At Royal Holloway yesterday I unwittingly intercepted both the arrival of a summer school contingent and the proud aftermath of a graduation ceremony. It was a poignant combination since it was summer school work that ‘prevented’ me from attending my own BA graduation.
Scuttling through in casual wear felt both embarrassing and alienating, much as the thought of graduating did. Summer school work actually proved a useful excuse not to go.
I believe in reward for effort. It’s a very basic but effective principle, and one that in teaching or mentoring roles I have always tried to impart to my charges.
If you go the extra mile, you want that dedication to have meaning and result. In recent years, it’s a belief I’ve been losing faith in.
Pride of place
I’ve never been to a formal event that celebrated milestones.
I was the only one not to attend my school Prefects’ Ball in 2002. Though it was a regrettably exclusive event, I had a tough responsibility of managing school registration and maybe deserved something to celebrate from the year.
The BA graduation was ruled out by summer school work. My MSc graduation was a shambles on the part of Edinburgh, who only awarded the degree seven days before the ceremony (with apologies, of course). It was too late to register. Would I have wanted to go anyway?
Seeing all the proud snaps of graduation ceremonies this week, I think of the graduation pictures that will proudly adorn walls and mantelpieces and wonder what kind of inhibition removes the will to attend and celebrate the years of graft.
Perhaps it boils down to something else: I want these things to mean more than just to me, otherwise it’s nothing but vanity that tempts me to honour my own achievements.
My parents have never shown an interest in attending a graduation ceremony. They are not achievers, and their attitude to achievement is a stoic one. I’m coming to understand. It has started to become increasingly difficult for me to celebrate others’ achievements – they’re accelerating away in their own world of success that seems a million miles away.
I’ve read acknowledgements in doctoral theses to parents who are librarians and scholars, to wives and children. I’ve long thought fondly of writing the acknowledgements page. Now, I’m ruefully pragmatic about the idea.
My folks have a small handful of O-levels between them. They don’t know even the title of my thesis. And there’s part of me that’s content with that. They remind me how much of an unlikely candidate I am. It’s about soaps and reality TV at home. And sometimes, that’s just great. What’s the world without curry, coffee, football and synth-pop after all?
The great shame is that the more my solitary pursuit comes to means to me alone, the less I will value it.
When this is done, I hope some of the family might consider attending the event. Plenty in our lives seems a million miles away, but Leicester is not. If they don’t, I don’t think I’ll ever want to be referred to as doctor. What they don’t find pride in, perhaps I shouldn’t either.