I have written before about how it feels to leave QMUL. I found that ruminating on it, having to produce some writing about it, doesn’t make the action of leaving or the build-up to it any easier. It is no emollient to the collection of paraphernalia that comes with big life events if, like me, you’re a bit of a hoarder. I am sad to leave. While thinking about this fact, I realised that before the end, there comes a series of ‘lasts’ – your last essay, seminar, and night at Drapers all representing major milestones but there are others, too. This, for instance, is my last column. (I’m sadder than I thought about that.)
Just as jarring, but harder to pin down, are the more ephemeral milestones. Your last late night library session, the last message in one of those godawful group chats you joined in fresher’s week and still, inexplicably, are in. The last time you buy one of the overpriced (but actually really quite good) sandwiches from the library café. These are myriad, and so small that at the time you might not actually be aware of it being the last time. This, in many respects, is sadder. Maybe I’d have taken a bit longer to eat the cave aged cheddar sandwich had I known it’d be my last one, you think.
Or maybe none of the above applies. It’s entirely possible that you aren’t as sentimental as I am, or that you’ve had a thoroughly miserable time at Queen Mary. To me, though, Queen Mary has been my home for the past three years. I lived on campus for one of those, but studying here meant that Queen Mary functioned as the centre of the small bit of London that we each call our own.
To me, London has always conjured visions of Calvino’s haunting spaces from Invisible Cities. Calvino creates beautiful images, still visions of worlds both urban and urbane. Crucially, each city is its own, yet somehow connected to the others – each of them tends to do one thing, or has one defining feature, and many seem to be too fantastic to function, and in this sense you feel they could each be as one place, each representing different parts or elements of a single city in an attempt to understand what it is to live and form meaning from modern, sprawling, cosmopolitan spaces. In this way, we all have our own cities and yet all exist in London. For me, QMUL has served as the heart of the space I have carved out, and thus is somewhere that my fierce provinciality will always have some level of affection for.
More than that, I have had a genuinely good time here. I have been lucky to do a course that I truly loved and more than that, got to do it with incredibly intelligent people who, at their best, brought a new and brilliant way of looking at texts. I have served on committees and as course reps with other people, and I have been amazed at how dedicated and accomplished these people have been.
It is easy to double down on opinions towards the end. It’s easy for me to distil everything into a prosaic love letter to QMUL, and easy for those with a negative outlook to argue the contrary. Queen Mary, however, takes more PoC and LGBT students than any other Russell Group. More state schooled students. We contribute to over 10,000 jobs, most in Tower Hamlets, and run huge amounts of local engagement – again, more than almost any other Russell Group. I don’t think my sense of place here, and the way that QM attempts to be a force for good, are separate from each other.
In simple words, Queen Mary let me spend three years reading books, and one year writing a self-indulgent column. I am profoundly grateful for both.