UCL Graduation Blogs – Allan Yeung
20 September 2022
Newly graduated student Allan Yeung tells us about his recent Graduation experience
I used to think the world would get smaller as I grew older. However, as I arrived in Woburn Square and greeted a few familiar faces I hadn’t seen over the summer, I realised that I feel just as young and wide-eyed as the day I first enrolled at UCL. If anything, the world seems to unfurl further and further away from me with each step I take forward. As the saying goes: when one door closes, another opens. The graduation ceremony was a concrete embodiment of this.
While I queued up for registration and gown collection, I could not help but overhear a few of my coursemates talking about about how surreal it was to see everyone dressed up in dashing formal wear. Despite the disruptions to our studies over the years, or maybe precisely because of it, we are a cohort that has seen each other’s highs and lows — bleary-eyed in the Student Centre, way past midnight, or catching up on each other’s weekends just before the start of a seminar. I jokingly wonder to myself how many cups of coffee it took to see me through my degree.
Getting ready was a whirlwind of photos, excited chance encounters with friends in the hallways, and teary congratulations from my family. As I was whizzed through the Institute of Education, I found myself lost in bittersweet reminiscences. I still remember attending the Orientation Programme in Logan Hall a day after I arrived in London back in 2019, so it was surreal, to say the least, to find myself back in the same Hall, two rows down from the seat I picked three years ago, now as a graduand.
One by one, my cohort strode across the stage, ascending the three steps to the stage as graduands and descending as graduates. For every name that was read out, friends and family alike filled the hall with lively whooping. Despite my nerves from the formality of it all (was I walking at the right pace? Did I tip my hat correctly?) I found myself grinning from ear to ear when it was my turn to cross the stage. Although I am not usually one for waxing sentimental (or so I would like to think), I was hit by the profound sense that this was truly the end of an era.
After the ceremony, we were ushered from the hall to the main quad for the reception. I was woefully unprepared for the simultaneous tasks of trying to go up three flights of stairs and down to the quad while accepting fervent congratulations from my overexcited parents, all on top of trying to wrangle my friends in one place to snap a few group photos. As an international student, this was my first time seeing a few of my coursemates back in-person for the first time since the end of summer, so naturally our conversations overflowed with excitement when we were all finally in the same place. We laughed, we threw our graduation caps in the air, we looked at the bloopers that we’d caught on camera, and we laughed some more — despite the grey clouds hanging overhead, the day could not have felt brighter.
As I looked between my friends and my family, I was confronted by a paradox of emotions: there I was, entering a brave new world as a degree-holder, and yet I have never felt more like a kid. Even as I took a glass of champagne from the bar, my parents chided me, scandalised, as if I was still 16. The last three years had gone by in the blink of an eye; I celebrated two birthdays in lockdown and a third one amid frantic exam revisions. In secondary school, I had thought that attending university would make me an adult. While I was at UCL, I thought that graduating would me an adult. Now, as a graduate, I am not so sure. I think that growing up is a knee-jerk reaction: you don’t hear it, see it or feel it, until you look around at your peers one day and realise that you have all changed, armoured with new experiences and insights and curiosities and passions. At the end of this ceremony, all of us will venture on our own paths like dandelion seeds being carried on the wind.
When I look to the future, I am excited… and I am afraid. I feel like I am at a point where, when I look backward, I don’t see the starting line anymore, but when I look forward I’m not exactly sure which direction I am supposed to be running in. Everyone likes to talk about the future as a bright and cloudless sky, full of limitless possibilities, but sometimes it feels more like a raging black ocean, a deep, swirling and unknowable vortex that gives you vertigo just from trying to peer down it. Graduation is a celebratory moment that marks all the achievements you have accumulated over the years, but it is also, for many including myself, a pivot into great uncertainty.
My personal tutors have always told me that I hold myself to impossible standards, and that I am often unwilling to take risks for fear of failure or embarrassment. Over the years, I have tried to take the advice they have given me (both inside and outside my curriculum), and I think that if I had to boil down the lessons I have learnt to one word, it would be this — try.
Whether it be a niche research topic, or a society that you have always wanted to join, or a job opportunity that you aren’t sure if you are qualified for, try for it anyway. If you want to apply for a master’s degree or if you want to travel and see the world or if you want to work on your own projects, throw your whole heart into it and try. Plan A might not always work out — sometimes, Plan B and Plan C might fall through as well — but if you stay relentless and unapologetic in the pursuit of your goals, eventually you will reach the stars.
I used to think the world would get smaller as I grew older. Now, I realise that the world grows with me, and though I am still learning how to catch the wind in my sails, I cannot wait to see where the next chapter of my life will take me.