The End of an Era: Becoming a Graduate

Tomorrow I graduate from Cardiff University.  Tomorrow, I’ll don the gown and mortarboard and shake hands with important people as a symbolisation and celebration of my few years of university. It’s incredible how quickly three years fly by when you’re plummeting towards inconceivable debt.  And even though I have received my results, and even though I am incredibly happy with my 2:1 in English Literature, I am overcome with nerves.

The Beginning of the End
The celebration that takes place tomorrow really marks the end of an era.  It marks the end of lectures and societies and two-day hangover recoveries in a dark living room with my housemates.  It marks the end of Tesco Express trips in PJ’s at 4pm with little to no shame.  It marks the end of spontaneous nights out and partying excessively without judgement.  And most importantly, it brings to light how much that nineteen year old girl who got dropped off in halls by her parents and cried for an hour solid, has grown up.  And I think it is losing all these things, and not the actual graduation, that I’m nervous about.  Despite my achievements, I don’t want to leave ‘university Rosie’ behind.  I make the joke all time that ‘this is as far as I planned!!!’, but I am being deadly serious.  University was a safe bubble.  A very expensive bubble, with lots of expectation looming over you, but a bubble all the same.  There are few other scenarios in which you will be forced into living environment with people from all over the place with different interests and cultures and backgrounds, and become firm friends within days.  And the realisation that I won’t see those people every morning at breakfast, or share gossip over dinner -squished into the tattiest of sofas – is actually quite devastating.  The truth is, I became who I am now because of all the people I met and because of my own personal experience.  I know I am still this person outside of university and I will be shaped by my time in Cardiff forever,  but nevertheless that reality of moving on is difficult, and it’s only just hitting home.

My mental health isn’t really something I’ve spoken much about but I want to make it clear that I didn’t have an easy time at uni.  My second year was horrible, and I am so, so proud of myself to be able to say that I got through that and came away from the experience with  a degree that I know I deserved.  Depression and anxiety are common among university students due to numerous factors ,whether that includes their studies, social life, family, among many other possibilities.  My worst bout of depression hit in my second year, helpfully coinciding with when my grades began to actually matter.  I can’t say exactly why I got so low, although obviously stress was a factor.  I have a suspicion that my contraception may have also caused me to feel this way, although I had been on it for a year previously without feeling quite this terrible.  I barely ate or left my room and, in turn, I began losing my social life and missing out on crucial lectures.  I became a hermit.  I felt so alone and lost, and I seriously considered throwing in the towel and dropping out all together.  In turn, this thought made me feel useless and a ‘failure’ (which of course wouldn’t have been the case), increasing my stress and anxiety around the issue.  The feeling of loneliness is the thing that stands out the most from this snapshot of my life – overwhelming loneliness while being surrounded by people who I knew deep down did actually care for me, no matter what my head was telling me.  I felt truly alone and couldn’t see a way for any of it to get better.  But then I did the best thing I could have done, entirely by accident.  I broke down one day and told my boyfriend everything.
Finally telling somebody all the things that were making my life feel so grey and devoid of colour was like breaking down a dam.  I remember he hugged me for ages while I explained all the stupid things my head was thinking; things I can now see so clearly that weren’t true.  I rang my mum and told her how I was feeling, and she was so understanding and supportive, offering so much help and so many resources to help me get to grips with the fact that I wasn’t okay, but that that was alright.  And by slowly talking to people and recognising when I was slipping back into a dark place, I began to heal myself.  I’ll be honest, some days still aren’t great.  I do still have panic attacks and feel sick at the thought of eating for all the stress taking over my body, but I can recognise this for what it is now, rather than as something that owns me.   I think that overcoming this to an extent and finding happiness at university again is the other reason that I know I’ll find tomorrow difficult.  I fought so hard for the chance to feel at home there and find a uni family that I fit in to.  I feel like I have only just achieved this, and so saying goodbye will be hard.

Final farewell
Ups and downs shape us as individuals, and I feel like I’ve had my fair share of shaping.   I know I’m not done quite yet, not for a long time, but I am truly thankful for every memory and person from Cardiff University that made my time there so special.  I know it wasn’t a walk in the park but in a way I am glad of that- I’m stronger for it.  I’m nervous for tomorrow because I don’t want to have to accept that this is all over. When people told me this would be the hardest and best time of my life, they couldn’t have summed it up better.  I am proud of everything I achieved – of the friendships I made as well as the hard graft I put in.  The whole experience is something I will cherish for the rest of my days and I cannot express how much it means to me.  And I don’t even regret the bad times, not one bit, because they have made the absolutely brilliant ones shine all the brighter.