Sunday, 4 July 2010

University challenged

It was my daughter Nikki's graduation from Stirling University on Wednesday and I sat in the cavernous tennis hall along with my wife and several hundred other proud parents to celebrate her achievement.
As the long ranks of students marched onto the stage to be capped by the Chancellor, James Naughtie, I found myself trying to compute the combined intellect and effort that had gone into the four hundred or so degrees being conferred. We all laugh at the stereotypical student lifestyle, but I've witnessed the amount of hours and work she put in, the tears and frustration when things weren't going well and the pure joy and relief of a high mark. Whatever benefits they get from their effort are thoroughly deserved.

I was hugely proud when Nikki received her degree, but the moment was also touched by a certain sadness because it means she'll soon be leaving home, and, if I'm  honest, guilt. Why hadn't I ever achieved what she just had?

I've never felt handicapped by the fact that I left school with six of what were then called 'O' levels. When you're in a working environment and there's a deadline to hit, nobody's bothered if you went to university as long as you put in the hours and you're good at your job. I could probably argue with some justification that, at the time, in the early 70s, people from where I came from, with my background, just didn't expect to go to university. Then again the sixteen year old me was hardly a paragon of work and ambition. As it is, I've been incredibly fortunate in my career and my life. But just lately I've been wondering: what if?

Would I be a better writer and storyteller if I'd been subjected to the intellectual rigours of university? Would I have written at all? I suppose the answer is that I'll never know and maybe that's for the best.

One thing I don't need a degree to work out: thunderstorm + Victorian house = leak in roof.

Where's that bucket?


Debbie said...

You don't have to wonder any more, really. Nothing at all to stop you from doing a degree now you have left the 9-5 (or whatever combination of hours describes the production journalist's lifestyle) grind behind. A degree course would still leave you plenty of time to write. Now where's my inspiration for a book so I could do the same?

CharlotteHiggins said...

Ha! I was watching the Glasgow University classicists graduate last week, Douglas: they have plenty of mature students in that department and I imagine they'd joyously embrace you. They do shit-hot Greek and Latin tuition from scratch, too... I only semi-jest: my father was immeasurably enriched and stimulated (he has said) by his sojourn in retirement at the Open University – he notched up a BA, an MA and a PhD in history. Myself, I'm always immeasurably impressed and humbled by autodidacts (some of the most 'intellectual' people I know, especially in journalism, but I don't think I'd trade in my four years at university at any price.

Doug said...

Thanks for the kind words and the good advice. Once I get this author business properly sorted out it's something I'm definitely going to take a look at