Across the Pond: A Valediction

When I was graduating high school a lot of very well meaning adults said to me some variation on the following: “College will be the best four years of your life.”

It was with that expectation that I started at Columbia. I was skeptical, to be sure — is college really that different from everything that came before? — but I was ready to be convinced.

I was not.

Please don’t mistake me. There are a lot of things I liked, even loved, about Columbia. It provided the capstone to my years at Brearley, putting the polish on the rock-solid educational foundation I have been so privileged to receive. The Core Curriculum is a beautiful, beautiful thing — without it I might never have read Crime and Punishment or Plato’s Symposium, never studied the works of Mozart and Michelangelo, never immersed myself in the works that make up the underpinning of Western culture and society. And then there was my department, my wonderful fellow primates of EBHS, who became like my second family. I value equally our passionate debates on the humanity of Neandertals and your snarky comments on Bad Movie Night. I had wonderful experiences at Columbia, made wonderful friends. But the best years of my life? I disagreed. I still do.

But now — ah, now I understand what they meant when they said it, because this year at Cambridge has been the best year of my life.

It won’t stay that way. I look forward to many “better” years in my future; life is about growing and changing, and there’s no value in the stagnation required to believe your best is thirty years behind you. But I will always remember this year as special — it is, and always will be, a hugely pivotal moment in my life.

For that, I want to thank you, Cambridge. I want to thank your academics for their passion, your students for their drive, your buildings steeped in history for the way they evoke in me such a desire to know more.  And Pembroke, I will always remember your courts fondly, in particular the beautiful and badly insulated New Court.

But it’s the people who have truly made this year special: My fellow BioAnth MPhils, braving the wilds of a brilliant-but-scatterbrained department to produce exceptional works of academic achievement (I’m so proud); The greater Pembroke GP community, who welcomed me and the other freshers from the very first day — I shall miss you all terribly;  New Court United, the best staircase neighbors a girl could have.

And my friends.

From 8:10 breakfast to Mill Pond picnics to late nights playing Cards Against Humanity, you have lightened my days (and possibly corrupted my soul). Either way, I am forever changed by knowing you. Thank you for listening me prattle on about my writing, or indulging my love of cows; I’ll treasure that book forever, you know. Thank you, too, for the heavier stuff — turns out being twenty-three and far from home can be pretty tough sometimes. I appreciated the shoulders to cry on.

You’ve taught me so much, from the ridiculous (did you know that Edinburgh Castle is built on the basalt core of an extinct volcano?) to the profound — how to listen, how to be compassionate, how to be brilliant and fierce and confident even in the face of uncertainty. I know you will all go on to do amazing things.

It’s time for me to go home now. I don’t know exactly where the next years will take me, what new obstacles life will put in my way. I don’t know when I’ll see you (England, Cambridge, Pembroke, my dear friends) again. Honestly, that scares me a little.

But I know I’ll be okay — “’cause through it all, she offers me protection, a lot of love and affection, whether I’m right or wrong”. And wherever life does take me, I’ll remember this year at Pembroke with equal love and affection, and treasure it always.


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