Graduation Season (with apologies to Baz Luhrmann)

Submitted by Christopher R. Moore on Fri, 08/05/2022 - 16:12

I recently spent an evening with two friends and their Small Boy. We live at opposite ends of the country, so time spent in each other’s actual physical company is a rare treat. Small Boy has just turned two, and is more of a Medium Sized Boy these days. When I was a child, I used to hate it when adults told me how much I’d grown, but as an ageing millennial, it’s a phrase I find myself using more and more.


My friends are very enthusiastic parents – they gush about Small Boy’s progress in talking and walking, and do so with a warmth that seems to expand and fill the whole room. For them, every day is an adventure; one filled with terror and joy and worry and celebration and love and pride and a thousand other emotions before the first cup of coffee is even cold. As we spoke, Small Boy rocketed from toy cars to Noah’s Ark and back again, apparently very insistent that Lightning McQueen be saved from The Flood. ‘Go on,’ Small Boy’s Mother said, rolling a stray car in my direction, ‘go and play with Uncle Christopher.’


I froze. Privately, I had been dreading this moment. I held the toy car in my hands, then rolled it across the floor to Small Boy. I forgot to make the zooming noise, and when I realised this, I swore under my breath. Then I realised when I’d done and swore again. Small Boy looked at me with his enormous blue eyes, and I felt as though he could see straight through me. ‘I know you’re trying your best,’ he seemed to say, ‘but come on.’ I am not a paternal person, and at the age of 31, it does not seem likely that I’m going to become one.


Please do not take from this that I am a cold-hearted miser. Quite the opposite! I recently watched the livestream of one of Arden’s graduation ceremonies, and felt an enormous rush of pride for every student who stepped up to collect their degree. As an Academic Skills Tutor, many of the names were familiar to me from online workshops, and from the 1:1 drop-in sessions I run throughout the week. I raised my coffee/Virgin Mary (it was a long afternoon) and gave silent congratulations to each name as it was read out from the roll of honour. I may even have shed a tear. I cannot be sure, but I think this is akin to what my friends tell me it’s like to be a dad.


No such ceremony is complete without a speech congratulating and giving advice to the new graduates, and indeed this was no exception. Arden’s Vice Chancellor Carl Lygo – resplendent in robes of midnight blue – gave a moving speech that concluded with the old folk tale of the two wolves inside our hearts. ‘One wolf represents your doubts, your anxieties, your fears. The other represents hope, love, and light,’ he said. ‘Which one wins? The one you feed.’


I would like to wish the very best of luck to our new graduates. We hope that you look back on your time at Arden with fondness, and that your skills carry you to exciting and undiscovered places. As an Academic Skill Tutor, I specialise in the practicalities of academic life. So here is a list of practical advice from a practical academic.


  1. Buy clothes that fit.

The brand name in the collar of your shirt isn’t half as important as the way the shirt fits you. Rather than spending money on designer brands, spend some time trying on different sizes and getting a feel for the styles and cuts that work for you. Sometimes a plain white t-shirt is all you need.


  1. Back up your pictures

You will never wish you had fewer photos of yourself and your loved ones. Backup hard drives are cheap. Use them.


  1. Be brave with your bishops in chess

When used correctly, bishops can control the entire centre of the board without putting themselves in danger. Think of them like snipers – they just need a vantage point and a clear line of sight.


  1. Don’t try to wear tweed

It doesn’t say ‘Quiet Confidence.’ It says, ‘Sherlock Holmes Fancy Dress.’


  1. Pack more socks and underwear than you think you need

I don’t know why this is necessary, but it just is.


  1. Check your curtains before you get changed



  1. Be kind to animals

I don’t just mean pets. Bees come out of hibernation in spring, which means it is pretty common to seem them crawling gingerly across hot pavements in June. It only takes a moment to transfer them back to the shade and to safety. If you’re nervous about picking one up, use your wallet. In the summer, leave tupperwares of water on your windowsills for birds. Pigeons are friendly once you get to know them.


  1. Don’t smoke

You don’t need vices to be interesting.


  1. Keep a journal

Kierkergaard said that life must be lived forwards but can only be understood backwards. You can shorten the distance between the former and the latter by keeping a regular record of your thoughts and feelings. It’s much easier to spot patterns when your experiences are set down this way.


  1. Kindness counts.

(I hope) self-explanatory.