May Week is more than May Week

  26 June 2009

These times they are a changin’, Bob Dylan’s close to tautological lyric, is sticking in my mind this May Week. I’m not sure why, but a week of lazing in the (let’s hope) sunshine, drinking and glowering at the tourists crowding the punts is enough to focus the mind on the daunting fact that, for me, there is just a year of Cambridge remaining.

For many of you, if you weren’t already clear on this, there are only a few days left. Sorry for the reminder. But it’s not just personal futures that we should be scrutinising as this academic year draws to a close. Cambridge as a University is heaving itself through wider changes. Next year, for instance, I won’t learn my Tripos results from the wall of Senate house. The results will be emailed two weeks in advance. In some ways this is fair and decent; especially for Mathematicians who have had to endure the public declaration of their grades throughout the whole year up till now. The poor, unfortunate soul who comes last in the year is, I’m told, endowed with a wooden spoon.
In other ways, though, it is a shame that the results will no longer be presented in this way. It’s a great test of a person’s character (or, more specifically, their arrogance) to see if they scan up the list or down the list when looking for their name. Personally, I choose the scanning down option, that way I can see how everyone else has done before reaching my own meagre result.

Another set of changes for Cambridge’s future is related to the issue of access. The first batch of candidates with A* grades at A-Level will start to arrive, with Cambridge being the UK’s first university to demand at least one A* in standard offers.

The claim is that this measure will benefit state school students, who tend to fare less well in the interviews. Whilst this might well be the case, my worry is that many will be put off applying by the sheer thought of an A*AA offer. Still, if the scheme does make access more impartial it is to be commended.

Another revelation to emerge this term is that Cambridge takes little notice of personal statements. This is actually quite annoying when I think of the long hours and carefully crafted lies that constituted my statement. ‘Philosophy has always been my greatest passion, ever since I solved Russell’s paradox at the age of 3′. Still, they let me in (fools), and now May Week provides a chance to humbly reflect on that ridiculous good fortune and opportunity. Of course, by ‘reflect’ I mean ‘dress up in black tie and jump up and down on a bouncy castle.’ May Week is a bizarre situation, to say the least, but at least we, unlike Oxford, have the chance to let out the frustration of six weeks in the library over punts and Pimm’s.

Nonetheless, thinking about last year’s Wyvern’s Garden Party at which one student let out her frustration with such force that she was arrested, whilst covered in slime, does somewhat give credence to Oxford’s way of doing things.

What we can take from May Week, though, is the comforting thought that for centuries Cambridge students have been making tits out of themselves in the most decadent ways conceivable. And for centuries no one has bothered to change the name ‘May Week’ to fit the calendar that everyone else uses.
Why not? Because we like to do things differently round here and if that means having an idiosyncratic entrance system, a wooden spoon for unfortunate mathmoes and a poorly named week of drunken decadence then I guess that’s just Cambridge. One year to go.


Pete Jefferys – Pembroke