Attending a North Yorkshire state school, I had never properly considered Oxbridge until I encountered Joe Organ and his Brasenose access team. This first happened in year 10 – one of my teachers mentioned a nearby Oxbridge conference for GCSE students and I thought I’d give it a try. Whilst this inspired me and encouraged me to try my best in my exams, the thought of Oxbridge was still more of a fantasy. I remember hearing of the boat race when I was much younger, when Oxford and Cambridge seemed like old, amazing but somewhat incomprehensible institutions a great distance away from my rural, North Yorkshire childhood. Not only did they seem very distant, for some people I knew, they were not seen as desirable. People who went there were ‘posh’ and ‘different’, I learned, a response I sometimes got even after receiving my offer and starting my degree. Little did I know, back then, that this was far from true; that I would start rowing myself –love it – and even have the remarkable experience of watching people I know compete in the very same Boat Race.
My attitude had started to shift after encountering the access team, and Oxbridge gradually became less of a pipe dream. During Sixth Form, we were lucky enough to have a workshop delivered by Joe Organ and the access team, and even have a visit to the Open Days – including an overnight stay – paid for us. I must say that I would not have visited an Oxford Open Day otherwise; though I had considered applying, visiting the university was not something anyone I knew had done – I would have felt arrogant even considering it independently. I soon realised this was not the case and staying in Brasenose overnight completely converted me; normalising Oxbridge - or at least making it an option - within school communities makes such a difference. I still remember my room in staircase 13 and the magic I felt walking round the ‘city of dreaming spires’. Though me and my school friend only managed to see around two other colleges (we got quite confused by the map!) I loved Brasenose so much that I never really considered applying anywhere else.
My time at Oxford has far exceeded any dreams and later expectations I had during Sixth Form. I never thought that I both would come to love my degree, studying areas of History that I am truly fascinated by – alongside world-renowned academics – whilst making the most incredible friends and immersing myself in the widest range of opportunities. As well as rowing, I became netball captain, tried lacrosse for the first time (I had previously only seen it in films, and was genuinely shocked to learn it was played in real life), was elected as Women’s Officer, got involved with access and outreach work, trained as an Oxford Peer Supporter and even got the opportunity to complete a sponsored month studying abroad at the National University of Singapore, a selection of the amazing experiences I was able to have. In between all this, I had an amazing time living with friends, soaking up social events, and generally enjoying all college life has to offer. I will really miss being so immersed in the college community and seeing so many people I care about on a daily basis.
This is not to say that my time at Oxford came without challenges. I found the intellectual rigor very demanding to begin with, and it really took me some time to adjust to the new expectations. The most significant test, however, has been completing my finals at home, an outcome of the recent Covid-19 pandemic. Last time I was in Oxford was early March; I said bye to my friends expecting to see them in a few weeks’ time when we planned to return to university to revise. Little did I know that I would not see them until I had finished my degree, and in entirely different circumstances.
Completing open-book, online exams was difficult; this was an entirely new format which – though we got some chance to practice – I had to process without seeing any of the people I’d gone through the rest of my degree with and undertake with limited resources. Luckily, I had already completed several pieces of coursework, including a dissertation, so the exams will only amount to 50% of my overall grade. Plus, Liz Kay, the Brasenose librarian, was incredible; she not only sent finalists books from the college library but ordered new books to make up for the libraries being closed, sending them directly to me for no expense.
Whilst I am still really sad to miss out on my final term at Oxford, my resilience has certainly been tested, and I know – from many previous students – that Brasenose never stops being a part of your life. I do not know what the future holds (and the coronavirus is providing few answers) but wherever I end up, I know that Brasenose has shaped and equipped me with more than I can ever fully understand. I’m sure I’ll be back to visit – once it’s safe – with my friends to make up for some lost time; I’ll miss you Brasenose, but I don’t think this is a final goodbye.
By Eleanor Dodd (formerly of Tadcaster Grammar School)