In my second year, Michelle was working in London, so I got all my studying done during the week to clear up weekends for her visits. I still lived at Heyford Hill and was due to graduate with a BA degree at the end of the academic year, so it was time to decide whether to go into business – in which case, I should do a masters degree in business administration – or law afterwards. I was convinced on law because, although it was more difficult to get higher grades, I really enjoyed it. So I arranged to begin an LLB degree – with an exemption from the first year again – straight after my BA graduation.

The module I enjoyed this year was ‘Managing People at Work,’ where we had to run a simulated company. A few people wanted to be managing director so we held a meeting to decide who it should be. After a few lame presentations, one girl sat on the desk at the front and gave a very professional talk, impressing upon us her previous business experience. Then it was my turn so I stood on the desk and just talked.

“I could spend the next few minutes telling you about my management experience, but I won’t. I’ve got an A in every business module I’ve taken so far and I intend to get an A this time. If you want an A as well, I will get you there.”

With that, I jumped off the desk and my feet crashed on the wooden floorboards. The students voted for both me and the professional girl to lead the project and we worked really well together. It was at a lot of hard work, but I enjoyed those seminars. Some of my friends came to me about their portions of the group submission and I helped to re-draft their work. Our group met up the next term and everyone got an A.

Encouraged by my personal tutor, who said I was one of the few people who was capable of getting a First, I worked hard right up to the very end. If anything, I may have worked too hard. Something was missing and it didn’t quite work. On results day, I came top of the class, but fell short of a First Class Honours by 0.6%. It wasn’t a surprise, but I was devastated. As the feeling subsided into disappointment, at least the doubts in myself were gone. I had earned a degree with an Upper Second Class Honours.

At the graduation ceremony, I had a bet with my football mate, Ade, about who could spend the least time on the stage. He was up before me and the Chancellor stopped him for a quick chat, so Ade was up longer than he wanted. When it was my turn, I strolled up quickly, shook the Chancellor’s hand but didn’t stop. He looked a little surprised when I took his hand and swivelled him around. But he had the presence of mind to let go before I broke into a trot and made it off the stage in less than ten seconds. I won the bet. My parents were sat in the audience and the only photo of the day was one Mum snapped of a blurred gown and mortarboard jogging off the stage.

I was now a graduate. After having fucked up so badly at Newcastle University and spending years thinking I wasn’t good enough, here I was. The proud recipient of a BA degree! It had taken a long time to get there. I was eighteen as a Newcastle University drop out and finally got a degree at the age of twenty-six. It had been a hard start to this journey, but I think the Paras got me into the right frame of mind to succeed. Then I built up a head of steam in the North and finally broke free. I was now well placed to finding my way in life.

In order to get ready for my next degree I moved out of Heyford Hill and was even presented with a certificate by Oxford Brookes University (which had just changed its name from Oxford Poly) housing office before my departure. It was more a complaint letter about “Rowdy behaviour and excessive noise” on a certain date. The complaint was actually justified, but they’d accused me on a particular day when I’d gone to visit my mate Rog in Sheffield. So, with the evidence of my return coach ticket, I rocked up to the housing office, had a chat with them and left with an apology. I keep that complaint letter alongside my degree certificate.

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