I still can’t actually believe it. I’m half expecting to wake up one morning to find I’ve got another TMA due in. That’s how used to OU life I’ve become. But, after four long years of studying whilst working full-time, I finally got to attend my own Open University Graduation Ceremony to celebrate my achievements on 29/09/2018, at The Riviera Centre in Torquay.
I experienced so many highs and lows during the course of my study. There were moments when I felt overwhelmed, like I didn’t have it in me to continue. A struggle at times, I had to remind myself that this was something for me, something for my future. As hard as the juggle could become, I had to cease viewing study as a chore and immerse myself in the subjects I chose out of love, which was in turn an investment in myself and equipping me with the skills for the career I want to pursue.
It was hard to sweep aside my anxiety; those little lies telling me I couldn’t get there, I wouldn’t make it, that I needed to stop. But I didn’t stop. I perservered, enjoyed myself in doing so, and finally reached my end goal. Achieving my degree through the OU feels so worthwhile already, and I’ve not even begun to utilise my certificate yet.
Preparation For The Day
I will write a more in depth blog on the steps you need to take leading up to your ceremony, as there is a bit of planning involved. Here I will walk you through my weekend.
Bringing The Family And Travelling To The Ceremony
When I chose to graduate in Torquay, I was permitted to book five additional guest tickets; my partner, mum and her partner, dad and step-mum were all invited. I’d have loved to have been able to invite my four siblings, but understandably seats are limited and five I hear is generous.
When booking I must commend The OU on their accommodating ways. My dad did not know if he would be strong enough to walk with crutches or require his wheelchair on the day. When I mentioned this to the friendly booking team, they reserved both a space for his chair and a seat, so he had the option.
As the Open University is a distance learning institution, and lectures are held across the country, so too are the ceremonies. London was actually my closest venue, but Torquay and the English Riviera hold a big place in my heart. It felt like the right place to graduate.
Torquay is approximately four hours away from my current home in Surrey. My dad and step-mum drove and caught the ferry from Ireland, my mum travelled down with her partner after a few days holidaying in Weymouth.
With the journey time involved for all of us in getting to Torquay, we all booked into hotels from Friday to Sunday. This meant we could arrive, relax, and start Saturday off at a normal time.
My dad booked us into a lovely little Premier Inn right on the seafront in Paignton – the views from both our rooms were gorgeous and the rooms themselves so comfortable. Being able to hear the waves so close was such a lovely touch. You can’t go wrong with a Premier Inn – which was good because I was already so nervous!
What I Wore
I had flitted between wanting to wear a dress and wanting to wear trousers, until I stumbled across a couple of Primark’s ‘As Seen In Glamour’ pieces. I was taken with a pair of tobacco coloured, high waisted flares, and a striped cross-front blouse with bolero sleeves – rocking that 70’s look for £25.00!
I teamed these with a pair of chunky heels (ridiculous in height, but at least not stilletoes – that would be extreme with my wobbly nervous knees!). For my jewellery, I wore the Tiffany necklace my gorgeous big sister bought me for my 21st, and which I haven’t taken off for seven years, a matching Tiffany bracelet, and my Pandora charm bracelets.
I was so worried about walking across that stage in front of all those people, I really didn’t want to feel anything but smart, sophisticated and most importantly, comfortable.
Arriving At The Ceremony
I woke up so stressed and worried about going up on stage. My anxiety is bad at the best of times but the thought of tripping in front of all those people was driving me crazy. We headed from the hotel to The Riviera Centre and I arrived feeling a bit of a wreck.
Thankfully, refreshments were available to buy and I downed a strong Starbucks. I rarely eat anything first thing due to my IBS flaring up when I’m anxious, but I NEVER refuse a coffee first thing if I got to be on top form.
My mum showed me where to collect my gown and hood, and I queued up waiting to be dressed. I felt my mood and confidence lift as soon as I put them on. Finally, I was one of those people who’d achieved their degree. What a feeling. Real recognition for absolute dedication.
Everybody around me looked so wonderful; smart and happy, I was loving the vibe and I started to feel so much more at ease seeing how many other people were graduating too, and most probably experiencing the same emotions as me.
We headed into the hall, my family shown to their seats whilst I was shown to the front to sit with the rest of the graduates. I got chatting to those around me who, as expected, were just as nervous as I was.
Whilst waiting, we enjoyed music from a small orchestra and I giggled as I heard them begin to play the theme tune to Wallace and Gromit, but it certainly helped me feel much more at ease.
Thank God we were told exactly what to do the entire way through the ceremony. This was very helpful as most of us were dreading the stage enough not to be able to focus on anything else. After being guided into the queue to collect my scroll, I tried to remind myself to listen to what was said to me, as my mum had previously reflected to me about how she couldn’t remember what was said to her, she was so nervous and panicked.
Obviously I made it with no drama or lasting trauma and it was such a wonderful feeling. I can also remember the clapping, what was said to me, (“well done Aimée, this really is an outstanding achievement” – whoop!) and kissing my family as I went past on my way back to my seat. The experience will certainly stay with me forever.
After a presentation of an Honourary Degree, and the final graduates receiving their degrees, it was back outside the hall to enjoy celebratory drinks. As I waited for my family to join me, I took the opportunity to speak to the OU Careers Team, who provided me with some very useful information and a career planning and job seeking workbook, which I’m currently working my way through.
I booked a photography package; one of me, and one of my family and I. It meant the world and more to me that both my mum and dad were able to come together, and so proud that my dad insisted on standing for the photo, despite recently becoming a double-amputee. I know how much that took of him and it made me beam with pride. I can’t wait for the photographs to be delivered.
Whilst we were waiting, I noticed people holdng signs such as ‘Proud Graduate’, ‘Proud Mum’ etc. Naturally I seized the opportunity to get some snaps in and the OU Team were so obliging in taking pictures.
Everybody got involved and we got some lovely shots.
After The Ceremony
As we were staying for the weekend, we booked a table for six at Prezzo in Torquay. Everybody headed into town and we enjoyed a lovely family meal together to celebrate, obviously with a few bottles of prosecco.
I was given some gorgeous gifts. I felt so spoilt and the mood throughout the day was so chilled, I really couldn’t have asked for any more.
I had an amazing time and I can’t thank my family enough for supporting me throughout my OU journey and on my graduation day. Please, if you are due to graduate soon and don’t think you want to attend your ceremony – think twice – it’s YOUR day.