The End of the Line – for now

Today, I had the last exam of my law degree. I have finished my finals. I graduate in two and a half weeks. I’m almost a graduate. I can’t quite get my head around it.

I was the first person out of the exam hall, partly because of where I was seated and also because I didn’t take a bag, so didn’t have to go and collect it after we were released. I walked out of the doors of the faculty building and was confronted by a bank of people (at least twice as many as had sat the exam) waiting with bottles of champagne and sparkling wine to celebrate with their friends. We were the very last exam for Finalist law students, so most of the rest of the year were there.

No one for me, though. I slunk out of the door and slipped round the side to avoid any possible splashing with champagne – a rather wasteful and ridiculous tradition is to spray the examinees who have finished their last paper with wine as they exit, which creates quite a lot of mess. I’ve managed to avoid ever being soaked, partly by always being one of the first out and also by not having the sort of friends who meet me after an exam with a bottle of wine.

Or who meet me at all, actually. I hadn’t expected it to upset me as much as it did, but as l walked back towards college I found myself welling up. It wasn’t just that it was a total anti-climax, it was also the fact that after almost four years I have reached the end of my law degree. This place has been incredibly formative for me, and now I’m facing the very real and immediate prospect of leaving. No matter how excited I am about what the future holds, and I really am excited about it, leaving is scary. Change is scary.

I was just browsing through my blog posts from two years ago, just before and just after I returned from my year of illness, and two things struck me. The first was that I am so much healthier and more physically able to keep up with my life than I was back then. And the second is that I am no longer as thrilled and enthused by studying law. A couple of months ago a friend said something that struck a chord: at this point, we’re nearing the end of the marathon and all we can do is keep putting one foot in front of the other and hope we don’t fall over.

It’s been a long, hard slog, mostly uphill with the occasional brief but exciting downward freestyle. I’ve gone from being a nervous, arrogant, lazy teenager to (hopefully) a slightly more thoughtful, focused adult. I still make bad choices about how to use my time, I still leave piles of dirty dishes sitting around for weeks, I still discover something I didn’t even know I didn’t know every single day, but I’ve done a lot of growing up since I got here at age 18. And now, in just a few days, I’ll be leaving.

Today has been a weird day. Even if I hadn’t woken up in my new flat several hours’ journey away from here, I would have found it strange. I think in a way spending the morning travelling helped to lessen the oddness – instead of sitting at my desk for one last morning of cramming, I reviewed my flash cards on the train and gazed out of the window at the passing scenery. Once I had made it back to my college room I had only half an hour before I needed to be in the exam hall, so I gathered my stuff together and headed over early to collect my thoughts (plugging my ears so I couldn’t hear the other students having last-minute recap discussions of things I haven’t even heard of before – the only thing that causes me to feel panicked before an exam). The exam itself actually started out hilariously, thanks to a minor delay while we waited for some extra copies of the exam materials. The invigilator kept saying things that he didn’t realise were funny; in fact they might very well not have been, but we were all tantalisingly close to finishing and the mood was generally upbeat. When someone asked if it would be possible to move the clock from half way down the side wall, where most people couldn’t see it, the invigilator said he would make an additional time announcement to warn us that we were 45 minutes away from the end – they already always announce 30 and 5 minutes. Someone pointed out that a 40 minute warning would be more useful and we all laughed – in a two hour exam, with three questions to answer, 40 minutes is the golden standard – but he didn’t seem to understand. We eventually started four minutes late, and I gazed at the questions for several minutes before my brain finally engaged and I realised that I could answer them after all.

As I’ve said, once the exam was over it all felt a bit of a let-down. I came back to my room, gathered up my textbooks and returned them to the library. Our librarians are all lovely, and although my particular friend wasn’t there, the woman who took my books was sufficiently nice that I ended up crying all over again.

Fortunately the mood didn’t last long, and although I teared up a couple of times during Evensong (weirdly, when the sermon preacher mentioned the excellent poem Jubilate Agno by Christopher Smart, as well as more predictable moments like when it was announced that there are only three more services left this year) I cheered up considerably thanks to the wonderful music we were singing. Only one girl still has exams – I thought I was the last to finish but she is carrying on til the bitter end on Thursday – and the atmosphere was almost party-like. Afterwards most of us went to formal hall together, which was fun if a little overwhelming in terms of noise. I was sitting right at the end of the choir’s section of the table, and I laughed until I cried at overhearing my neighbours’ conversation – they were attempting to teach a girl from Ireland how to pronounce her vowels “properly”, and it just seemed hilarious. They found my hilarity equally amusing, and I made some temporary friends.

Everyone decamped to the bar afterwards but Heidi and I decided to come home instead and spent an hour chatting over cups of tea and reading amusing blog posts and looking at pictures of cats (my favourite social activity). And now I am off to bed, because tomorrow morning Amelia arrives for a 24 hour visit! I’m so glad she’s coming, tomorrow would have felt very flat otherwise until the choir rehearsal in the evening. Thursday will be busy with my last ever singing lesson, babysitting, choir, and another formal meal. And Friday? On Friday I must start packing.

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