17th April 2024

Stephen Toope: Letter to My Fresher Self


Inspired by Varsity’s recent forays into the art of journalistic auto-fellatio, outgoing Vice-Chancellor Stephen Toope, who is Canadian, reflects upon love, life, and queueing for Pret in a letter to his fresher self.

Breathe. Slowly. Take a minute to realise where you are. You are in Cambridge, on the balcony of Senate House. If you jump over, you will fall. Downwards. It will be terrifying. It will be exhilarating.

Just slow down. There will be setbacks, like the railing around the balcony. Let yourself cry. Recognise those tears. That’s the best bit.

Time will slip away. It is a catalyst for beautiful change, like a bird flying. Forwards. You don’t need four hours to understand a story in Old English. It’s just about a pear tree, the one standing right in front of you in the long queue for Pret. And in that pear tree there lives a partridge, who has five golden rings.

Cambridge will not be the place you imagined. In many ways, and others, it will be markedly different. The long queue for Pret is not here, you’ll realise, but beyond the horizon, waiting to give you your first kiss. Forgive yourself. Not everyone in Cambridge calls their mum ‘The Dame’ and their sister ‘Mum’. And if even if they do, talk to them. They might become your best friend, or your mum.

Look around you. People are slurping noodles, and wearing conical hats. These are the memories you’ll treasure. Talk to your friends. You might never have met them before. It’s not going to be perfect, so hold on for the ride. You’ll have conversations that you can’t even grasp yet. Because they are in Mandarin.

See you on the other side!

Love you always so very much,
Stephen Toope