Their eyes met across … fuck it, this is the last fiftyshadesofsoas post, let’s change it up a bit.
It had been a long three years. Three years of reading impenetrable feminist articles, of confusing essays on confusing ideas, of exams and exam fuck-ups. Three years of social growth, from awkward Dinwiddy interactions, via painful flatshares and deliberate angry solitude, to a superficial but convincing relaxed self-confidence (as a fresher, the final years always seemed so collected, so adult; now, as a final year, one realises that adulthood is simply learning how better to conceal one’s self-doubt). Three years of sex, once or twice indescribably brilliant, but more often only disappointingly fulfilled or frustratingly imaginary (every face was an unfinished story, a potential love affair not embarked upon, an intimate narrative never discovered, and in all likelihood, never to be discovered). Three years of small projects and small victories, of minor setbacks and minor interests, of defined development within a specific space. Three years which couldn’t be condensed into anything so short as a paragraph, let alone a simple response, three years which defied accurate description or emotional categorisation (Oh, you went to SOAS? How was it?/Yeah, it was good, very interesting place./Cool.). Three years, in essence, of SOAS.
It was now Graduation Day, the culmination of those three years. Hundreds of people were milling around outside: parents adjusting mortar boards, smiling proudly despite their children’s protestations that it “wasn’t really a big thing”; students fiddling with neckties, unaccustomed to wearing them; camera flashes, awkward poses, shouts of fuck yeah, graduation! and fuck’s sake why is this starting so late and fuck, where’s the tickets, where’s the fucking tickets.
The doors opened, and everybody slowly poured in. Before they even sat down, they were hot; the combination of itchy polyester gowns over ill-fitting smart clothes, a crowded stuffy room, and apprehension was an uncomfortable one. Time passed, and nothing happened. The old joke about SOAS preparing you for the third world with poor timing and poor air conditioning was brought out. Small talk was attempted, by parents with parents, by students sitting next to their alphabetical neighbours. The occasional mass silence fell, bringing as it always does nervous giggles and well-this-is-awkwards.
Finally, the music started, and overran. Academics in brightly-coloured gowns tiptoed onto the stage like over-educated birds of paradise. Speeches were made, and overran. The first student was called to the stage, to warm and enthusiastic applause; soon enough, the interminable procession sparked applause from parents and friends only. One or two felt the need to put their own individual mark on the walk-shake-walk; one dickhead tried moonwalking, another fist-bumped the man handing out the degrees, and the biggest twat of all pulled the Usain Bolt gesture on stage. It was lost on them that a degree is in itself an individual experience, that everybody in this room had had their own personal account of three years at SOAS, that this was merely a collection of hundreds of individuals who were already individually defined; it was lost on them that, by attempting to stamp their own individuality on the proceedings, it merely suggested that their experience had been anonymously run-of-the-mill.
And then, towards the end of the ceremony, something happened. Perhaps it was the interminable heat, perhaps it was the interminable speeches, perhaps it was the terror of walking away and leaving SOAS forever, but two onlyjustgraduates had begun wildly making out in their seats (no doubt their eyes had met across this crowded room). Oblivious to, or maybe even enjoying, everybody’s attention, they intertwined legs, they ran their hands over and across and under their gowns, they discarded their mortar boards. Somebody whooped; several giggled.
Suddenly, the band had started up again, and the couple’s movements synchronised to the beat of the samba drums, their bodies twisted to the strains of the sitars. And they were no longer the only ones. The room was filled with couples, threes, even fours, fucking and fondling and frigging and fingering and fornicating with reckless abandon and wild delight. On stage, the bright stripy gowns, no doubt emblematic of the dignity and prestige of various serious intellectual institutions, had been discarded; they formed a technicolour carpet on which the lecturers covered themselves in each other. Different faculties, so often at loggerheads over funding, quite literally came together. The scene was wilder still in the audience. Parents, united through pride, rekindled the spirit that saw the graduates’ conceptions; jackets were thrown off, hairstyles meticulously coiffed for the occasion were joyously ruffled, pompous national dress of all varieties lay littered about the floor, quite forgotten. The graduates had formed a heaving mass of limbs and bodies. The showman who had performed the lighting bolt pose was now performing with his own relay baton with equal flamboyance. A hijabi girl, who had refused to shake the hand of the man giving out the degrees, was now shaking somebody else’s sixth pillar of jizz-lam. A Jewish guy had removed his skullcap, and the girl he was going down on was wailing louder than Jerusalem’s famous wall. The students of Japanese, Chinese, and Arabic had finally stopped their stultifying debate over which language was the most difficult to learn, and were happily communicating in a range of non-linguistic grunts, squeals, and moans. The rugby boys, sensing that internal social pressure had gone out of the window, embraced their closet homosexuality and set about a naked scrum, indulging in the kind of firm contact they’d been terrified of for years (they had always loved a good, hard tackle). Everybody was fucking everybody else; anthropologists with economists (who had a wonderful range of bodies, from micro to macro and everything between), economists with politicians (who could finally put to use their expertise in pubic policy), politicians with linguists (who knew exactly how to use their tongues). The law students, ever the clique, only fucked each other.
As the afternoon drew on, the graduation ceremony drew to an exhausted close and people collapsed on top of each other in a massive, contented heap. Lying breathless on the floor, the graduates savoured their last few moments together as SOAS students, putting aside thoughts of jobs and careers and pretentious gap years. Three years at SOAS could never quite be encapsulated; but it felt good to go out with a gang bang.