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Literary quotes to see you through your first year

During my first year at Warwick, one of the best features of my room had to be the pin board right over my desk. Soon after moving in, it was already littered with posters and family photos to introduce a touch of home to the bland walls. What also began to appear all over its surface were quotes from some of my favourite songs and books.

These were all those sentences that I really took to heart when I read them, and some of them have almost become guiding words to live by. They led me through my first year, especially when I was struggling to settle in, and helped me to keep in perspective what was really important.

My favourite was (and still is): “Never let a rigid itinerary discourage you from an unexpected adventure”. It comes from Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft and I’ve always thought that it is the perfect piece of advice, especially starting out at university. Things will come up that you may never have expected, so be sure not to close yourself off to new opportunities because the plan in your head is already set in stone.

As soon as I sat down with my new flatmates in the kitchen on the first day, I realised straight away how my exaggerating mind had once again betrayed me

Later, a few words of wisdom from one of my favourite authors, Stephen King, appeared on my wall: “The scariest moment is always just before you start”, and oh how true this is. I was terrified of starting at university. It was such a big change in my life – probably the biggest so far – but as soon as I sat down with my new flatmates in the kitchen on the first day, I realised straight away how my exaggerating mind had once again betrayed me. The hardest part wasn’t the start but the moment of dread just before and it was an unnecessary stress that I wish I could go back and save myself from.

Then, once the work had really begun, I kept remembering one of the quotes from my A Levels, found in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: “I did not watch the blossom or the expanding leaves […] so deeply was I engrossed in my occupation”. This became my reminder never to shut myself off completely.

Too long with the door closed and my head in a textbook, and I risked following in Victor’s footsteps. While some things in Shelley’s story are ambiguous, Victor’s tragic path is never in question. It also reminded me to get outside. Warwick has more than enough greenery to please nature lovers and I strove to make the most of it while I had the convenience of living on campus, something I’d definitely recommend.

It embodies the mystery that academic institutions so often encapsulate in literature and gave me a renewed vigour to push through my final weeks of term

I read The Secret History by Donna Tartt towards the end of my first year but there was one quote within it that I just had to have on my wall: “It was suffused with a weak, academic light – […] different from anything I had ever known – a light that made me think of long hours in dusty libraries, and old books, and silence”.

Now I don’t know how many others can relate but I found that this always brought me back to what I imagined and hoped university would be like. It embodies the mystery that academic institutions so often encapsulate in literature and gave me a renewed vigour to push through my final weeks of term, even when the workload and stress levels had risen tenfold overnight.

Just looking up and seeing them in front of me as I worked kept me balanced and, as I mentioned at the start of the article, kept everything in perspective

These quotes may not appeal to everyone, but to me, they were a great comfort in the harder moments of first year. Just looking up and seeing them in front of me as I worked kept me balanced and, as I mentioned at the start of the article, kept everything in perspective. I think it can be easy to get lost when you are trying to adjust to so many changes all at once, so my advice would be to find those quotes that speak to you to remind you of what really matters and what defines success for you.

And of course, always remember the wise words that Tolkien wrote for Gandalf in Lord of the Rings: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us”, and spend that time well.

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