After four years, countless essays, a lot of all-nighters, a few pro plus, some tantrums and tears and one BIG DISSERTATION PROJECT, I have finally graduated from the University of Stirling. Writing this feels very strange, considering this university has been my life for the past four years and the thought that my academic career has come to an end is terribly scary. Considering just a few short months ago I was desperate to leave, determined to start a new chapter with a new job in a new city – having now donned the robes and smiled for the photos, that thought now seems VERY real. It means I won’t get to see my hilarious friends every day, cursing essay questions, pulling our hair out about lecturers or just generally prattling on about the bloody snow. It seems more hyper-real than leaving school; because you know that this is it, the time has come to be a proper grown up.
Being a (bit more) grown up and looking back at my time at university, there are probably three things I learned the most. Not academic advice, but life advice. University is a big adventure and the amount of lessons you will learn will be extraordinary. But these three pointers are the most valuable that I will take with me on my next venture. (WARNING: potentially soppy material ahead)
Firstly, not everyone will have the same uni experience as you. You may have a billionty friends that will streamline down to three by the end of first year. You may stick with the same people for the whole course. You may only start chatting to your classmates because you have an assignment which requires a LOT of communication (hello 32 page newspaper!). These scenarios are all cool. It will all work out. The friends that are worth their salt will stick around. They are the ones who will eat your Cappuccino Cookies, slurp your smoothies and high five you for some awesome homemade Nandos chicken. You might drink a whole box of wine together and dance to Steps videos at 2 in the morning. That’s… a little uncool, but that’s friendship.
Secondly, figure out your hobbies. Join a club. I wish I had done more of this. I would love to have four years of trampolining club under my belt, be the president of the Art and Design club and have Saved the Children like my friend Victoria. I learned this lesson a little too late. Thankfully, I did find Brig and I will ever be in debt to people like Dan Nunan who helped me discover food writing. Not only did Brig ignite a passion in me I didn’t know existed, I made some ridiculous friends who are all mental but so loving and welcoming at the same time. It sounds sappy, but being part of a club where everyone has a shared interest, puts their heart and soul into everything and most of all knows how to party will always make you feel better. Even when everything seemed like it was going wrong for me, writing about Lemon Meringue Pie and Tuscany helped me reassess what I wanted from my degree and I got it. Plus, I have some awesome memories of nights out.
And thirdly, remember who your rocks are. Your family, your home friends, your boyfriend or girlfriend or even your dog. They will keep you going. They are invaluable. They will tell you it like it is, make you stop moaning and push you towards finishing that essay. They will help you pack up your things when it’s time to move, they’ll listen when it’s all going wrong and they will cheer you when it’s all going right. And at the end of it all, they will sit proud as punch in the graduation hall, in a cafe watching the ceremony on the internet or be sat next to you, cracking jokes to cut the tension of 600 graduates desperately trying not to fall on stage. Those people aren’t going anywhere, and remember to say thank you. Whether it’s with Mother’s Day Millionaires Shortbread with Rosemary Scented Salted Caramel, the Ultimate Chocolate Birthday Cake or an impressive Anniversary Cake, say it with butter and sugar. Or of course, you can always say it on your blog, because they have supported you from day one with it, become your publicity team and always enjoy the cookies. Mam and Dad, you’re awesome. Don’t ever change.
To celebrate learning these three life lessons, making some brilliant friends and gaining a 2:1(!) in Journalism Studies, there is only one thing to do – party. And my god, do Peases know how to do this one right. Uni has taught me a lot of things, but my family have been educating me how to let my hair down for 21 years and this isn’t going to change anytime soon. Of course, as food is the common denominator in our household career of choice, the edible stuff was always going to be good. I take my hat off to my Mother; she knows how to put on a spread.
As this is a food blog, I should be talking about how to make Chocolate Nut Slab or the perfect Potato Salad, but truth be told, all I did was pitch up, put some rocket in a bowl and drink a lot of fizz. My Mum and Dad did an insane job of creating a gorgeous seafood buffet and dessert party. My sister made some amazing bunting from wrapping paper and wrapping ribbon. My Granny grated those carrots within an inch of her life. And my Granda brought the humour. The perfect package I would say.
So, in true spectator fashion, what should one prepare for a graduation buffet, or indeed any old party? The trick, as I have learned time and time again is to prepare in advance. The salads were created the night before and simply needed tipped into serving bowls. The salmon just needed slicing and the bread buttered, which was done beautifully by my Uncle Dan. The cake was a simple affair; a Victoria Sponge (of course, which you can find the recipe for here) filled with buttercream and jam, slathered with more jam and smoothed over with fondant. My mum created a little mortar board out of black sugarpaste and tied a red ribbon around a twirl of white sugarpaste. So simple and yet so effective, that there is really no need for piping, OTT decorations or sparklers (although we did have a ‘2:1’ arrangement in stripy candles).
And of course, the cake stand was littered with pre-prepared goodies; microwave tablet (easy and delicious), frozen profiteroles (sorry, who has time for choux?) and my mother’s signature Chocolate Nut Slab. Dense, full of cherries, biscuits and nuts and drizzled in a whole manner of chocolaty hues, this thing is a spectacle to behold. Served with a scoop of ice cream and a few fat strawberries, dessert was the height of culinary sophistication and a lesson in cookery and bakery time management. Lessons noted family.
I think that partying in this manner is potentially the best way to celebrate leaving university. There are no set menus, no pondering over wine lists and elbows off the tables. However, there are emergency chairs, non-matching tablecloths and an old family cake stand. There’s a lot of wine, century-old wooden bricks to play with, and a comedy mortar board for epic photograph-taking. A relaxed family do where 11 people can come together to celebrate a pretty cool achievement. Thanks guys, you all made it spectacular.