The Magic of Oxford

Returning there (to play Pokémon Go with my daughter!), I find myself captivated by its spirit. This is what I’d say to someone arriving there to study:

Be the very best you can be.

Find a passion and excel at it. It doesn’t matter how obscure, just throw yourself into it and master it, become the world’s leading expert on it if you can and if it delights you enough. And do so with total pride.

Don’t let anyone put you off, by laughter, by puritanism, by inverted snobbery (‘All right for some…’), by a ‘snobbery of practicality’ (‘Meanwhile, in the real world, people have to work for a living.’).

For the next three years, this is the real world: make the most of it. Fulfilled human beings (partially at least) create reality anyway. You have a total and inalienable right to do this, and, actually, a duty to.

At the same time, expand to fill any area you feel like. Sport, classical music, drama… Try anything that intrigues.

Love all the other people around you who are being brave enough to make their journeys of discovery with the same intensity and commitment. Enjoy the richness and oddness of what they do and where they go. You will find plenty of beautiful companionship if you do this.

Fall in love. Study love, think about it, read about it – and (above all) do it, with passion and openness. Yes, you will get hurt sometimes, but your mission and your determination will soon heal you.

Wander round and get high on the beauty of the buildings. Think how many world-makers have done the same. Imagine that their spirit has somehow infused itself into the golden stone all around you, and that you can, by marvelling, coax some of it back out and imbibe it.

Ask for anything – from the universe, from a lover, from books, from those stones, from yourself. In return, give generously.

Amid all this richness, stay kind. Follow Betsy Trotwood’s advice to David Copperfield: ‘Never be mean, never be false, never be cruel.’

Do not fear. This is your calling and your obligation – to yourself, to the people around you, to the spirit of the place, to the world that may be crying out for what you make or find.

Actually, I’d give this advice to anyone starting out on the journey of further education. If there aren’t any buildings of orange/gold stone, invent some, or go and find something that speaks to you of excellence and passionate endeavour.


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