12 months ago, on 11 June 2020, I wrote the words below on my iPhone on the occasion of not being able to have an End of Year Show exhibition of student Graphic Design and Illustration work due to the Covid-19 lockdown. I left the words sitting on my phone, not quite able to publish them.
One year on, and I have similar feelings, but at least this year I am able to celebrate with a few students who are in Ipswich and colleagues who can make it along to a small socially distanced and heavily sanitised gathering outside the local student bar. The date has been chosen as it marks the launch of the students’ End of Year Show website: EAST SHOW, which goes live at midday tomorrow.
It’s not the same, but it is something. Last year the incredible Graphics students who suffered the first lockdown created a website of their own, funded by the School. This year we’ve hired a web designer to put a site together, and it will feature all Arts courses from the School of EAST at the University of Suffolk, including alongside Graphic Design and Graphic Illustration: Architecture, Film, Fine Art and Photography. Go check it out: eastshow.uk
For now though, I’ll leave you with the words I wrote last year. Here’s to next year, when hopefully the class of 2020 and 2021 will be able to come along a celebrate with the class of 2022.
Notes on a no show
Tonight would have been our students’ End of Year Show.
This is the first time there hasn’t been a show, ever. That’s ever as in since the course started some 20+ years ago. My 12 years of working on the Graphic Design course at the University of Suffolk, (previously University Campus Suffolk), and my part in those 12 End of Year Shows, is only part of a long history dating back to before the University started in 2007 and when this degree course was delivered at Suffolk College.
For me personally it is usually both a celebratory time, and an emotional one. A night of meeting students’ parents and their loved ones; sharing their joy in what they have achieved, excitement about their opportunities, and anxieties about their futures. A night of giving out awards, trying to remain professional in front of industry guests and work colleagues, getting nervous about having to give a speech and trying not to swear. A night of keeping an eye on proceedings, and watching the clock to the point when we need to clear people out, tidy the bottles away, and decamp to a local bar to continue the celebrations with those we’ve been working with for 3 years.
It’s a time to celebrate the hard work of the course team, those super-hard-working colleagues who give up so much to support students and make the course run on a budget of somewhere between very little and fuck all. It is a time to recognise what we have achieved together in having empowered students to transform their lives.
It is also a night to welcome back ex-students, blown away that they want to keep coming back every year to see what the next batch of students have been up to. Some come regularly, traveling distances and staying in cheep hotels, others come every few years. Some come to grab business cards to take back to the studios they work in to recommend the new blood to their directors. Some come for nostalgic reasons, some to meet up with old friends—for some it is a chance of a reunion. It’s a time to chat about old times, and find out what everyone has been up to. Sometimes, it’s a chance to listen to what they think would be good to introduce into the course, based on their now expert professional experiences.
Our current students, who should be celebrating tonight, have been incredible under the circumstances. Given what I know some of them have been through, that they have still achieved, that they have got through this, is remarkable in itself. That they have still grown in that time, still learnt, and still produced not just good work, but work that outstrips what they have previously done, is an incredible thing. I’m not convinced I would have been able to do all that when I was 21. That it isn’t possible to celebrate that in person is tough. That chance to offer some sort of closure to their experience, to have a transition stage from education onto whatever they do next, is an empty feeling. I have been so busy all day today; assessing work, writing feedback, sending emails, doing union stuff, reviewing planning applications, updating websites, and on and on, it’s just been a Thursday. And tonight is just a Thursday in front of Springwatch with a cup of tea, when it should be being spent with students and colleagues, celebrating.