On the 16th July 2014, I graduated with First Class Honours in the Classical Studies from Royal Holloway, University of London. Apparently it was supposed to be one of the proudest moments of my life, and yet I wasn’t boiling with pride. More a lukewarm temperament, and here’s why…
I vividly remember the day of my A-level results; a friend of mine managed to get onto UCAS Track whilst the normal route was down, and so by 6am I knew I’d gotten into University. I squealed and ran into my Parent’s bedroom in tears, got dressed, and made my way to college to find out my actual results. I managed to score an A in every single module, bar one; for my Drama & Theatre Studies exam I got an unexpected D (which irks me to this day). Nevertheless, I felt so proud. I started college predicted D-C grades based on my GCSEs, and I remember my Classical Civilisation teacher telling me at parents evening I could get a B if I really tried. I felt proud not only because I’d done pretty darn well, but also because I’d proven myself as academically able. 2 months later I’d be diagnosed as Dyslexic, and I try not to think about what I could have achieved had I been diagnosed sooner!
And so I was off to Royal Holloway to study the Greeks and Romans for three years. I fell in love with Classics sometime after Christmas in my first year of college; I wanted to become Dr. Megan Wright and pursue a career making documentaries, following my idol Bettany Hughes. This was a naive dream that in hindsight was never going to happen. Just a few months in I realised I neither enjoyed writing essays enough to ever attempt a PHD, and nor did I study at Oxbridge… I swiftly went back to thinking Teaching was the career for me, and this was not the only revelation. After the RHUL Senior Management team threatened to shut down RHUL’s beloved Classics Department, I also found myself mixing with the Left leaning circles and getting irate over student politics and the Tory government. To think that before I educated myself I identified as centre-right makes me blush. That year I went on to star in one university play, camp out in one occupation, attend one protest, found one society, fail one module, and interrail around Western Europe.
My second year was blue as I realised I didn’t seem to love where I was as much as everyone around me appeared to, and at one point I was seriously contemplating dropping out…. My department was spectacular and I’ve never regretted choosing them, but the Public School atmosphere of Royal Holloway was not my cup of tea, and it was particularly intense in the department that taught Latin and Ancient Greek. I just wasn’t feeling inspired; reading for essays was laborious, and writing them was torture. I slipped into a bad habit of leaving every single essay until the night before its deadline, bashing it out in under 24 hours and most likely cutting some years off my life as a result. I never did bad enough to teach myself a lesson, and yet when I did really well I felt numb about the result. A glimmer of hope came in the form of my Second Year Project, an independent research project whereby we had to adapt an Ancient Greek Play into anything other than a Play. I wrote a blue print and story line for Tragoedia the Video Game, an adaptation of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex. It felt therapeutic to be drawing again, but I also loved thinking practically and creatively about something. My lecturer looked confused when I told him my plan – I’m no gamer and I think he knew well that was the case, which made it all the more satisfying to pull it off. It is to date the coursework I am most proud of from my degree.
My second year exams were a very odd experience. Usually before an exam I would be terribly anxious and my heart would be pounding, and I tended to tap into this adrenaline and use it to fuel ridiculously speedy writing of every thought I had in my head. But I felt nothing, no nerves, no anxiety, and no stress, nada bing nada boom. I sat in the exams, sighed at the questioned, and wrote whatever came to mind. At the end of the day, I just didn’t care. I still averaged a First (just), but given the effort I’d put in it didn’t feel very satisfying. This apathy made me feel very uneasy about what to expect from my third year.
Fortunately my trip to Peru indirectly and unexpectedly solved whatever the heck was up with me. I still wasn’t head over heals in love with my degree, but I got an urge to get working again. I wanted a first, and I made that clear from the beginning by starting an essay a whole 2 weeks early! But, alas, those essays got low 2:1s. I got all melodramatic for a bit, but after a meeting with one of my lecturers I was back on track racing for the big numero 1. I also felt an odd sensation of passion about the topic of Ethnicity in the Hellenistic East and a little place called Ai Khanoum. I loved my dissertation, and became unhealthy obsessed with the topic, putting it above all my other subjects. Going to the Hellenic Institute and The British Library for research felt like mini holidays, and I genuinely enjoyed reading up on how a Corinthian column might affects ones ethnic identity, and how conflicts and imperialism infiltrated Classical scholarship. Unfortunately I got a bit carried away, and when it came to trying to fit all this research in I was totally overwhelmed and simply could not do it justice. I knew when I handed it in it wasn’t what I wanted it to be, but I know I tried my best. Apart from that I also found myself getting excited writing about a gentleman called Pliny, and a philosopher called Lucretius.
AND IN THE END yeah, I did alright. The day I found out I’d got a first I ran outside crying and gave my younger brother the fright of his life, and from then until I got my results I was gleaming with pride. But then I found out I didn’t actually get a First (as in 70%) I got 68.75% but was awarded with a First Class Degree. I have absolutely no idea why I got that honour but others in the same position did not; I’ve heard on the grape vine that there is a meeting every year where you’re put in the ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ pile regarding being bumped up or not. I know it’s ridiculous, and I am very appreciative of whomever argued my case and I suppose I should feel proud of the fact that I had that impression on someone, but I feel oddly guilty. Is there a quota? And was I chosen over someone else because I’m dyslexic, or was it down to my overall good attendance?
Perhaps I’m being silly and I should just rave about it, but then I’ve always had a problem with people who feel proud of things that are handed to them, and I guess the bottom line is I don’t feel I earned a First if my transcript did not average a First… Shucks, what a hard life I live! I’ll quit moaning now.