Here's Some Good Advice for the Graduating Class of 2020July 31, 2020
This is not the time for final-year students to celebrate. Yet. Coursework is not over, but the winter - and pandemic - should make them aware that this uncertain period is a chance to reflect on what a year that is.
If you happen to be one of those students who have been living in flats, then you have been aware of that delight of living at home. It is really worth going away because it's so lovely coming back, but such thought seems ancient nowadays. You're thinking about home very much. You're probably one of those few remarkable teenagers who have been unaware of how barging around could baffle anyone. (Your father was a travelling salesman, so you caught the moving bug early. Your mother and her family often looked forward to their annual summer holiday, so transience was normal to them.) The lockdown gave you lots of time to ruminate on certain things, though. All things Australian drew upon a rub between an inherited European or Aboriginal village past (where you have to stay home) and the magnetism of a vast (Australian) continent where you were supposed to hit the road in the near future. Moving is not unusual, but you've been moving around your room - and other parts of your home - these last few months. You're supposed to be planning your celebration with your family, and coursemates, but you have to settle with a virtual celebration. And you could imagine your well-deserved holiday afterward.
You imagined the Outback, somewhere not far from Alice Springs, and a tourist would whistle "Sentimental Journey" (to the surprise of locals and visitors). You read "Mary Poppins" one more time, not getting enough of that chapter where Mrs. Banks and her children, Jane and Michael, came to St. Paul's Cathedral. The dome looked intimidating in "Mortal Engines", but it was the home of the Bird Woman. You could hear her saying "Feed the Birds, Tuppence a Bag!" in a high chanting voice that made you mistaken Sir Christopher Wren's Cathedral for the Opera House. You have been imagining far too long, curious about the Oslo fjord that Roald Dahl and his family visited every summer. You may have been to Milford Sound, where a boat would sail through water hugged by breathtaking mountains. It may be different from the tiny islands that the younger Dahl vividly described in his books, some with small brightly painted wooden houses on them, but many with not a house or a tree on the bare rocks. The rocks go straight down to the water's edge - and the water is immediately deep. It doesn't imply that the locals all learned to swim at a very young age. (And you looked for the nearest life vest.) The feeling is magical, though. It may be missing these last few months, which isn't really bad (as you suspect). You realise that everyone needs to move around, but the risk of venturing out might not be worth it. (In this regard, the concept of bourgeois existence, which the resourceful Dutch perfected along the way, didn't appeal to you.) As Albert Camus would say (in "The Plague"), you rather think of how to make a difference in your community. And you must look forward to the near future.
5 Things to Assure You That It Would Be Fine
There's something to look forward to next year. Your prospects may not be promising, as recession follows the pandemic. You also don't like the idea of wearing a face mask during working hours. You've been yearning for a deserted beach, which became the new normal a few months ago. Nothing wrong about the sight of ten more bathers (or more), but you must be clear about certain things. You saw Luchino Visconti's film about an artist searching for beauty during a plague. Australia is not Venice, and you don't need old landmarks to make you grateful for having a roof above your head. This is your chance to look for patience. You will also learn the virtue of resourcefulness. And you need your network more than ever. It should enable you to find a job before the end of summer. Not that higher education isn't a good option, but you're thinking of having something to set aside. You don't know when this recession will end.
Imagine how it might be. John and Barbara's story (in "Mary Poppins") would tempt you to ask your mother if she recalled your peculiar reaction to the sea. She may insist that you were no different from other toddlers, but you wondered how you would react to a sunlight's polite request to lengthen the gold shaft of sunlight in your room. There are many things that would make you bluer than blue, which you could see after a minute of meandering the Internet. Think about the books that delight you. (You wish for the gingerbread stars that Mrs. Corry and Mary Poppins would stick in the sky.) You're also thinking about Bad Tuesday when a small group of bandits would come out of the morning fog. They are looking for the vast treasure of Grimbeard the Ghastly, which is guarded by the Monstrous Strangulation. And you wish that Christmas is a few days away. (You rather shop along with Maia, one of the Pleiades.) Lift up your spirit. And do it often.
Remember Albert Camus's last words. You might not know the exact number of infected individuals in your neighbourhood, which shouldn't be a cause for concern. Ask your neighbours how their week has gone by. Ask your parents how they do. Ask your coursemates how remote learning turns out for them. Some responses may be different from what you expect, and you have the urge to react to it, but this is the best time to put your listening skills to good use. You have mastered it during those lecture hours, but it would be different with recorded lectures. You have another challenge to overcome.
Do you like birds? Jane and Michael knew that there were fussy and chatty gray doves like Grandmothers, and brown, rough-voiced pigeons like Uncles, and green, cackling, no-I've-no-money-today pigeons like Fathers, and silly, anxious, soft blue doves like Mothers. It's probably the most delightful chapter of P.L. Travers's classic, which you read more than once. It should make you pay attention t your window. You should keep it open all day, as you wait for a bird to drop by. Don't shoo the bird away if it wants to enter your room. As your favourite chapter (in "Mary Poppins") would tell, birds are more intelligent than you think. It's not a cue to venture out unless you have important business to do. It's rather a message and an important one: Keep yourself occupied, and strive to be happy. The latter may be more important.
Find out what motivates you. This is a challenging time, which may be more stressful than it seems. You might have to spend more time watching rugby games, if not force yourself to finish a task in a not-so-satisfying manner. It's better than not doing at all. If you think of it, this change of set-up would help you prepare for what lies ahead. Forget the good advice that you got from older students, and you might wonder if it's sensible to put to use what your tutor told you before the lockdown. There will be another time to think about such things, as the coursework is your priority. If you're having a problem with focusing, message your coursemates and/or tutor.
At Home, Yearning for the Old Normal
You may not be "home-hungry" like the authors you have studied last term, which may tempt you to plan a journey in the Outback. It might be a silly idea to drive through the vast, arid landscape, but thinking about it would be better than falling into the despair caused by the pandemic. If you think about it, you must figure out the symptoms of home. It should help you navigate through this distressing time. Have you considered letting your family and (old) mates read your essays? They won't be critical of your thoughts, so there's a good chance that they would enjoy it. And praise would lift up your spirits.
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