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A graduation


Last week, somewhere around 4,000 students graduated from Warwick University. At the same time, I know a few people who are moving on from their current place of work to a different place of work when the new academic year starts. It so happens that I belong to both groups of people. After 4 years in a PhD programme, and 8 years at Warwick university, this period of my life is finally over, marked in pomp and circumstance in a ceremony where I got to wear a silly hat. (James, if you’re reading this, it’s a bonnet, not a beret)


It could feel like the end of an era. 8 years are, after all, a long time. But that feeling – like a new chapter was about to begin – happened last year, when I plunged into the real world and became a teacher. That’s when I was worried and upset about closing a chapter of my life – because that felt like losing part of my identity. If you’re at this stage, I can only recommend reading these three previous blog posts (given in chronological order):

  • A New Chapter – to state clearly that this is not the end of an era, not the loss of your identity, and that the change in the seasons of life is simply natural.
  • A life lost for a life gained – to nuance the bold statements of the previous post and point out the continuity in the traits of your identity.
  • Transitions – to round it all off and look firmly towards the future, towards the new chapter.

After three posts on the topic, you may wonder why I bother writing yet another one, or what more can be said about changes, but bear with me.

There is a stark difference between this graduation and what I felt – the fear of the unknown, of losing my identity etc. – when I actually moved. Beyond the hindsight that everything turned out for the best, I also realise something I hadn’t at that stage.

I have momentum.

That is to say, I am not stopping everything and starting something wholly different. I have practices, ways of living and ways of dealing with situations that I am inheriting from my degree.  More importantly, I have a direction. I have a fundamental feeling for where I’m going; that was nurtured in my years at Warwick and beyond.

This momentum is not decreasing, on the contrary. Even though I am changing schools come September, I am keeping the same direction. Yes, there may be obstacles that will slow down the implementation of this (getting to know the new staff, etc.) but they are not changing the direction in which I wish to go, nor my determination towards it.

In addition to momentum, I have rooting.

I am keeping in touch with people at Warwick. In doing so, I realise that some of the things that came naturally at Warwick were actually deliberate, if subconscious acts, that I can keep on doing wherever I go. This rooting fuels my momentum.

Sadly, I can’t keep in touch with everyone I have met, and I am missing a fair amount of people, including most of my students. But the memories I have of these people also remind me of both successes and failures, and keep me looking forward (cue song from Oz)

With both momentum and rooting, this graduation ceremony is neither the closing of a book, nor the opening of a new one. It is simply a gateway I went through: with speed that is essential to keep on going afterwards, with footprints left behind and with dust on my feet.

And so to all of you who graduate or are changing jobs or situations: it is also simply a gateway.

Now what?


Last week, a lot of my friends graduated. For some of them, this paves the way for more study – postgraduate or a completely new degree. For others, it is the final step before they settle in a new job. For others still, the future is unknown. For all, though, it is the culmination of three or four years (or in some rare cases, even more!) spent working towards the degree. Now that’s over, there is just cause for celebration and for congratulations: they (you!) have made it. Through hard work, sweat and allnighters, and in some cases, luck, they have obtained what they set out to do.


To some younger people, this moment will come in a few weeks, when they find out what university they got admitted to; or what grades they got for GCSE and A-Levels.

Whether you’ve just got through an interview, landed your dreamjob, put your first down payment on a house, or managed to finally finish reading this book you’ve been putting off for the past few years, there is a question you need to hear. That question is:

Now what?

When our focus has been on one single goal, we can be lost when we reach it. We end up doing one of two things:

1. We can think the hardest part is behind us and just start doing nothing. We lose purpose and allow ourselves to be lulled by the routine of the job/houseownership/studentship we worked so hard to obtain. After all, if we managed to get that, it means we’re clever enough for the rest to fall into our pocket without working. More importantly, there seems to be nothing more to strive for – at least for a while. That’s what I did in my third year of university, after I managed to get into the course I wanted to get into.
That’s what the disciples get doing between the Cross and Pentecost – yea, even after they witnessed the risen Christ, and the Ascension: they wait. This period of celebration (joyful worship!) and this break makes sense because they are waiting for the next step: it is expectant waiting, not simply dossing around.

2. We can be so glad that it’s over that we want to leave it all behind. The degree we spent three years on, after all, will not be useful, so we might as well forget about it: the job’s done and delivered and is no longer our problem. That’s sometimes the way I feel about my PhD: I want nothing to do with academia as soon as I have graduated. And while that’s fine, it’d be stupid to reject the experience and the knowledge I have acquired during the programme on the single basis that it was part of a PhD.

Both, in their own way, negate the work that was put into getting there. Both put an end to the momentum that was gained getting there. And both make the question “Now what?” particularly important and scary.

Success is no protection against this. Neither is acceptance of failure. Only the sustained willingness to keep on serving in whatever environment is.

So if you graduated last week, congratulations! Celebrate, enjoy a break and rest for a while – you most certainly have deserved it. But don’t leave your degree and what you’ve achieved just stay in the past: take them as an opportunity to serve.