It’s October 8th and I’m sat in a chapel. It’s been there for longer than my hometown has existed, and in that time the events that follow have happened over and over again. Through the chapel’s stained glass windows, the sunset breaks yellow, gold and red. I’m caught in the glow of the first night of the rest of my life, and the final night of the life that’s been.
They call my name. Now it’s my turn.
I write this blog post in retrospect, from the end of my Fresher’s Week at Oxford University’s Merton College. It’s been a wild week of high emotions, library inductions, reading lists and friendship. There’s also been some fantastic food. Perhaps the most striking, and recurrent, theme of the week, however, has been the constant disbelief at my surroundings.
I mean, it’s Oxford.
For the first few days, I found myself constantly in awe of the world around me, just on merit of its existence. “It’s so Oxford,” was a phrase that tumbled freely from my (and my friends’) lips. When we had venison sausages for lunch, or noticed the countless gargoyles adorning every wall, or ended the first night casually discussing semiotics, or found ourselves bustling through crowds of tourists who viewed us as much as artefacts as the buildings… “It’s so Oxford.”
It can be overwhelming. In comparison to anywhere, Oxford is another world but particularly in comparison to Blackpool (which came into prominence as a seaside resort at the same time Merton celebrated its four hundredth anniversary), it begins to feel all a bit too much. We had a champagne reception as a casual welcome, and tea on the second night had a black tie dress code, for crying aloud!
It becomes natural to feel displaced amongst the architecture and traditions, lost amongst the history of every paving slab and doorway. The steps up to the Junior Common Room became a fascination to me. They’re so eroded by countless generations of trodding students; to stop and consider that I’m one of them now is bizarre and alien and mildly terrifying: what if they find out that I’m not on the same level as all the others?
To answer that question, we must return to October 8th, where I find myself in black tie and sat in the chapel, waiting for the College Admissions Ceremony to begin. The bells are ringing like a Hammer Horror film, and a silence has fallen over us. Professor Irene Tracy, Merton’s warden, described this event as a somber occasion, but necessarily so as it was a serious occasion. It’s the night that the eponymous change takes place, where we go from being applicants to Mertonians in virtue of name.
It’s done simply- we’re called forth by the Master of the College, he introduces us to the Warden, she shakes our hand and says, “I formally admit you to Merton College,” and then you sign a book that holds the names of the countless hundreds who’ve gone before. And then it’s done, you’re transformed. You step out of the chapel as a new person. The Ontological Change is complete.
Except, as I’m sure you can imagine, it’s not as easy as that. The imposter syndrome still exists, the disbelief at the world around us continues on, but as I sit here and type this now I find that the feeling is welcome. It’s needed. Amongst these dreaming spires, it’s very easy to find oneself floating off- the disbelief keeps us grounded.
The truth of the matter is that I belong here, as much as anyone else who has signed that book. I’m another Mertonian in a long, long line, another foot eroding the steps, and as I race around Oxford from an anthropology tutorial to a classical library induction, or as I find that my ID card opens the doors of the greatest libraries in the world (and more importantly that no one kicks me out as I trail their halls in awe), I realise that it’s meant to be overwhelming, but you soon get used to it.
As a pen click brings the ontological change, a moment’s click brings the mental transformation. It’s weird and wonderful and brilliant here, but you very quickly stop doubting you belong.
Oh my God, this is ridiculously beautiful. I could almost feel how overwhelmed you were through the description, almost suffocating to be immersed so deeply. But as the text got lighter so did my chest. You DO belong there, and this gorgeous post proves that.