Yesterday, I officially had my virtual graduation ceremony from University College London (UCL). Allow me to reintroduce myself:
I am Rukevwe Otive-Igbuzor, LLB.
First year at UCL was very new and interesting for me. I had previously stayed in London during the holidays when I was doing A-levels, but moving to my uni accommodation provided me with a vastly different experience. I could just walk out and I was already in the middle of London. This is because UCL is at the heart of Central London, a walking distance from hotspots like Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Circus. Restaurants, cinemas, clothing stores, supermarkets, bars, museums, banks – you name it. They were all within a short walking distance from my accommodation.
Being at the heart of Central London also meant I was close to many bus stops and train stations, with buses and trains departing every few minutes. So I could literally go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted. No more booking minibuses in advance and checking the train schedule train for the day (as I had done during A-levels in Woldingham). I can’t tell you how many times I got lost, but I eventually got the hang of it (Google Maps is a lifesaver!).
And then the food! My accommodation was self-catered so I was responsible for not only cooking my meals, but also buying groceries. This meant that I had to start doing more to manage my money responsibly (see my top tips for saving and investing on a budget). First year was really a growing year for me, as it enabled me to achieve new levels of independence and adulthood.
In terms of extra-curricular activities, I joined at least five societies at a go! I was really excited to try all these new things and meet new people. But, as you can imagine, that initial excitement died down over time. I think the only society I stuck with eventually was the UCL VOCE Gospel Society.
When second year came, I moved to a private accommodation in Wembley, which is about 35-40 minutes away from UCL by public transport (inluding walking time). I was still close to numerous restaurants, shopping centres and a lot of hotspots like the SSE Arena, Wembley Theatre, London Designer Outlet, and Wembley Stadium (although I have to admit, living close to a stadium was a nightmare on match days, and it probably made me despise football even more). Also, Wembley Park Station and Wembly Central Station were just a 12- to 15-minute walk away, so I wasn’t any more restricted in terms of moving around.
Second year was also a growing year for me in terms of work. I got a job as an English tutor, picked up some flexible part-time waitressing shifts, undertook pro bono projects with the UCL Centre for Access to Justice, and worked with a number of legal advice clinics. I occasionally worked 10-and-a-half-hour tutoring shifts (8:00-18:30) and 10-12-hour waitressing shifts (17:00-05:00 or 18:00-04:00). I didn’t have to do these long shifts, but I chose to do them because I’m someone who likes trying new experiences. They weren’t always pleasant (especially some of the waitressing shifts where I had to stand almost throughout!) but they taught me a lot about resilience and the value of hard work.
When it was time for second-year exams, there was so much pressure! First-year results don’t count towards final results for my course at UCL, so I knew that second year would either make or break my overall results. This was even more so because we were assessed completely based on our performance in the final exam period, as opposed to continuous tests and assignments over the year contributing to our results. Messing up these exams was not an option! In the end, I was on the border between a First and a 2.1.
Then third year came. At this point, I dropped my tutoring job to focus on my studies, but I kept on waitressing from time to time. I became a part of the UCL VOCE Gospel Society Committee as one of the choir co-ordinators, and this was probably one of the few things that kept me going through third year.
I think the topics I enjoyed most throughout my degree were ‘Illegality’ under Tort Law and Equity/Trusts Law; ‘Rule of Recognition’ and ‘Theoretical Disagreements’ under Jurisprudence and Legal Theory; ‘Legal Aid and Access to Justice’ under Access to Justice and Community Engagement; and ‘The Contract and Promise Debate’ under Philosophical Foundations of the Common Law. (To be fair, I might just be selecting topics on which I wrote essays that scored highly.) I also quite enjoyed working as a Casework Assistant at the UCL Integrated Legal Advice Clinic (iLAC). Overall, I would say that my degree imparted me with not just knowledge but also skills related to research, writing, and verbal communication.
In terms of social activities and extra-curriculars, I think the highlights of my university experience were: going on stage with Mayorkun (a Nigerian musician) in the ACS Panafrik show, being stuck in Dubai on my way back to uni (this is a whole story that I will share another day), representing my first client at a tribunal appeal hearing (we won!), performing on stage at the finals of the University Gospel Choir of the Year competition, and performing in the final VOCE end-of-year show (this was extra special because it was the last time I saw my peers before the coronavirus crisis spiked).
But was I always enthusiastic about my studies throughout my time at UCL? Definitely not. There were times when I was completely frustrated and uninterested. And toward the end of my degree, I was honestly mentally drained and tired of everything related to academics. When you add the coronavirus crisis and the struggles of doing online classes/coursework at home with all the distractions and poor internet (!), you can understand my frustration. (I cannot even begin to imagine how other students who had caring responsibilities or inadequate resources coped with their studies during this period. The Class of 2020 have really been through a lot!)
In fact, the rush of leaving university abruptly and flying back to Nigeria meant that I didn’t get a chance to fully process the experience. It took a while for me to realise that even though I was yet to submit my final essays, I had moved back home fully and this was the end of my university experience in London.
When I came to this realisation, it was as if a light bulb switched on in my head. I started learning more about other things that interest me. Online courses are really an underused resource! With online courses, I started learning more about technology and computer programming, philosophical theories about justice, graphic design and digital marketing for my blog, and even music theory. These things definitely seemed more fun and interesting than my course which I was getting sick of at this point.
(If you want to see the product of my first graphic design assignment, see 16 Images, 1 Cup).
But in the midst of all these, I pulled numerous all-nighters and was able to submit my final essays for university (ask any member of my family – I literally stopped sleeping at night and this messed up my sleep pattern for weeks to come!).
In the end, it all paid off, and I graduated with a First Class. I am grateful to God for giving me the privilege to even go to university, and for seeing me throughout my time at UCL; my family for their (financial and moral) support; and my friends for getting me through the not-so-bearable experiences. This certificate is for all of you!
Am I sad that I do not get to have a graduation ceremony because of the coronavirus pandemic? Of course. But I have decided to focus on the positives. I am here, healthy, and able to celebrate with my family. The way I see it, the Class of 2020 get a double celebration – one at home with our families, and a larger one when (if!) we are able to walk across that stage next year.
My next step is joining the Nigerian Law School in January next year to qualify as a Barrister and Solicitor in Nigeria. I am super excited, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds. One degree down, at least two more to go!
I couldn’t figure out where to put this picture, but I can’t write a post about UCL without including the famous Auto-Icon of Jeremy Bentham! (PS: It’s his actual body in there.)
We finally got to have our in-person graduation ceremony in 2022! Click here to find out more.
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