All those who matriculated between 1997 and 2000 inclusive were invited to attend a Gaudy on 23 September 2023. The itinerary included afternoon tea in the Master’s Lodgings, preprandial drinks in the Butler and Alington Rooms and Dinner in Hall. There were also services in Chapel and the opportunity to stay overnight in College, with breakfast the following morning.
We would like to thank all those who attended, along with those who worked so hard behind the scenes at Univ to make this special event possible.
Alston Zecha (1997, Mod Lang), Partner of Eight Roads Ventures, kindly provided the following report, and the Toast was given by by Farimah Darbyshire (1999, Law).
1997-2000 Univ Gaudy: reflections by Alston Zecha (1997, Mod Lang)
A quarter century since we first came up to Univ… In the preceding days I wondered with nervous expectation what our Gaudy at middle-age would bring: the same carefree laughter of our youth? sharing life and career achievements? gratitude for opportunities received or regrets at those squandered?
Upon arrival, all the nostalgic sights, sounds and smells immediately embraced me: Main Quad’s perfectly manicured lawn, clip-clopping footsteps on Logic Lane’s cobblestones, the warm, damp air wafting up from the college bar. All helped to reassure of what is perennially Univ, despite the technological progress (personalised guest broadband: we’ve come a long way from late-night queues for telnet email in the computer room) and significant culinary advances from the buttery (hats off to the kitchens for an excellent meal that was quite unrecognisable from the fare we survived on many years ago…)
So many familiar faces: more weathered skin, salt and pepper-flecked hair, more thick-set, but still the same glints in the eyes. All the content is long-forgotten, but the core tutorial skills of quick-fire banter remain sharp as ever. And hats off to the Univ couples whom we remember first getting together and all these years later are still together, especially the pair who run a business together as well.
What a privilege to hear of lives well-lived in completely different cultures and professions from each other. But whether focused on raising a family or working in some cutting-edge field that hadn’t even been imagined when we matriculated, whether living in Hong Kong or just a few minutes away from the High Street, this was all just the backdrop to the truest pleasure: being able to reconnect and pick up our friendships right where we left them at the turn of the millennium.
Baroness Amos’ welcome speech alluded to being “18 again for one evening”. But this was something different, simultaneously 18 and 45. One moment laughing about (mis-)adventures when “Cool Britannia” was still a phrase one used without irony, the next sharing hopes and fears for our own rapidly-growing children. Dare I say it, but was this the truest “safe space”? Both able to share jokes that were fine in our youth but might get us cancelled in less understanding circles, while also able to commiserate and share experiences of career challenges and personal loss. A chance to reconnect, to reflect and to rebuild friendships in an even more meaningful way than when we were students.
Here in one evening was the essence of Univ and also of our Gaudy: down-to-earth, social, intellectually-engaged, caring, non-judgemental. A huge thanks to the Master and Fellows for the Gaudy, a reminder not only of the wonderful privileged existence that we led all those years ago but also of the wonderful community in which we are fortunate to remain members today.
Toast by Farimah Darbyshire (1999, Law)
I was delighted to be asked to give the toast at this evening’s Gaudy – anyone who knows me knows how much I love Univ. They will also know just how fond I am of the sound of own voice, so this has all worked out super well.
I just want to start by saying how lovely it has been to spend time in this college, the bar and be in this Hall again. And, most importantly, be in this place with this group of people. Thank you, Valerie for inviting us back. Thank you to the whole Alumni and Development team for organising this. And thank you to everyone working tonight, who has brought us this delicious dinner and drinks. I’m sure everyone here would like to join me in showing our appreciation.
When I was asked to speak, I was very gently briefed to not, as previous people in my position have done, talk for up to 20 minutes about their own personal experiences of the college. Apparently one toast giver was only stopped when their peers started throwing napkins at them. I promise to keep this brief.
I will just want to spend a few minutes reflecting on Univ.
Coincidentally, and quite randomly, few months ago myself and a few other Univ Old Members, who are on a WhatsApp chat together, were talking about Univ. I can’t quite remember why, but we got onto the question, “What is Univ’s thing?”. Right? What is Univ’s thing?
So, Oxford colleges of course have their similarities. Not to generalise, but clever people, great academics, beautiful buildings… boats. But they each have their individual “thing”. For example, Lincoln is apparently great for food (not a claim that Univ could make when we were here). St Johns is super academic. While Christchurch has all the money, and now Harry Potter.
But what is Univ’s thing?… I wanted to share some suggestions from the group.
One suggestion was that we have the easiest commute to the exam schools for our finals. While that is useful, it feels quite narrow.
Someone else said that we have the most confusing name of all Oxford colleges… I mean, “University”.
…Another suggestion was that we have the best people.
Now, as I said, this WhatsApp group is majority Old Members. So there was some bias. However… I do just want to explore that suggestion for a moment.
Each of us here will have had our own unique experience, and made the most of different opportunities at this college, and the wider university, when we were here. Some will have made the very most of the incredible academic opportunities. Many were involved in sport, with some people competing at Blues level. I think we have two generations of Ball committee here – the 1999 and 2002 Ball. I know how that dominated people’s lives for months. Many were musical, and we had a college choir that would rival most university choirs. We had some brilliant actors – and who can forget the hilarious (if disturbing) garden show of Arabian Nights in 2001. And many of you, like me, were at JCR tea nearly every day, served by the lovely Bob Morris. You just cannot beat a sandwich, a cup of tea and the read of the paper for 5p. And I know there will be others who took every single chance they could to spend time with Colin and Pierre in the college bar.
There is, however, one experience that I have about Univ, which I think is common to many of us here. And that is centred on the strength of relationships that we developed, which have endured well beyond our short time here.
From a personal point of view, the relationships and friendships I developed here have been absolutely foundational to my life. My husband is from Univ. The majority of my housemates through my 20s are from Univ. Each our three children has at least one Old Member as a Godparent. While there have been countless nights out, holidays and family days out enjoyed. The community I built here is a huge part of my life today.
…And while I am, apparently, some kind of Univ Old Member Extremist, who has not made any new friends since she was 21… I know I’m not the only one to have forged relationships and friendships here that were important at the time and only grew to became more important after. There are quite a few married couples in the room tonight. But equally important, there are friendships here that have made life’s highs and life’s lows better. And there are whole friendship groups that feel more like a family.
And look, not exactly reliable research, but when I checked in with friends at other colleges, there is just not the same frequency and longevity of relationship. Well, I spoke to about four people, but let’s just take that as read…
There are so many ways to measure the success of an Oxford College. But I think there is one measure that is not talked about enough. One that goes unseen and is difficult to quantify. But is life changing.
That is the people and culture within a college, that allow us to build relationships and friendships that bring us joy. That hold us up and inspire us. Not just for the short time that we were here, but in the decades since. And I hope for decades to come.
…And maybe that is Univ’s thing. At least for many of us in this hall. We really do have the best people.
On that note, and before you start throwing your napkins at me, please will you raise a glass.