Class of 2020: Graduating From a Distance

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A common epithet to describe the coronavirus has been “the invisible enemy”. Not only does the use of the chosen adjective, ‘invisible’, hint at the nature of a biological threat, but it also perpetuates an understanding of the virus as an abstraction, this other-worldly description questions its reality.

King's Strand Campus, photo by Sarah Mir.

King’s Strand Campus, photo by Sarah Mir.

In a swift four and a half months, however, the ‘untouchable’ has touched many. What was once considered a distant threat has penetrated several borders, materialising for many here in the UK.

For me, it all began the week commencing March 16th. Emails swarmed my student inbox, putting an end to rumours circulating social media and friendship circles. All students at King’s College London, as well as many other universities across the country, were to undergo a transition to ‘online learning’, the final weeks of teaching to be terminated due to high risk of contracting the disease.

After processing the overwhelming amount of information delivered to us, realisation soon set in. What for myself and many other final year undergraduate students would be their last few weeks at university, suddenly slipped out of our hands. I went into my last year with the outlook that I would embrace it all – travelling at rush-hour to make a 9am, partaking in departmental projects, and merely stopping and taking in what had been my surroundings for the last three years.

The Maughan Library, photo by Sarah Mir.

The Maughan Library, photo by Sarah Mir.

Although at times a place associated with stress (due to academic pressures) and many sighs at the thought of having to make the hour-long commute, The Strand had acted as a sort of ‘second-home’. The Strand will always be a memorable space for me, where life-long bonds were formed, independence ensued and a whole lot of growth took place.

It’s a shame that a proper farewell to the vicinity was unable to take place, but I recognise that I write from a privileged position in a time of great uncertainty and turmoil for many. If these extraordinary circumstances have taught us anything, it would be that perspective is essential. My premature and anti-climactic ending (ironically rather climactic given the circumstances!) to student and university life is a mere speck in a collection of abrupt endings, both financially and sadly, to the lives of many loved ones.

As I continue to read and write for the final four essays that conclude my English Literature degree, I stumbled across a quote in South African novelist Alex La Guma’s In The Fog of the Seasons’ End (1972) that resonates with the peculiar situation we find ourselves in:

The Strand Campus, taken from Temple Place, Sarah Mir.

The Strand Campus, taken from Temple Place, Sarah Mir.

“On the morning of the big strike that the two men spoke about the light had taken a long time to come. It was as if time had become static and the earth lived through a night without change […] But the people knew Time, and in the Township lamps flicked into life like fairy lights. Here and there the lights came on behind shabby curtains […] The sky weighed down on the Township, dark and oppressive, but gradually the night surrendered and the dawn crawled in behind a thin mist like the smoke of war”

As “lockdown” continues, the days begin to merge into one – a sort of temporal stasis is occurring. Despite the global crisis ongoing, the lights of La Guma’s words, or the spring of real life, continue to blossom. As the night comes to a close, we find ourselves one day closer to this all being over.

And as for myself and The Strand, a loaned copy of Julia Ward Howe’s The Hermaphrodite, from the Maughan Library, resides on my desk – the vicinity still with me, even from afar.

6 Comments

  1. Avatar Nura on 17 April 2020 at 7:16 pm

    This is a well articulated, beautiful piece – as a final year kcl student, I can resonate so much with the experience.

    The Strand lives on.

    • Avatar Sarah Mir on 18 April 2020 at 2:12 pm

      Thank you so much, Nura! The Strand most definitely lives on – we have to go back!

  2. Avatar Ridah on 17 April 2020 at 7:53 pm

    You captured this whole shambles epically! Love it 😉

    • Avatar Sarah Mir on 18 April 2020 at 2:13 pm

      Thank you so much, Ridah! A shambles indeed, but we’ll get through it!

  3. Avatar Laurie Wiegler on 22 April 2020 at 3:53 pm

    Oh Sarah, I’m tearing up. This is beautiful, sad and haunting. I graduated with my M.A. in Eighteenth-Century Studies Jan. 14, 2019 but had my own studies interrupted by a teacher’s strike (one month, but which I did support), a lost laptop (Mac Air), flooded storage locker, and then the unexpected death of my mother, my best friend. Given all of that, though, I recognize how LUCKY I was to have Maughan (especially the tower) where I could go and research and later, frankly grieve, as I completed my dissertation. I am sorry this is such a hard time for the graduating students. From the looks of things, though, it’s grist for your mill. Congratulations.

    • Avatar Sarah Mir on 24 April 2020 at 12:16 pm

      Thank you so much for this truly heart-warming comment, Laurie. You’ve articulated my feelings about this all perfectly. My condolences for the loss of your mother, I can’t imagine how tough it must’ve been for you to complete your M.A. in such testing circumstances – life really does throw curveballs your way when you least expect it. Having my writing move you means a lot, I hope it resonating is of some comfort to you, as your comment is to me. Thank you 🙂

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