On the first day of school – whether that’s primary, secondary or sixth-form – everyone begins with a blank canvas. We are all lined shoulder to shoulder on the starting line: some geared to go, heels poised upwards, ready to sprint off; others listlessly kicking the ground around them wondering when home-time is. Many situate themselves somewhere in between, full of apprehensions of being disliked or outed as a freak for the entirety of their schooling. 

After the whistle is blown, the socio-economic factors that dispose us to a fast acceleration or the opposite are manifold, yet in this present moment, irrelevant. We all start on the same line, each in our own lane. You begin the preliminary stages of education with ideas about who you want to be, how you’re going to carry yourself and what you want to do. Only time will tell if these dreams become realities. But on that very first day, in many senses, everyone is equal; it’s all to play for. 

On the very last day of college, the end of my compulsory education, I felt exactly the same. Although I had made ample friends and learned from a variety of sculpting experiences, I felt slightly empty, as if the mission wasn’t complete due to the abrupt intrusion of COVID-19. Suddenly isolated and pondering on my University journey ahead, with the blanket of my familiar sixth-form environment and friends mercilessly snatched off me as if Corona was the meanest nanny ever, I once again was quickly aware that I was approaching a new starting line.

Over the last few days, I’ve been practically and mentally preparing myself for the new journey ahead: buying supplies, clothes, kitchenware, bedding and such like. I’ve engaged with my university’s emails. I’ve considered what societies I’m going to join. I am somewhere on the brink between nostalgia and anticipation, slightly sickened as well as exhilarated. It’s an exciting time, despite being the end of an era. There is every opportunity out there for me to excel. My eyes are on the prize.

This year in particular has taught me that there’s a microscopic line between finessing and floundering. Where I’m from, finessing can mean stealing, committing fraud, or skillfully curling a football into either of the goal’s upper corners (Top Bins!). But personally, I think finessing means moving with seemingly effortless elegance as you rise above your challenges. Everyone wants to be that person, but there is a clear distinction between effortlessness and a lack of effort. Effortlessness is the privilege of facade, earned only by efficient repetitious practice, ensuring you arrive at your destination in style, you’re prepared for that job interview and you look good while doing it. In stark contrast, the latter guarantees you’re late to your slot, you don’t secure that job placement and you’re now probably sweaty after running for the bus. Mr or Ms Cutie in the seat behind you is now grimacing at the stench of your B.O. Nice work, loser. 

I hear recurring hisses through the grape-vines that University, unfortunately, can be tough. Balancing money, work, fun and feeding yourself brings foggy images of clowns and spinning plates to mind. Students more or less face the same challenges, depending on individual financial and social situations, and some people tackle these issues better than others. How I deal with them is yet to be seen, but I do trust myself to a sufficient degree. I like to think I am not a clown. I like to think I will finesse and not flounder.

My mentor at sixth form always tried to encapsulate my typical teenage trepidations into an analogy of rain water. In captivating Attenborough-like style, he’d describe how it would fall from the sky, first apprehensive in it’s mid-air liminality, to then eventually join rivers, others meandering into meadows, others being consumed and so on. The range of possibility for each droplet is vast. Eventually, everything finds its way. I always thought to myself that poetic as this may be, water tends to move in bodies, taking part in the perpetual game of follow-the-leader all elements of this earth seem to be bound to. Also rain drops don’t have brains. I never said this to his face though, I didn’t want to rain on his parade (haha).His analogy did stay with me though, and at this impasse I find myself at it’s been circling my mind more than ever. I wonder every day what my path will be, and how much control I truly have over deciding. I imagine I’m now part of a tributary, approaching the mouth of a new river. I want my new chapter to commence. More than anything I’m just excited to leave my parent’s house and meet other young people. New people. I’m still unsure about how freeing this experience will be due to tighter restrictions on gatherings; many of the freshers’ events at my university will be held online. I don’t want to attend a fresher’s event online. You can’t kiss a girl online.

Written by Xaymaca Awoyungbo

Edited by Declan Agrippa

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