Rejoice Abutsa

On Graduating University College London With a Distinction

I have heard many times over, that adversity is the best teacher. Sometimes, it may be. But there are also experiences of adversity that fail to leave us with any immediate lessons. The idea that every challenge in life would teach us new things is an idea that I think is debatable due to circumstances. I believe it is the nature of life that some experiences leave us with nothing. However, I am fortunate that on the occasion that now privileges my writing, I can reflect on experiencing both the lessons and the lack of lessons in adversity that I have derived from earning a Master’s in Arts degree at the University College London. In this experience, I see these two truths – the ability to be completely happy at a lifechanging experience, but also, the constant fluctuations of emotions that come when we arrive at some of our dreams.

In 2020, I contemplated sharing the highlight of my year after concluding the requirements of my master’s program. The reason was simple. I knew the year 2020 to be hard – for me, for others, for the world. I found myself being offended when reading posts about resilience being promoted across social media, on product ads, in random encouragement texts, they were everywhere. To my mind, it was brutal to see the words resilience, as though those that did not survive the pandemic, or those of us that battled with our mental health during it all, lacked the resilience that accompanied a tough year. I struggled to admit any wins because I saw the population of the world shrink because of a pandemic that we neither saw coming – or one that we knew when it would be gone. It was hard!

I had won a fully funded scholarship, to study a course at a university. My closest friends would tell you the gruelling process of coming to this achievement. I made plans for how my graduate education and my life afterwards should go. Then the pandemic happened and like the confusion it caused everything in many of our lives, I did not know if my plans had any purpose or if I could find the motivation to “pivot” a dream that required so much planning.

I worked so hard in school – organizing roundtables, bringing Nollywood films to the UCL, making short films, writing a tasking dissertation – in the space of one year! Yet, the success of all these activities did not matter because despite every optimism that I tried, the language and action of the pandemic failed to resonate with my dreams.

In between, I found that I’ll be graduating from the University College London with a Distinction. I questioned all of it even after knowing how proud I should be of my hard work. Optimism failed me, several times. It took some consultations and the ability to let my fear out to my community before I felt any strength to celebrate the excellence of my grades at UCL. It took reminding myself the importance of those whose contribution to my research cannot be disrespected to celebrate this work. It took months of refusing to acknowledge that I earned this to be able to write this post.

These experiences in all their trickles reflect the type of adversity I started this article talking about. In writing this article, I am also assuring myself that I was more than deserving to walk the UCL stage, despite the many contradictory feelings of my experiences with structures and events that changed so much that I thought of life! Writing this post, in all its imperfections, is to acknowledge a community of mentors, family and friends that believed in me, when I had nothing to give.