The Oxford Comma: Reflections on Life Before and After Receiving my Offer from the University of Oxford (Part 1)

The Oxford Comma

Now that the initial facts have had the time to sink in, I take it as a responsibility to ask: where do I stand now, once I’ve put a comma after ‘Oxford’ (yup, pun in the title is shamelessly intended)?  An offer to study at Oxford is, without doubt, a testament to my work in these past two years: the long hours spent revising for my final exams, jumping through the many hoops that are part of the Oxbridge application process, the decision to pick myself up every time I felt like I was never going to succeed – looking back, I can finally appreciate the value of these small, day-to-day efforts. Of course, that self-congratulation is the easy part. What I find much more important, though, is the work of considering what worked in these last two years and taking it onwards into the unknown on the horizon – my life at university and all the challenges that will come with it. And since I have the privilege of writing this article in the middle of an educational no man’s land – the transition between school and university – I think it’s worth sharing some thoughts as I stop for a minute at these crossroads and look closely at how far I’ve come, where I have to go, and how I’ll get there.

What worked

One of the chips that built up to this was certainly my choice of academic pathways. When I was making my A-level subject choices, there was no denying the status of Literature and History as conjoined twins, even if I was begrudging about the heavy workload and memorization that the latter demands. Continuing with subject in spite of this, though, was a vital decision: in every work of Literature, it is apparent that there can be no study of the subject without an understanding of the forces that have made the world as we know it. Reading texts in light of my own history was an automatic process – so implicit that I was hardly aware of it at the beginning of my Sixth Form studies – but exploring historical influences in more depth helped me see how their interwovenness was beyond anything I could have noticed with my own worldview alone.  

So rarely in our school careers are we given the chance to springboard from the curriculum into our own interests. In the Extended project, I started off thinking I was going to write a simple, cathartic story about my experiences of being a global nomad – I finished with an in-depth knowledge of postcolonial literature and history, which spoke volumes on my university application.

These two choices were nothing out of the ordinary for A-level students, but by far the most crucial personal commitment I had to make was to keep going. Eighteen is, for many people, one of the most tumultuous years of their adolescent lives. And so it was for me – I found myself knocked far off course than I had ever been because of going through some of my biggest emotional lows and feeling constantly anxious, to the the point I was barely clambering onto the train of schoolwork. One of my most vivid memories is being on the verge of collapse before my Oxford interview, because I didn’t see how I could possibly control my nerves and demonstrate my ability in English, even after all my preparation. My mother (the long-suffering and dutiful companion through my everything) sat by my side all through the exam season, helping me through sets of flashcards punctuated by 15 minutes of breathing exercises to ward off panic attacks. There were times when I felt angry that I couldn’t be as good as another person, or because I couldn’t complete work in time because of my perfectionist tendencies.

To the credit of my dedicated parents, I wasn’t given the privilege of giving up, even though I wanted to, up until the day of the exam. If there is one promise I would ask from myself in the future, and those like me, it is to never assume that you will fail and to keep putting one foot in front of the other – that simple process is where it all begins, no matter how high a mountain you want to climb.

Comment down below about your own experiences of achieving something, academic or otherwise, and give this post a like if you found this valuable. Stay tuned for Part 2! Till then…

Keep reading and readjoicing,