The last time I wore a gown before that was in 1986, when I was a prefect at Leeds Grammar School. Here is a picture of that too.
There are a couple of obvious differences. At school there were only boys. At Uni, at least on my course, there were only girls. The other main difference is that I'm now 51 and not 18. When I left school at 18, full of promise and potential, with a place at Uni in the bag, I went to see the Senior Master Mr Grainge to say goodbye. He was a very scary man, who commanded absolute respect. He once came into our classroom when the teacher was out of the room, and told us to stop wasting our time. That life was short and that youth doesn't last, and that we should make the most of the time we have. He knew what he was talking about, as not long after that he had to have part of his leg amputated, and by 1989 he had died from whatever illness had caused that. But I never forgot what he said. I also have never forgotten Mr Kino, my inspirational German teacher, who first showed me the beauty that is hidden within language. He died only a few years ago, but no-one who was ever taught by him will forget him.
Here is another picture from yesterday. Of my brother Phil and me. It's my new favourite picture of the two of us.
Here is my previous favourite. From 1973.
As you can see, I am still the one who has to wear a tie. If you look closely you can see that I tried to colour Phil's outfit in with blue biro. Our mum told me off,and so I tried to scrape the biro off.
I generally don't like formal occasions but for me yesterday was perfect. It was everything I could have wanted. Also, joining me on the day was my partner Joy, her daughter Eve and her parents Keith and Christine. Cue more pictures.
As well as my five guests, the other people who made the day special were my teachers, my classmates and their parents. Sadly, my own parents didn't live to see it. In a way I wish I'd have got my act together sooner and done my degree while my mum in particular was still alive to see it. She was always my biggest advocate and like a faithful hound she always thought the best of me even when I was making a mess of everything. But on the other hand it was partly her fault that I didn't take up my original place at Uni in 1986 as her life was in a mess at the time and I got a job instead to help her through it and then before I knew it 30 years had gone by.
Ironically coming back to Leeds in 2014 to be close to mum before she died set off the chain of events that eventually led to me applying to study Linguistics in 2016 so as well as getting in the way of my original plans, she also helped me to close the loop. Ultimately, my two decisions, not to go to Uni at 18 and then deciding to go at 48 were both my own. I cannot blame circumstances for either.
It had been my intention to go up to the Garden of Remembrance at Lawnswood yesterday, to the exact spot where my parents ashes were scattered 40 years apart in 1974 and 2014, to tell them about my day. Not that I believe that they're actually there in that small square of ground, it's just symbolic. But on the day, I decided that yesterday was about the living and not about the dead. It was about Joy and about my brother and about Joy's parents who have been through a lot with health problems in recent years. And it was also about my classmates and their parents, who were there and alive in the present moment. I thought I would feel more sad that mum was missing it but actually I forgot to be sad because it was such a joy to see the happiness and the pride in the parents of my classmates, and that, along with the people I brought with me, was more than good enough.
For 30 years not going to Uni, even for reasons which seemed right at the time, was like an itch I couldn't scratch, but now I've scratched it. Somehow that getting lost for 30 years and wandering off the path made me feel like I wasn't making the most of myself, as if I was wasting my potential. I feel better about that now.
I was a know-it-all aged 18, but being an adult and having to make adult choices turned out to be much harder than I thought.. At that time I thought I had all the answers but the practice of the last 33 years was harder than the theory. Which is my long winded way of saying how much yesterday meant to me. It says somewhere in the Bible (I can't remember where but probably in the book of James which used to be my favourite) that Success covers a Multitude of blunders. I always took that to mean that one good thing can make up for lots of things that have gone wrong. Well for me yesterday, being there with Joy, and her family, and my brother and my classmates and teachers and finally getting that Degree I had first wanted 30 years previously, was my one good thing. My big success. My day in the sun.