This September will be the first where I have not been enrolled in an academic course of some sort, since I was five years old. At the ripe old age of 22, I am finally facing the scholarly start of the year with no agenda regarding essays, no need to remember a complicated student username, and no access to a library that smells of deadline sweat and plastic wallets. I find it both unnerving and liberating to have moved on from this world – scary, because it took up the vast majority of my life. There’s a quote from one of my favourite novels, The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe, which I think sums up the shift from educated to employee:
‘Girls like Caroline, who have just finished fifteen uninterrupted years of educational routine, find themselves still dividing the year into seasons the way they are used to, rather than by the calendar. January the first is not the birth of the new year, September is.’ (p.55).
I can completely identify with this mindset, especially as January often feels so bleak as a month – there’s sludge on the ground, the Christmas decorations are dismantled, someone mentions the word ‘diet’ and you freak out, then you try to distract yourself by reading a magazine before remembering that the issues available for the month are approximately ten pages long and full of adverts (even publishers need a holiday break). In contrast, September seems full of promise, with catwalk shows ushering in sumptuous autumnal styles, blackberries in the hedgerows and the chance to finally forget about the yearly struggle for a bikini body. I enjoy this month a lot more and find it to be more positive, aside from the studenty moments of new term panic, which are now luckily beyond me. Looking on the bright side, my mum has just retired from working in a school, and we love having the freedom to book holidays in term time or have a bit of a lie-in after a tough day, without feeling tied down by academic hours.
On a sociological note, when I began Primary school we had minimal security and our proudest gadgets were the ancient computer (with a dot matrix printer, what a thing of joy) and a tambourine. Now children have mobile phones and Facebook, whilst their institutions resemble Fort Knox, and I can’t help thinking that maybe too much has changed in such a short space of time. Today’s children seem to be a lot more confident and self-aware than my generation, but they also face stronger pressures from media and social networking. I do feel incredibly fortunate to have grown up at a time when the Teletubbies were icons, instead of Miley Cyrus.
The non-academic world I face seems like a really interesting place to be, with my career taking shape in the form of regular writing projects and my PR internship, but I don’t feel that I will ever stop learning. I will always be looking for new things to try out, or considering evening classes. Maybe I will just have to chase academia in my spare time, but these years of tests and timetables have instilled basic values and skills in me that I will carry forward into my professional life. And I do have the valuable talent of tambourine playing to add to the mix.