Thank You Cambridge, But I'm Not Sorry

04/08/2015 16:30 BST | Updated 31/07/2016 10:59 BST

I left Cambridge a tired but happy little bunny rabbit, visibly weathered in many ways but also eager to explore everything life could throw at me. Three years was a lifetime of emotions and identity-politics and existential crises climaxing in a forgettable week of exams and an unforgettable week of parties. On the end of that, my final farewell felt like a badly integrated conclusion - a jolty-paced wind-down and then a panic rush to get all my stuff in the car before midday. That departure never really felt like closure, which I guess sounds bad, but on reflection I actually think was amazing, stretching my library out into the world instead of telling me 'The End'.

One thing that's important to say is how grateful I am to Cambridge. My time at University has done wonders for me that I am endlessly grateful for: the education I received has without a shadow of a doubt completely changed my life, and many things I learnt from people I met and experiences I had while at University have had an intractable impact on my being.

It is also absolutely necessary for me to acknowledge that my University has given me a not insignificant head-start simply through its name. Half the board of directors of every major company in this country will now believe they can relate to me simply because I went to one of the same 800 year-old universities as them. International executives will skim my CV and settle on the education section, placing me in the YES pile simply because of a particular word beginning with 'C' ending in 'E' and with 'ambridg' inbetween. These are privileges I have now and the very very least I can do is recognise them. But I also think I should question them. Afterall it would be a failing of my very education if I did not.


One of the biggest draws of Oxford and Cambridge is the supervision system, a program which allows students to pursue detailed one-to-one or two-to-one discussions with leading academics in their field. In my opinion this personalism is one of a few things that could arguably set some Oxbridge degrees apart from courses elsewhere in the country.

While it's a necessarily symbiotic process, I think I learnt an incredible amount more from these one-hour conversations than I ever did from burying my head in books in the library. Those books might have contained all the ideas ever written up to now, but supervisions were about getting you to think for yourself. My best supervisors strived to make me think about the way I think, to criticise those 'old bearded white men', to criticise themselves, to really think about things instead of accepting the status quo.

With that in mind, I think I can say with some confidence any good teacher would be delighted with a student who criticised them because it shows they had really engaged with their subject. The best teachers would be abjectly disappointed if you nodded your way through a supervision - that's not what real engagement looks like. As a student of anthropology more specifically, I think it would almost be a personal failing not to be able to comment on the social and cultural forces at play in an establishment I lived in for three years.

Maybe this isn't even relevant though. As anyone who works at Oxford or Cambridge will know, the educational departments of the university are only very loosely associated with the social and administrative side organised through the colleges. That one (a world-class education) is inevitably associated with the other (a culture of detached excess and privilege) is a lamentation I know I share with not just a few Oxbridge academics.

Calling out my University isn't ungratefulness, it's criticality. It's the same criticality that meant after agonising for months over whether or not to write an article criticising parts of Cambridge's culture I decided I should. It's the same criticality that allowed me to brush off the ad hominem vitriol I received in reaction. It's the same criticality that means I will continue to check my privilege on a daily basis and always try and use it to level the field. And to the University I owe that criticality.

So thank you Cambridge, honestly. Thank you to my amazing lecturers and supervisors for their academic and pastoral care. Thank you to my classmates and friends, to everyone who provided me with unbelievable opportunities and unabatedly inspired me over three years. Thank you for teaching me to think for myself, to be able to use my experiences to form coherent opinions and to share those opinions with others. Thank you for opening my eyes. For making me question everything from the most mundane set of cutlery to the very room I sat my exams in. Thank you for providing me with the skills and knowledge to turn around and question the very sanctity of the establishment that trained me.

For that I am forever grateful. And so when I speak out I hope it is not interpreted as ingratitude but rather a reflection of your success.