degrees just yet) are ready to go out into the “real” world and leave the bubble which has been their home for the last three or four years.

This eager little army, clutching their 2:1s, to London, or abroad, or to the welcoming arms of KPMG, Ernst&Young, or the other familiar names that have been hovering in the wings of careers fairs and sponsored events since arriving in Durham. If not the “promised land” of PricewaterhouseCoopers, then the green meadows of a law conversion, or the Elysian fields of a PGCE seem favourable options. For a lucky few, there lies the prospect of a second shot at medicine, whilst others can take the increasingly popular “Kate Middleton route” – work for Mummy and Daddy’s company and if that doesn’t work out, marry Prince Charming. To all of these, and more, I say “good luck”, followed swiftly by, “remember me when you make your first million”.

Other graduands are boldly embarking on Masters degrees, PhDs, or a second crack at Oxbridge to become the academics, lecturers and top researchers of the future. No one would have thought it looking back at the drunken photographs of a dimly remembered Freshers’ Week in Autumn 2007 or 2008, but that drunken loon at the back wearing far too much neon body paint could be the person to find a cure for cancer, Or, they could just be lusting after another year as a student, or satisfying their academic urges before heading off into the Great Graduate Job Hunt. Whatever their planned study, or motives, again, I say “good luck and farewell”.

Another brave group is happily setting out on ambitious travel plans, or having some time out to think over how they wish to spend the rest of their lives. And, kudos to them for having the guts to schedule some free time after an incredible seventeen (or more) years in education, to reassess their priorities and contemplate what exactly it is they want to do. Sometimes choosing to schedule some time to “find yourself” can be just as daunting post-graduation as diving headlong into a job.

Yet, there is another phenomenon hitting the graduands of Durham this June (and I’m not talking about the infamous ‘goldrush’). I refer to whole hearted “Graduation Denial”.  Many graduands seem totally shocked by the prospect of leaving Durham and are denying leaving the bubble altogether. Symptoms include refusal to talk about the summer (and beyond), or suddenly contemplating a Masters when one has never previously been mentioned. The realisation that one must suddenly become a “grown up” seems to have floored many and stupefied the rest.

There are a whole host of idealess soon-to-be graduates, grieving for three years that have flown by all too quickly, with what seems like precious little to show for it. They rush around in the last three weeks of term, mourning their lack of work experience, extra-curriculars, or some other suitable evidence to show that the last three/four years have been spent doing something more productive than stalking Facebook or getting drunk in Klute.

For this group, I am stuck half way between sympathy and being very annoyed. Sorry to be as subtle as a brick through a window, but, it’s no use crying over wasted opportunities now. Bear with me whilst I climb on my soap box: life is what you make of it and if you thought all of those all-day lie-ins watching Countdown were not going to matter, then you may be feeling a little sheepish around about now.

I will however, try to offer some encouragement. If the last three weeks of term have been punctuated by restless nights about a graduation ceremony which has crept up on your blindside, then it’s time to stop worrying and start taking control of your life – if you don’t then no one else will. Think you’ve done the wrong degree? Seize the day and study some more in a subject that suits you. Daunting? Yes. Easy? Definitely not. But, better to act whilst you are still young enough to make a difference than spending the next forty years or so doing something you hate. Lacking work experience? Then write to that company you’ve dreamed of working for, or grab a Yellow Pages and start finding useful contacts. Lusting after a dream job? Well, somebody has to do those “unattainable jobs”, and there is absolutely no reason why that person couldn’t be you. (Granted, being a pop-superstar maybe tricky if aren’t the best singer, but look at Jedward, they seem to have made it!)

Embrace what seems like the impossible, only then will you find the limits of what you can do.  So, to the graduates of June 2011, we made it! Congratulations and good luck for the next step on the journey of life.

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