I am here, in this place, where the very air is charged with knowledge; where, if you relax and stand still, you can feel the fizz of potential in the atmosphere. This is a place that never fails to give me palpitations, that fills my every cell with a nervous energy that almost overwhelms me, and a often causes me to cry. Because I am a sentimentalist perhaps, yes; because one of the greatest forces in the world that I know of exists in the power of potential, definitely.
I used to work at Lancaster University, in the very excellent English Department. I won't lie to you, because you're my friends: I did not like the job at all, because it was very dull and I was too clever for such a monotonous and tedious job. But I did like coming to the University every day, and I did enjoy the sense of pride I felt when anyone asked me where I worked. The place is full of students! And they have always been the thing that made me love this place. Freshers' Week was always a joy, the office buzzing with nervous little only-just-adults, asking hilarious questions about rooms and books and pass marks. The whole town of the university campus comes alive when the students are here, with every minute packed with activity and industry and quiet procrastination. So much potential, not always achieved - but that's alright, that's part of it, that feeling of desperation, of clinging on by the skin of the teeth at the end of every term. So exciting. And when it all quietens down during the holidays even the sunny days feel grey because the students are not here. But they come back, and it carried on, term after term, bright faces, half aware of their intelligence because they have earned a place at this prestigious institution, yet not quite believing that they're worthy: they're afraid they'll be found out one day and be asked to leave. They won't.
And at the end of it all, Ceremonies: the week in which the gowns come out of the storage, and the mortar boards are donned with incredulous pride, 'is it graduation already? But I'm not ready to leave.' The princess comes to confer the degrees (actually not any more, but she did in my day) and the whole university is covered by a veil of tears, happy ones, sad and nostalgic ones, nervous ones. Graduation is the last time that some of these friends will ever see each other, though they don't know it. I do. But that's alright, that's part of it, that feeling of hope, of clinging on to those special people who shared one of the most intense experiences it's possible to have in life.
I've had that experience (albeit on a different campus). I've submerged myself in that sea of knowledge (almost drowned, but fortunately I'd taken my rubber ring with me - almost everyone else had a proper life jacket, but that's alright, I have one now too).
So I'm back here, just for a short visit today. And what I've seen this morning is that it is actually possible to go back sometimes. Things don't change so much. The campus still feels the same, though its skin has changed a little. The students that rush about, that chat to each other about iPhone apps and X Factor and sometimes compare lecture notes, are the same students that were here ten years ago (not actually the same ones, because those ones will probably have jobs and houses and children by now, just like me) feeling full of potential, realising that the world was theirs and they just had to claim it. In the end, most of them don't claim it, but that's alright, because it's never too late. I've always had it in my mind that I would come back here as a student one day, to soak up some more of that knowledge and earn the right to wear one of those mortar boards and those gowns with the red and the grey trim. So I'll always be envious of the only-just-adults and their youth and ignorance, of their energy and vitality (though they don't know they have it, so my envy is wasted); but that's alright, I will be here, steeping myself in facts and histories, covering myself in nostalgia, but seasoning with new memories (and slightly mixing my metaphors).
I really just enjoy walking around with text books and imagining that people are watching me and thinking 'ooh, she's obviously very clever'. But that's alright.
Long live the universities, and long live students.