Review 2006

hayleys-comet asks:
What are you most afraid of and why? What have you done to overcome your fears?

I met Anna Ford yesterday.

It's graduation day and I'm sat in the Whitworth Hall at Manchester University, a giant medieval-style hall with a wood carved ceiling, with my two other remaining course mates. I'm looking through the order of service booklet and notice that the presiding officer will be Anna Ford. I wonder if it'll be the Anna Ford and I'm rather excited - perhaps in a weird way - more than getting the certificate. I'm very nervous for reason I can't quite work out - all I'll be doing is walking up onto the low stage, shaking a hand and processing through the central aisle back to my seat.

Earlier I'd gone to the gown and hat fitting and spoke to the nice lady who made sure that everything was in the right place. I think I said something like: 'I didn't think this would happen. I remember seeing last year's students in the robes and thought it would never happen' and she had said 'Well you are. And its an MA and you will have worked really hard for it.'

Briefly I'd felt the weight of that work on my shoulders, the tired nights, the academic frustrations, tinged with a nostalgia I'd voice later to my tutor that I was actually missing it, which I am. I'd do another degree in a heartbeat. The fitter had probably said the same thing to everyone who walked up to her, but it was exactly what I needed to hear. She mentioned that her own kids would be going through the process to and I suggested that she'd be going to a few graduations herself. 'I hope so.' She smiled.

The mace is brought into the hall and the opening procession begins and as the Phd's pass by and the dons it becomes apparent that actually yes, it is Anna Ford. Nationwide's Anna Ford. She was shorter than I'd expected in the way that famous people usually are. I'd seen Coronation Street's Susie Blake earlier in the day fussing over biscuits in Marks & Spencers at Lime Street Station but she seemed quite tall. Why is it that people always fixate on these things? Just me?

The ceremony begins soon and Anna Ford gives the address in which she talks about our achievement, and says that we'll be Manchester University students for the rest of our lives before listing all of the awards the institution has won lately. Again, I think, as I always do -- I went here? Apparently my Dad, who was sitting with my Mum at the back of the hall got quite emotional at this bit which is not like him.

The students begin to process up for their handshake and certificate. As I watch, it was almost like watching my year pass by as I realise how many people I'd actually met over the year. I might not have become great friends with any or all of them it also demonstrated that I wasn't really as insular as I thought. Somewhere clapped more than others (as you'd expect) and some reacted to the honour more than others - after the shake he stepped forward and clenched his fist as though he'd scored a goal.

Then it was our turn. We stepped up into queue. Someone checked I was in the right place by asking my name and the nice fitter lady from earlier in the day made sure that my gown was still on properly. Between times I'd been to pick up my dissertation - I agreed with all of the comments even the negative ones - and got my picture taken. At the studio, the photographers had noticed my Liverpool accent and asked me which team I support. Even though I said Everton but that I knew nothing about Football, they still asked me who'd scored some goal in some year in some championship. Blank-blank-blank-eff-blank-eee. Nope, sorry.

I'm at the bottom of the stair now looking up at Anna Ford. Mentally I keep staying: 'Don't trip up, don't trip up, don't trip up.' The announcer said: 'And in Screen Studies, graduating with a merit ? Stuart Ian Burns' I walked forward and didn't trip on the stairs, kept my stride pattern and put out my hand.

Anna Ford said something. I think it was 'Well done'.
'Very pleased to meet you.' I replied and grinned. She returned the grin then looked off towards my course mate Geraldine who was next up.

I turned and faced the audience. Whether it was the clapping or the fact that the announcer sounded like he'd just confirmed that I was the Heavy Weight Champion of the World, but I began to wave. Then stopped. So it was a half wave. I was handed my certificate and that was that.

Mum and Dad went home and I went to the reception for a drink with my course mate Marie-Anna and her family. My tutor, David, found us and said lots of nice things and agreed with me on my disappointment with Pan's Labyrinth. Once the party was over we talked for another hour about my dissertation and Torchwood and Doctor Who and agreed to stay in touch.

On the train home I ate a cheese, bacon and tomato baguette and somewhere in there I began to finally feel like a graduate. It seemed right to be on the Manchester train home again, just as I had after all those days of study for all those weeks. As the end of the journey, I must have been showing the tiredness of the day as I stood up because a fellow passenger said.
'Nearly home.'
I nodded.
'Where did you come from?'
'Manchester,' I said, 'But I graduated today. It's been a long day.'
'What did you study?'
'Screen Studies.'
I looked at his table. There was a brochure for Newcastle University there.
'You going to Newcastle?'
'Hoping to.'
'Was it the open day today?'
'The uni - I saw the polytechnic when I was applying...'
'The uni.' He grinned.
'Did you get that feeling as you were walking around of "This feels right, I want to be here."'
He nodded his eyes lit up.
The train stopped.
'Well good luck.' I said.
And I walked away.

The thing I was really, truly most afraid of was not graduating. I overcame my fear by graduating.

And meeting Anna Ford.

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