The ghostly presence of next term


This week, when graduation was officially postponed and we were told not to plan a return to Durham in the near future, I hit a low. Finally, it properly dawned on me that this is it. The 2019-20 academic year, insofar as physically attending university goes, looks to be over.

I realised that, before now, I hadn’t let myself think too hard about it – my philosophy was ‘well, if the University hasn’t confirmed it then there’s no point worrying about it yet’. Of course, though, they have now confirmed everything, from exams to congregation. It doesn’t look like Easter Term 2020 will be able to happen. Not physically, anyway. We will finish the academic year with some kind of grade and, sadly, little else.

Easter Term 2020 will not be able to happen – not physically, anyway

Sure, by early July I’ll have had some great chats on Zoom and sent more Facebook messages than I ever had in my entire life. I’ll have laughed a lot, and I’ll have had fun where I could. But I won’t be able to compare the professional photos from the summer ball with the terrible phone-quality ones taken after a few glasses of wine. I won’t have that college day t-shirt to keep forever. On a very personal level, I won’t have produced a single printed newspaper in the three and a half months I’ll have been Editor-in-Chief of Palatinate, and those graduating won’t produce another one again. Others will have missed out on sports fixtures, performances, concerts, training days and a whole host of other events that, before now, we had always, always taken for granted as vital components of university life.

In June, Elvet Riverside and the Science Site will be conspicuously clean in the absence of any confetti, and the streets won’t smell of warm prosecco because no one will have sprayed any at anyone. In July, Palace Green will be silent, when it should be playing host to thousands of thoroughly deserving graduates and their loved ones. Our lives have been put on hold, but the calendar year waits for no one, and the coming weeks will go by whether we are able to enjoy them or not.

So, we’re allowed to be sad. Freshers can dream about the year they never completed; second years will reminisce from afar on the post-exam celebrations they are missing, most of them knowing that next year will be their last; finalists have every right to mourn the loss of what promised to be three of the best weeks of their undergraduate careers.

Missing out on college days, summer balls and lazy afternoons at the Swan doesn’t come close to the ways in which so many others (and, sadly, some students and their loved ones) are suffering at the hand of coronavirus, but that doesn’t stop us feeling heartbroken about it. It’s not self-pitying to express disappointment at missing out on all of these things, even if the rest of the country is in isolation too.

Currently, at the end of March, less than a week into the official UK lockdown and just over a fortnight since Durham University stared taking coronavirus-related measures, everything feels rather surreal. Next term, whatever form it may take, is a whole month away, so distant that we can’t quite sense it – and yet we are already mourning its loss.

Everything feels rather surreal

The next few weeks and/or months are going to be tough. You don’t need me to tell you that ‘we live in unprecedented times’ or ‘everything feels very strange’, because you’re living it as much as I am, and you can’t go a day without hearing the word ‘unprecedented’ as it is. But, if someone had told any of us in October that we would finish Epiphany Term with no plans to return to Durham, we wouldn’t have believed them. And even now, I still can’t quite believe it.

Photos: Ian Mathieson

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