Yesterday marked the longest day of the year. The sun rose a bit before 4:00 a.m. and set at about 10:00 p.m.
Yesterday also marked my last exam--ever. I essentially rose with the sun to catch my 6:05 a.m. bus to Oxford. After going through my routine of morning prayer and scripture study (important, especially on the day of an exam - I needed all the help I could get!) I began getting ready. This included donning a neatly-ironed white shirt, black skirt, Oxford graduate robes, black neck tie, mortar board, and red carnation. Oxford students have been wearing sub fusc and robes for quite some time - at least the priest-like robes - perhaps since the school's founding in the Eleventh Century. Even though it added an extra pressure to the stress of a final exam, I could understand a bit why Oxford students voted in a past year 70/30 in favor of keeping up the tradition.
The carnation is apparently of more recent origin. As I believe I have written in a previous post, undergrads wear white, pink, and red carnations to indicate the day of their exams. I wore red to signal that this was my final (although my only) exam. More on this later.
I enjoyed a wonderful big breakfast made by my sweet husband before racing off to catch my bus, scheduled early enough to ensure that, even if late, it would still get me to Oxford with time to spare before my 9:30 a.m. exam. I felt a bit like I had come from a different age while darting through London's streets with robes flying and carnation bobbing, but practicality demanded I look perhaps a bit foolish. I'm sure few understood why the attire, even though Oxford is only 60 miles away.
I had more than enough time to 'revise' (review), arriving in Oxford before any shops were open for breakfast. I enjoyed instead the comfortable lounge, tea, and toast of the Hotel Mercure across from Exam Schools. Finally, around 8:30 a.m., other black-and-white clad students arrived with flashcards in hand. Around 9:00, the small crowd swelled to a throng. I was found by a few classmates, and we were herded into the white marquee in 'Schools courtyard where we were to leave our things but for pencils and pens. I was not comfortable leaving phone, computer, and ipod, along with my purse there, so I trotted back to the hotel and used their kind coatcheck (and was told not to tell other students!). Once back in the marquee, a very austere voice told students they needed their Bod (Bodleian Library) Cards, examination numbers, and to listen intently for when their programme and room number was called.
I was finally herded into room 6, where I found my name on a desk and plopped my 'Bod card' down beside it and began filling out information on the essay booklets on my desk. At 9:31, I was told I could begin, and turned my exam over. We would call these essay questions, but I apparently 'stood' for a three-hour paper. I was given I believe fifteen questions, of which I needed to answer three. I will be graded on the structure of my argument, the clarity of my prose, and how I interweave facts from U.S. historiography into that structure and prose. Thankfully, mercifully, the exam questions were fairly straightforward. The issue was the amount of time, and oh, I missed my computer! Fairly different in that respect from law school exams (also on which you are not graded on your prose).
Once done, hand cramping, I was allowed to leave with my classmates out of a separate door from those wearing white and pink carnations. There I was greeted by a police-barricaded crowd of cheerers come to 'trash' their friends (see previous post on the topic). I apparently had friends there who were sheepishly going to throw confetti on me (very kind compared to those with paint, champagne, hair dye, eggs and flour on them), but I was unaware they were greeting me, so I left with classmates instead.
We went along to the Turf Pub (where they have a sign about Bill Clinton 'not inhaling' there while a student) for burgers and some cold drinks. My drink I think was very different from my classmates'...