Today I graduated from University with my (first) degree. I wore orange to match my hood, and ankle boots that were just high enough to reach my goal of wearing heels to my graduation. I woke up early, straightened my hair, contoured my face, shaved my legs, and then donned the good ol’ traditional cap and gown. I wore my cap backwards for a good few hours, and my hood kept slipping off my non-existent little shoulders, but it is nice to feel like I have something to show for the three years of all-nighters I just pulled. I had my 10 seconds of fame on stage, my head was tapped by the vice-dean, I forgot to smile for my photograph, and at the end of the day I have a foiled certificate, a detailed copy of my academic record (yikes!), and a generic key-chain with the words “UP ALUMNI” stamped across it in what I’m pretty sure is Arial pt 12 font. Arial is the font I have to type all my essays in, so why they’d choose such a triggering layout is beyond me.
Apparently it was supposed to feel strange. The ceremony was about 6 months after my final exam, so it makes sense that it would be a reminder for some people of the compatriots, and the campus they have left behind. I decided to take my degree further by completing my Honours year. So for me graduation was less of a reminder of the blessed student life I used to have (because my life is STILL #blessed) and more of a nice day off from tutoring and studying, with the added bonus of having my immediate family focus all their attention on me.
The one thing graduation did for me though, is it made me reflect on how much growth I’ve experienced throughout my undergrad years.
If we look at the first blog post I wrote in my first month 1st year , I spend an awful lot of time discussing all the “strange” things that had happened to me in that month. These included:
- Singing Afrikaans karaoke (Don’t test me on Loslappie now: I KNOW THESE LYRICS)
- Meeting sneaky racists (Everyone in Pretoria is either a full blown racist, or totally against racism…there is no such thing as a “Sneaky Racist” in Pretoria)
- Being offered weed (Wow girl…you were LIVING)
- Being offered an electric toothbrush (First year Harriet was clearly sheltered and unaware of what all-nighters can do to a person. I am the one offering electric toothbrushes now. IT’S ME.)
I was 18, stupid, and completely mind-fucked by all the freedom I suddenly possessed. I thought drinking booze straight from the bottle was cool, that kissing strangers in sticky clubs was exciting (thank you Hook-up Gods for keeping all the venereal diseases away from me), and that I would never find another man like my high school boyfriend of two months (I still haven’t, and thank God).
At the end of that silly, silly blog post I sign off with a little “I have a tertiary education to attempt.” And wow, was that education attempted.
Despite the failed module towards the end of 2nd year, the 3 distinctions I managed to scrape up on the way, the countless calls home to my mother, panicking over the fact that I may have chosen the wrong thing to study, and the many, many, many all-nighters…the real education came in the form of life experiences.
I wish I could go back in time and meet January 2014 Harriet. I wish I could sit her on my lap, rock her back and forth, stroke her hair and tell her, “Holy shit kid, you’re just getting started. There’s a whole universe of people and experiences and happiness out there to take hold of. You’re going to come out of this new place, with its scary one-way streets, and its horrific neighbours, and its dingy bar bathrooms, and you are going to be glowing.”
I wish that I could pull her out the window of her ex-boyfriend’s commune. I wish that I could grab her by the hand and lead her to a different room in a different house, one with friendlier demons. I wish I could tell her not to fall in love with boys who can’t stand to live any closer than a twelve days walk away, and to stay away from Gin and Tonic and to love every wonderful, awkward part of herself. I want to tell her to keep her secrets to herself, because you never know whose tongues have been dipped in razor blades.
But if I told her all that, she would still think that Pretoria is the weirdest place in the world. And she would still think drinking out of a bottle is classy. And she would still cry whenever things get a little uncomfortable.
So I’m glad I got my undergrad. I’m glad I had so many strange nights, in this wonderful, fucked up city. I’m glad I met the people I ended up meeting, and I cut off the people I ended up cutting off, because today when I graduated, so did 1st year Harriet. And she’s so freaking proud of how she turned out.
My mother got me a graduation gift in the form of a bracelet. Along the outside, stamped in a font that is definitely not Arial pt 12, are the words “Don’t Panic”. Which just so happens to be my favourite quote from my favourite author, but it also sums up the first three years of my student life incredibly well.
Don’t panic. Don’t you dare panic. No doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. You are going to fucking glow.
You gotta do what you gotta do to get your degree, Boo.