EXACTLY one year ago to this day I put on a gown and funny hat to go and shake the hand of a woman dressed in a gown and even funnier hat.
Yep this time last year I walked onto stage to pick up my BA First Class Honours in Journalism.
Truth be told I wasn’t too keen on the pomp and ceremony of graduation, even if I did take my degree a bit too seriously. But my mum twisted my arm to the point where it began to look like a cheese string.
A few months before she had an accident fracturing her hip and was adamant on going to the ceremony thereafter, so I relented.
It was a baking hot day; I trundled up to the beautiful picturesque Headingley campus in my three piece suit. My grumbling belly in tow (it was at the peak of Ramadan).
The first moment of relief came when I found that I had order the correct size of hat and gown. But that was tempered by the fact that the lady who pinned my sash on decided to do so on the top button of my vest and not my shirt.
As a result I spent the rest of the day walking around like Robocop to stop the sash from falling off my shoulders (now I know how Peter Weller must have felt).
The second big challenge of the day was locating my parents as they decided to drive to campus whilst I took public transport. “We’re in the car park,” my younger brother explained to me over the phone. “Which car park?,” I frustratingly exclaimed.
After a bit of toing and froing I managed to locate them. Thankfully my mum with her fractured hip didn’t have to walk a great distance and there were chairs dotted around everywhere for her to rest.
It has to be said Leeds Metropolitan’s events staff have things organised down to a tee. They were brilliant in making sure everything ran smoothly.
Graduation photos ordered (on mothers insistence), I proceeded to join a loose collective of my journalism comrades to the graduation hall.
Soon we were all seated together in alphabetical order, whilst all our parents took station in front.
It is a really nice felling seeing people who have been in the trenches with you for three years celebrating. I still maintain that some of the best people I have met have been at university.
The advantage of being a small cohort is that you get to go up first, but the disadvantage is having to sit there for the next hour-plus constantly applauding. Although I noticed some people had managed to devise a system of rationing applause to avoid tiredness. Applaud vigorously whenever the camera is pointing at you, and when it’s not a gentile few claps will do.
A few of my friends had butterflies before going up on stage. But for me none whatsoever, I was guaranteed what I set out for which was a degree in Journalism at the highest classification possible. No trips, wardrobe malfunctions or any other mode of embarrassment was going to take that away from me.
Up the stairs one end, shake the principal’s hands and down the stairs the other end. Simple.
Once off the stage though I got a really cool alumni badge and my certificate. The moment didn’t really sink in until I sat back down in my chair and looked down at the piece of paper in my hand reading “ISMAIL MULLA has been awarded the Degree of BACHELOR OF ARTS with First Class Honours having followed an approved programme in JOURNALISM.”
At that point I was intent on living the moment, I wasn’t going to worry about what I’m to do next just let what has for me been a 11 year journey (I had wanted to become a journalist from the age of ten) sink in.
Afterwards I got the official pictures done – the photographer helpfully put my sash right, and then proceeded to mingle with my fellow graduates and of course tutors.
Standing outside on the beautiful acre bathed in sunshine thanking the people who had helped over the past three years was a highlight.
I couldn’t have asked for better tutors. Jenny Kean was always present even though I never really had her as an official tutor. Annisa Suliman saw the best and worst of me, guiding me through my dissertation. Neil Whitaker and his colourful shirts taught me how to squiggle during interviews (some say it’s called shorthand).
But the person who I was most indebted to was course leader Sean Dodson. He was a real mentor to me and arguably the greatest influence on my development as a journalist.
There were others who I didn’t see or didn’t get a chance to see, who also played an integral part.
Farewells bid. I journeyed back to little Dewsbury, a skinny kid of south Asian descent with grand dreams of being the next Robert Fisk, clutching a piece of paper and a goody bag.
A year may have past and my career may still be stuck in neutral, but the experience I gained, the people I met and what I achieved – no one can take that away from me.