Credit: Joe Elgar

University is so much more than Freshers’ Week or a graduation ceremony

By Emily Hay

A 2020 graduate shares some words of wisdom for new freshers who feel as though they’re missing out this year.

It’s painful being a 2020 fresher – there’s no point in pretending otherwise. You’ve spent the past few years imagining what university will be like, dreaming of an experience as exciting and dramatic as your parents or older friends have told you theirs was, all the while working your hardest to get the Higher or A-level grades to take you there. Freshers’ Week was meant to be the stereotypical beginning of the coming-of-age season that is first year at uni. You were expecting raucous halls parties, all the pomp and ceremony of the Freshers’ Address in Bute Hall, throwing paint and pints of fun at each other in GUU, and maybe even your first ever experience of a proper club night. But now all those won’t happen the way they did in your head: you’ll tour campus online, you won’t be grinding on a stranger in HIVE straight from the get-go, and instead of walking into your first lecture hall with butterflies in your stomach you’ll open Zoom on your laptop from your bed in halls.

The last thing you want right now is some older student telling you that Freshers’ Week isn’t that good – it’s easy for someone who got to experience it to claim that it isn’t the be-all and end-all of university. It may not be the best week of your life, but alongside being stood on the quad fully gowned for graduation and dressed to the nines for grad ball, it is what comes to mind as the quintessential university experience. You have a right to be upset about missing out on what could have been if you’d only started a year or two earlier – and don’t let anybody tell you don’t.

I may not be a 2020 fresher, but I am a 2020 grad. I may have gotten to get soaked by foam in the QMU in my first week and make awkward eye-contact with classmates I met on a Facebook group in my first lecture, but my grad ball was cancelled, and I never got to don my gown and get handed that precious red tube in Bute Hall – my degree was posted to me. So, I feel your pain at being robbed of a milestone. The start and the end of a degree seem like the only things that matter when you’re removed from the experience: the things you look forward to before you start, and the things that you think will be your main memories when the four years are over.

I found out I wasn’t getting a graduation ceremony back in March, so I’ve had time to gain a little perspective on the whole university experience, and I’m here to tell you that there is so much more to these next few years than just those superficial milestones you have in your head. They feel like the most important things, but they don’t tell the whole story of what these years at uni are for you: a daily lived experience. The sense of peace you feel looking out at a pitch-black sky from your ninth floor library seat at night, the relief of handing in an assignment that you’ve worked so hard on, the pride when a lecturer or seminar leader remembers your name unprompted for the first time, and the trials and tribulations of organising a flat for second year. These may seem like tiny moments, but they’re what combine to make your university years so special.

Uni is about more than Freshers’ Week or a graduation ceremony. It’s about the friendships you forge – the ones that last beyond those initial nights out. I met so many people in my first week that I never saw again except to give an awkward nod to as I passed them on Byres Road. I didn’t make any friends from my courses initially who amounted to more than walking to and from lectures with. People tell you that you won’t meet your best friends during Freshers’ Week, but they often fail to mention that you might not even meet them in first year. While I had individual friends and groups of acquaintances from the outset, I didn’t form a for-life friendship group until I was in my final year. Join as many online groups and attend as many events/ clubs (be those in-person or online) as you can and you will find your people – but don’t be disheartened if it takes a while. Give it time and you will get there.

It’s about how you grow as a person in ways that you only can in those first few forays into adult life. Nothing builds a sturdy constitution quite like the attempt to organise who you’re living with the following year and trying to actually find a flat from those fleecing West End letting agents and landlords. Or trying to deal with Scottish Power to sort out the extortionate bills they’re sending you. Or passive-aggressively trying to deal with a dirty or inconsiderate flatmate. These interactions set you up for life beyond university far more than what you learn in lectures ever could.

It’s about gaining your independence, but learning how not to be lonely in it. You’ll cook and clean for yourself without your parents there, and you’ll be responsible for your own education without the constant prompting of teachers. This can feel like a solitary existence. When you first leave for university, you may think you’re the type of person who needs to be constantly social, but the independence you’ll gain over these next few years will help you to feel comfortable being by yourself. You will spend a lot of time alone in your room, perhaps this year more than ever, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some of my most peaceful moments of the past few years have been in the quiet and solitude of the library at 11pm. These are such a hectic few years that moments alone to reflect are priceless – value them.

You don’t notice these things at the time because you’re so busy focusing on the big events and the nights out. But below the surface, these are what are at the heart of your university experience – and they’re so worth the journey when you look back and see how far you’ve come since you set foot in that bare accommodation bedroom in first year. By all means, mourn what you’ve lost, but don’t mourn so much that you miss out on the things you can do – because one day you’ll realise that they weren’t so insignificant after all.


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