Serenity and Symmetry

It was a bright, mild day in early spring.  A gentle breeze flowed into the room through windows overlooking a quadrangle, bringing with it a freshness and sense of calm.

The class was for an introductory networking module in my first semester as a computing undergraduate.  I stopped working on the practical task and scanned the room.  My classmates were focussed on their work and the lecturer, Martin Stanhope, was helping a student.  I looked out of the window, took a deep breath and, as my eyes returned to the classroom, exhaled.  I smiled to myself and thought “I can do this”.

I can do this.  Four simple words in a brief yet pivotal moment of complete serenity.  As a first-generation university student, in my early 20’s and carrying the baggage of previous unsuccessful undergraduate study, I was full of doubt and anxiety.  Was I up to the challenge?  Should I have left full-time employment to make a career change?  Could I repay the faith and support of my parents?

Fast forward to the other day.  20 years since the networking class, give or take a few weeks.  Not quite spring, but another mild and bright day.  A different view from the window, but the same building.  Another undergraduate class, but this time I am the lecturer.  My students are busy with their final year projects.  I return to my desk after helping a student and, noticing the breeze, look out at the blue sky.  Taking a deep breath, I feel the same sense of tranquillity in the room.  I close my eyes and, smiling to myself again, am transported back in time.

The symmetry of the situation is not lost on me.  This time I am nearing the end of my time at the university.  Leaving academia for a new challenge.  Of course the approaching change brings uncertainty.  How could it not after 11 years at the same institution?  But this time I am filled with excitement and anticipation rather than doubt and anxiety.

Reflecting on my time at the university, I find myself thinking about those (including Martin) who helped to shape me as a student and to equip me with the confidence that I take into my new role.  If, during my stint as a lecturer, I have enabled one student to have an “I can do this” moment, my time has been well spent.

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