Oxford students are united by a shared moment of heart-stopping joy. For undergrads, it would have come some grey January day, and for postgrads at some stage in the months after. A shared moment of elation, celebration, pride: we’d been given an offer. We had got into Oxford. We had succeeded in earning our place in this institution, our right to walk the quads and lawns, to dress up in funny clothing, learn a new vocabulary and complain about the tremendous workload. From the moment our eyes read the words ‘we are delighted to inform you…’, we pictured our Oxford future, our moment of matriculation, the formal dinners we will eat, and the friends we will make. We pictured our graduation, a moment enshrined in the future as a celebration of all our hard work, donning the gowns, listening to the latin, proceeding through the Sheldonian in a ceremony unchanged for centuries.
Yet for this year’s finalists, our graduations may never happen. The University owe us a guarantee that if our graduations cannot take place this Summer, they will be rescheduled as a matter of priority. Finalists have already lost so much. It is not about the pompous ceremony, the clothing, or even the building, but about the lack of a finality to our ravaged year of disruption. Undergraduate finalists are losing not only the exams they have spent the best part of three years preparing for, but the moment of celebration at the end: the silly string, prosecco and jump into the river. They have been split from their friends and the city they have come to call home, with no chance of closure, or words by way of farewell.
Postgraduates, particularly those on 9-month courses, have scarcely been given the opportunity to settle in and build our roots in this city. Friendships, budding holiday itineraries, relationships and study plans have been cut short, with the predominantly international community fleeing to their corners of the globe, unsure of when, or if, they will next see their friends or the libraries, halls, and lawns of Oxford. We have not had the chance to say goodbye to anyone, to walk the libraries or gardens for one last time before our Bod cards expire, or to head to the pub to toast the blood, sweat, and tears that it takes to earn our Oxford degrees. We grieve for memories that will not be made, for end of year parties, for balls, for trips to bars or clubs, for getting chips from Solomon’s and soaking in the early morning summer air.
Graduations wouldn’t make those memories but they would provide the bookend and the certainty that all of us are so desperate to find: that no matter what happens between now and the Autumn, we will at some stage pass through the grand doors of the Sheldonian and collect our degrees, with some of our friends, our college or our course. It says to all finalists that our current state is temporary. Oxford will still be here; your friends will still be here for you when this is all over.
Simply cancelling the ceremonies and making finalists graduate in absentia cannot be an option, for it would leave us all even more lost than we are at the moment. Either way, it is crucial that the Vice Chancellor tells us what the University plans to do.
Graduations are not only about us, but also our families: the people who stood next to us when we opened that acceptance letter, whose love and support has sustained us through our degrees, whether they be 9 months or 7 years. Students deserve to have our hard work acknowledged, and to celebrate, properly, with our families. Of course, postponing graduations does not help students who will have returned to their home countries by the Autumn, but it is important that we are given the option. For many, an inability to come back to Oxford and finally and decisively closing that chapter of our lives would be devastatingly disorienting.
Finalists have lost so much, and there is much out of the hands of the University during these unprecedented times. But the University can guarantee that we will get to finally say goodbye to our cut-short time on this campus. It is the very least they can do.