Note from Rachel Joyce

Welcome to university!

I remember how terrified I felt about going to university. I hadn’t really been away from home much – my only school trip was to the local hospital – and I was anxious not just about being away from all I knew, but also all the new people I was about to meet, and even the course. I was terrified no one would like me. Terrified I wouldn’t be clever enough. In fact, I was convinced the only reason I had got my place at university was because someone in admin had made a mistake.

I packed everything. Posters to make me look fun (a large green one of a psychedelic pansy) as well as brainy (a map of the world). Cooking utensils. Even a salad spinner, and I had never spun a salad in my life. Some Indian cushions with jewelly bits. A tape recorder with home-made tapes, some of which were opera, some were jazz, but there was also a not-so-cool Best of Helen Reddy, and Simon & Garfunkel. And then I had books.

Books have always been in my life line. Through books, I learn, I escape, I see the world, sometimes in a better light, sometimes in a crueller one – but with books I have always felt safe.

Anyway. There I am. With my parents. Unloading the car. Worrying about the pansy poster, the salad spinner. Barely able to look at my parents, let alone speak to them, because the ache in my throat is the size of a hole.

And suddenly it dawns on me. I am surrounded by people like me, carrying strange things to their tiny new rooms, worrying they have put on the wrong clothes, that they cannot do this – and we are all as terrified, and all the same.

And something else; we are excited. Finally, we are here. We are at uni. We are here to learn about books and one another and how to use – or not use – salad spinners, and what music we like, regardless of whether the person in the next room also likes it. We are here to explore who we wish to be, what the world might give us, and what we might give to it. We are at the beginning of a really important journey.

I am terribly proud that you have been sent a copy of my novel ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’. Like you, he sets off on a journey and meets people that will change his life forever. Unlike you, he has just retired, and wears yachting shoes. But the point is that he learns through what he does not know how to be a more connected person, and to forgive himself for the past.

We are never too old for new beginnings and journeys. I wish you happiness. There may be times you feel lost and out of depth and maybe not as good as other people, but just accept that you’re not alone, we all feel that way, sometimes things don’t go the way we want or expect. Be kind to yourself. Be kind to what you do not know.

Grab your metaphorical yachting shoes and start your journey.

With very best wishes,

Rachel Joyce


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