Triumphant return to Cambridge

Degrees work strangely at Cambridge. I was approved for my M.Phil. in June, but I couldn’t actually graduate until October’s convocation. For most Americans, that would be kind of annoying, because it’s a long, expensive flight to England. But, of course, I didn’t move back to America, and it’s a short, cheap flight from Munich.

The Gates-Cambridge Scholars Alumni Reunion was the weekend before graduation, so I decided to attend that too and stay the week. It started with a presentation and workshop on foreign aid.

This is me concentrating really hard, definitely not me falling asleep because I had woken up at 5am for my flight.
This is me concentrating really hard, definitely not me falling asleep because I had woken up at 5am for my flight.

The most interesting and challenging part of the workshop was a role-playing activity where we had to negotiate aid amounts and distribution for a fictional, conflict-torn country. I was the UN official responsible for getting various NGOs, corporate interests, rebel groups, and government officials to agree to a plan. I determined that I am definitely not (yet) qualified for such a role in real life.

After some skill-sharing sessions and lots of food and alcohol, the first day of the reunion was over. We returned the next day for completely unserious activities: brunch and canoeing. We almost made it all the way to Granchester!

The week between the reunion and graduation was relaxing. I caught up with friends, worked on some papers, and enjoyed lots of food and drink. I begged current Gates-Cambridge Scholars to take me along to formal halls at colleges I hadn’t been to. My count is now 17 colleges (out of 31). I met fascinating people. At Wolfson, the woman seated across from me had run with (famous opera singer) Simon Keenlyside back in his Cambridge days. She claimed she didn’t even know he sang then.

Formal hall at Darwin College
Pre-formal hall drinks at Darwin College

Thursday evening was the Gates Gala—an annual party just for Gates-Cambridge Scholars and their guests. The theme this year was “haunted mansion.”

Anstey Hall, just before the start of the Gala
Anstey Hall, just before the start of the Gala

I didn’t take any pictures or wait in line for the official photographer—there was simply too much to do! I spent half the evening Ceilidh-dancing like crazy. The other half was split between eating crepes at the food truck, bouncing in the bouncy castle, playing laser tag in the portable arena, and losing absurd quantities of (fake) money in the casino. The party ended far too soon!

Friday, my focus shifted to more graduation-y things. I used my “Old Member” privileges to dine with the fellows at High Table in college. The young fellows tried to convince me to go into academia by pointing out how much free alcohol they were given. I stayed very sober, though, because I knew I had to wake up early for graduation. Saturday morning, I retrieved my robe and hood and walked to Corpus for rehearsal, then to the Senate House for the real thing.

If you’ve never attended a Cambridge graduation, it will be hard for me to make you understand how utterly bizarre the whole thing is. There are no inspiring speeches by prominent guests—just a lot of ritualistic Latin. The praelector of the college calls the candidates forward by degree (up to four at a time). We hold her fingers as she attests (still in Latin) to our academic achievements and moral character. Then our names are announced one at a time. We kneel before the Vice Chancellor of the university (who is seated on a throne-like chair) with our hand before us. He clasps our hands and admits us to the ranks of graduates (yup, still in Latin), at which point we stand, bow, and leave the Senate House.

I made it through the whole shebang without tripping over my gown, so I’m now officially a Master of Philosophy in European Literature and Culture!

On Saturday evening, I returned to my second home at Cambridge: the ADC Theatre. There, I saw Oedipus and Antigone, starring lots of friends who I’d performed with last year. It was very melodramatic. It occasionally overdid the pathos, but it was a nice change to see tragedy presented so earnestly and feelingly, with none of the cynicism I see so often in German directors’ approaches to classic tragedies.

I spent Sunday with my friend Emily and her family. In the evening, we met up with friends from college (who are still there as Ph.D. students) for a final, boozy formal hall.

We're bad at taking pictures, so this isn't us, just the hall
We’re bad at taking pictures, so this isn’t us, just the hall

Then the week was over, and it was time to return to Munich. As much as I’m loving my year in Germany, this trip made me realize how much I miss Cambridge. The temptation to return for a Ph.D. is growing strong… But first, I’ll be back in June for the week of wild and crazy parties misleadingly termed May Week. I can’t wait!

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