It's exactly twenty years today since I left university. Twenty years since I discovered that I didn't know as much as I thought I did. Twenty years since I stopped drinking coffee at three in the morning and wondering who'd nicked my milk from the fridge. Twenty years since I waved goodbye to certainty and stepped out into the real world. All in all twenty years since I've been out here making a go of things on my own. And I was lucky, I got through the system back when it pretty much guaranteed you a job, not a five figure debt.
My last term at university passed in a blur. Most students get stuck into a decent social life at the beginning of their course then tone things down at the end for revision purposes. I went the other way, slowly upping my number of friends until my college room was the heart of our social circle. Making friends with the second years who didn't have big exams to prepare for helped keep the visitors flowing, as did a never-empty jar of Nescafé and one of the few television sets in college. I'd never before managed to hold down quite so many close acquaintances and, bar just a few months rather more recently, my social life's never been as busy since.
The examination dates for my subject were right at the end of term. My college was keen to throw everybody else out of their accommodation to make way for a far more profitable conference of grown-ups, but those of us with late exams were permitted to stay on within the dwindling community of remaining students. The weather during exam week was ridiculously hot so I was literally sweating over every question, and the World Cup was on too, so Maradona's Hand ofGod was a most unwelcome interruption during my last night of revision. By the time I'd sat my final paper it was evident that my degree wasn't going to be a stunning one, so the alcoholic celebrations at the end of those last three hours were more in relief than exuberance. I was at least sober enough to be pissed off by my fellow examinees spraying fizzy lager all over my room, and thankfully managed to keep the lunatic in the corridor wielding a fire extinguisher from gaining entrance.
My last 24 hours at university were a bit of a rollercoaster. I was trying to lap up the last few hours of the university experience, only to discover that normality had already departed. I retrieved one last camera film from the chemist only to discover that it hadn't wound on properly, so the memories contained in my last college photographs were all superimposed and therefore useless. And in my pigeonhole I received yet another rejection letter from yet another company who didn't want me - more my loss than theirs, I suspect. When my Dad finally arrived to cart away all my belongings I had absolutely no idea where any future career might be heading, just that life would never be quite so easy ever again. Or quite so much fun.
I now rarely communicate with those university friends who I used to know so well. I exchange Christmas cards with a few of them, in which we often scribble how nice it would be to see each other again but never do. I've forgotten virtually everything I was ever taught as part of my three year course, although I still keep folders of now-incomprehensible lecture notes in my spare room. And nobody comes round for coffee until three in the morning any more, which is probably just as well because I realise now that we could never put the world to rights anyway. Few moments in my life were quite so much of a jolt as that sunny June day twenty years ago when, with a tear in my eye, I walked out of the known into the unknown. Maybe that's why, after a lot of head-scratching, I went straight back in again in September and did another year...