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 perfect 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. Sadly, in recent years, it’s a belief I’ve been losing faith in.
Proud graduates. Proud families. I’ve never been to a formal event that celebrated milestones. I was the only one not to attend the Prefects’ Ball in 2002. As unfairly exclusive as it was, the year’s fiendish responsibility as Secretary, trying to micro-manage the registration of Years 7-11 with meagre assistance, arguably warranted better. The BA graduation was mercifully ruled out. The MSc graduation was a shambles on the part of Edinburgh, who only awarded the degree 7 days before the ceremony; it was too late to even register. I doubt that I would have wanted to go anyway.
Seeing all the proud snaps of graduation ceremonies this week, I think of the beautiful graduation pictures that will proudly adorn walls, cabinets and mantelpieces; and just wonder what kind of personal 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 sheer vanity that would be tempting 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 came to understand earlier this year when it started to become increasingly difficult for me to celebrate others’ achievements when they’re only accelerating away in their own world of success that seems a million miles away.
I’ve read acknowledgements in 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 and wouldn’t know even the title of my thesis. 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.