As I took a trip through Newcastle today, I noticed that it was graduation day. I watched students in their caps and gowns, taking selfies and celebrating the end of an era.
Strolling through the beautiful campus of my alma mater, Newcastle University, I thought back to my own graduation day eight years ago. It was I day I never thought I’d see.
I was twenty-one when I finally went to uni. I’d had three years in ‘the real world’, earning some money and doing another A-Level, and during that time I’d decided I wanted to train to be a teacher.
Despite a hand injury which left me unable to write, I quite enjoyed the first terms. Uni was so different to anything I’d experienced before and I met two wonderful girls who, to this day, remain my best friends.
By March of my first year, though, I was ready to quit. I’d failed a History assessment and was wracked with self-doubt. I remember vividly those fraught days as I struggled to make a decision on what to do. I was terrified of failure. I felt that staying on at uni could equal complete failure. What if I flunked the first year completely? What if they kicked me out? It didn’t occur to me at the time that all my other marks were really rather good. Another thought that occurred to me, though, was that quitting would be a definite failure in my eyes.
I don’t remember how I came to a decision. I don’t remember how I overcame those wicked gremlins. But I did. Staying might mean failure, quitting definitely would.
With the support of my parents and some of the academic staff, I decided to streamline my degree from Combined Studies to Media, Communication and Cultural Studies. I never looked back.
As my undergraduate days drew to a close, I began to consider what to do next. That summer, I read more books than I had done in years (apart from academic books, of course). Some were inspiring in the traditional sense. Others made me think: ‘I could do that’. Around the same time, I was given a place on the Chronicle’s Young Reviewer of the Year scheme. Not only was this a fantastic outlet – giving me ‘a reason’ to write and deadlines to meet – but it also gave me the confidence I needed to look into Masters degrees in Creative Writing.
As we queued outside the ceremonial hall on graduation day, a course-mate asked what my plans were, I answered: ‘I’m going to be a writer’. That moment is crystallised in my memory and every year, when I see loved ones in all their finery and graduates with their capes blowing in the wind, I’m reminded of that conversation. And when I think back on that conversation, I stand a little taller and remind myself that I made it happen. I am a writer, just as I said I would be.
I graduated in 2010 with a Masters in Creative Writing. And again in 2014 with a Post-Graduate Certificate in Education. I hope to get a doctorate one day. And all this from a girl who almost dropped out six months in because of the voices in her head telling her she wasn’t clever enough.
Don’t ever give up.