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What’s my First worth?

Blog | By Claudia Cockerell | Jul 21, 2020


At 22, I have just graduated from Edinburgh University and stand at the gates of the real world.

My final year was cut short, and plans for end-of-exams celebrations were scuppered by coronavirus. Despite this, there were a few silver linings to graduating in a time of corona. The ceremony was better than I could have ever imagined. I smiled modestly as Obama intoned to the International Class of 2020, ‘You make me optimistic about our future’, with earnest gravitas. I gazed into Beyonce’s eyes as she told me in dulcet tones, ‘know that you’re about to make the world turn. I see you. You are everything the world needs. Make those power moves. Be excellent.’

Full of these affirmations, I shut my laptop, hurled my figurative mortar board in the air, changed out of my pyjamas and sallied forth. But the world, having ground to a halt, did not seem ready to be turned. After a few weeks of fruitless job-searching, Beyonce’s rallying cry felt like a distant memory.

My jubilation was briefly restored at the arrival of results day, with the exciting news that I had gained a first. This will do it, I thought triumphantly. Employers won’t be able to resist me! But the wind was quickly taken out of my sails when I realised that just about all of my other classmates had gained a first too.

In March, universities decided to pause overall grades, and any essay or exam mark achieved during the pandemic that was lower than your current average would be discarded, while better marks would boost your grade. This meant that everyone could go up, while no one went down, known as the ‘help not hinder policy’. I hoped that perhaps the system would still do some light hindering, but when a particularly gormless acquaintance shared online that he had gained a first, I realised that this may be the year of the Covid first. I imagined employers glancing at my CV. ‘Class of 2020? Bin it. Year of the Covid first.’

I sank back into despair, until a friend reassured me that the job market was saturated and I shouldn’t feel too bad about unemployment. I have since co-opted these words as a primary defence for idleness. Relatives and family friends have taken to asking me ‘What’s next?’ with a sickly smile. ‘The market is saturated!’ I bark back, and their bright eyed hopefulness dims.

I have had a recent brush with employment in the form of babysitting, and have since decided I much prefer the company of children. They have a gleeful incomprehension of global pandemics, furlough schemes, and property ladders, and they ask none of the perniciously optimistic questions about my future which grown-ups seem to relish.

And so this summer I will languish on playground benches, patiently waiting for the market to desaturate, while my seven-year-old charge ascends a climbing frame loftier than my future.