Experiencing Winter Congregation

Standing in the shadow of the magnificent Cathedral, fully donned in graduation robes and smart shoes, I couldn’t help but smile. The day was cold and grey, as so many English afternoons are, but it didn’t matter. I felt radiant. I beamed with the effervescent energy of one who has achieved a new level of accomplishment.

We had all assembled outside the Castle, comrades awaiting a passage of rites. I was nervous, excited, and above all, happy. It was one of those moments in life when I looked around and realised that I am a part of something bigger than myself. This was not just Congregation day, where I would officially receive my MSc in Management (International Business). This was a moment of pure magic, where I joined one of the many who had walked those same steps before me as a graduate of Durham University.

The procession began. We paraded across the Palace Green to the Durham Cathedral. I couldn’t stop smiling. And I remember being extremely glad that I had worn flat shoes (cobbles can be treacherous!). The feeling of ancient grandeur always surrounds the Palace Green, and today, in my own way, I knew that I was making history. Maybe in a small, barely apparent way. But still, this was a moment in history. And for me, it was one of the most important days of my life. It marked the end of a year that had shaped my future, and brought closure to achieving my life-long dream of studying abroad.

Inside the Cathedral, we assembled at the very front, the group split into two to flank two sides. I know there were speeches, and many words of congratulations, and a general air of pomp and circumstance. The types of things you would expect at any grand ceremony. But to be honest, I barely remember those things. What I truly remember is the feeling of togetherness that I experienced among my peers. Together, we understood that we had achieved something truly worthwhile. And together, we were a part of something that only a Durham University graduate could understand.

My row stood up. One by one, we made our way forward. My name was called, I walked forward, and with a hand shake and words of congratulations, that was it. The process itself was simple. But the symbolism it held was inexplicable. That hand shake was the beginning of the rest of my life.

Now, a month after graduating, I’ve returned to the United States and I suppose I’m living the typical American life. I live in Kingston, New York, and manage marketing communications for a small company that designs and manufactures retail displays. I love my job, and overall I would say I’m very happy.

But I’m certainly not the same American that I was before I started my journey in Durham in September 2012. Durham shapes you in a way that no other place can. In Durham, there is a magic in the air that stirs through the trees along the banks of the River Wear. A magic that clings to your clothes on a misty morning, and warms your soul on a rare sunny afternoon. It bursts forth in springtime as the daffodils peak through the grass, and it shimmers in winter at the first snowfall. It echoes among the cobblestones and the bustling market at city centre. And it permeates your soul in a way that no other place on earth can.

If you have been lucky enough to experience Durham for yourself, then you understand exactly what I mean. And if you haven’t experienced Durham yet, what are you waiting for? It will truly change your life.

Karianna was a postgraduate student at Van Mildert College. 

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