“Benign Anarchy” (-1 Week, Michaelmas Term)

I attended International Student Orientation today, which felt very official and welcoming after two weeks running around as a kind of quasi-enrolled student. It was held in the Examination Schools, a tremendously elegant 19th century building on High Street with broad stone staircases and impressive portraits on the walls. (The building’s name comes from its primary purpose as the building to which Oxford students, particularly undergraduates, come dressed in their academic gowns to sit the examinations for their degrees.)

Vice Chancellor Andrew Hamilton opened with great enthusiasm, encouraging us to make the most of a life-changing experience, adding that we were all playing a part in shaping Oxford, as students have for centuries. (After all, Oxford has been accepting international students since Emo of Friesland first arrived in 1190.)

Dr. Neil McLynn from the Faculty of Classics then attempted to explain to the Humanities graduates what he called the “benign anarchy of the Oxford postgraduate degree” with its sparse deadlines and de-emphasis on traditional teaching. He stressed the importance of finding and using our intellectual voices, while still remaining alert to the other intellectual possibilities surrounding us.

He also warned us that the time would come (“At some point. In February.”) when we would likely find ourselves isolated, lonely, and deflated, but that the stage was normal and survivable (after a little wallowing in melancholy), especially if we kept reminding ourselves to avoid the inward turn to our own subject and research interest to the exclusion of everything else.

And so, with all this advice in mind, as Dr. McLynn himself would say, “Now the good times will begin to roll!”

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