Who deserves to be sprayed?

Image credit: Hannah Whitehouse

It’s become a familiar sight on social media lately: seemingly relentless pictures of our peers either being sprayed with cava or greedily gulping it directly from the bottle. If you’ve been unlucky enough to be in the vicinity of any of the exam halls recently – innocently reading about phantasmagoria in Macbeth in the EFL, for example – you won’t have missed the bacchanalia that erupts as soon as students emerge from their final exams.

Except, in most cases, these ecstasies of spraying and day-drinking don’t take place after students’ final exams. It is not just finalists who participate in this tradition; it seems that first- and second-years have taken it upon themselves to celebrate in this way too. While a huge amount of work goes into any exam sat at Cambridge, and, certainly, the end of each exam season does merit celebration, the significance of this particular tradition seems to be tarnished by repetition. Finishing your first and second years is an incredible achievement, but, on asking around, it seems that many people believe that only third years should finish their exams with the pop of a cava cork. That way, the tradition seems more special, since it is unsullied by the awareness that you’ll have to come back to begin another gruelling academic year in October.

Further to this – to add a minor grumble of the humanities student who has still been trudging steadily through term with at least one, and normally two, essays a week – why do students finishing Prelims not have a similar celebration? While they are, comparatively, unimportant, if we are to say that finishing your exams at any stage in your university career is an achievement worth celebrating, it seems logical that they should be marked with similar festivities as students celebrating the end of their first year exams. After all, for those who have not sat Prelims, there is truly something to look forward to when you’re drenched in cava – no more work and the proximity of May balls. For the poor Prelimmer, all we could enjoy after our slog through revision, pre-reading, and Prelims, was a brief respite before starting afresh on a brand new Cambridge term.

Our Oxford counterparts have a similar, albeit less classy, end-of-exams celebration, with the distasteful title of ‘trashing’. Rather than merely spraying each other with cava, they cover their friends in foam and silly string, which attracts the attention of the Daily Mail year after year. The combination of bright silly string, flour, and foam barely masks their gigantic smiles, but you do wonder who is going to be responsible for washing the gunk out of their ‘sub-fusc’ – they are unfortunate enough to sit their exams in what is essentially a uniform of black and white, including a gown. The ‘Other Place’ may currently be higher than us in the Times Higher Education rankings, but at least we can wear sweatpants in our exam halls.

So far, so harmless. But what are the problems which arise with this tradition? Well, firstly, there is the fact that all those pictures on social media don’t reflect the weeks of hard graft that have gone into preparing for exams. They glamorise the celebration without acknowledging the hours of work, skewing the reality of Cambridge exam season to show only the drunken revelling without the tears and heightened stress levels that are palpable everywhere in College. These pictures also don’t show what is left behind; while cava itself might leave only a slightly sticky trace, empty bottles seem to be discarded wherever is most convenient, and glitter will be washed into drains and rivers.

There is also the fact that not everyone wants to participate in this tradition, for reasons that may be religious, moral, or otherwise. However, whether someone personally agrees with spraying or not, it must be hard to feel like you can stand up with those convictions, particularly given the fact that so many other people choose to participate in the tradition. Because of the reputation of the tradition, and its affiliation with the 'Cambridge experience', it can be very hard to distance yourself from traditions that you don't necessarily agree with. Additionally, not everyone will have friends who are going to come and cover them in sticky bubbly after their exams, for whatever reason. To leave an exam hall after your final exam, heading into a crowd of people poised and ready to shake cava everywhere, and to have no one waiting for you, must be an extremely isolating and unpleasant experience.

Revel on, exam finishers; you deserve it. Just be mindful of the physical and digital traces of your celebrations, and be aware of the people around you. 

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