A night at the Guardian

Coming home for Christmas has been like taking a deep breath. It’s been a busy term; four essays of vastly varying quality were somehow written, perhaps a hundred pages of notes made, countless chapters of scary books read, and a magazine single-handedly produced. And of course we went clubbing, and grabbed coffee; celebrated birthdays and the passing of deadlines and nothing at all apart from the fact that we were all together, having the time of our lives.

The highlight amongst the highlights, as it were, has to be the 27th November; the day I chucked some stuff in a bag and hurried home to London for the Guardian Student Media Awards. I’ve wanted to blog about my experience there ever since, but I didn’t know what to say. Now I have some time, I am going to attempt to describe a night I doubt I will ever forget.

I had submitted some work to the competition sometime in the summer and, being me, promptly forgot all about it until I got an email in October saying I’d been shortlisted for the Student Columnist category and inviting me to the awards ceremony. The poor souls who were with me at the time will be able to vouch for this: I was unbelievably happy, giggling and rambling like an over-excited school kid on Christmas eve. I know that’s a cliché, but that day I practically embodied cliché, as I blinked back happy tears.

The rest of the term inevitably became a build up to the ceremony. I was nervous about the prospect of talking to people I didn’t know – a long term fear which I have conquered if on campus, but not at life-defining, adult-world events. I was excited by the prospect of who I may meet, and of course the simple fact of being at the Guardian, every young liberal’s favourite broadsheet.

When the day finally came, everyone kept telling me I would win. I can tell you honestly that, although I was flattered by my friends’ genuine faith in me, I was not expecting to. I was more worried, perhaps for the first time in my life, about what to wear (I confess that from the moment in October when I had read ‘awards ceremony’ it had been hard to dislodge images of the Oscars from my mind’s eye). I just wanted to impress, and fit in, and all the other things one wants to do in the offices of a revered, loved institution (where also you kind of want a job).

d1725-guardian
Just in case you forget where you are,
the wall in reception lets you know

I was also more concerned by the meeting my editor at Prospect had somehow, miraculously, arranged for me with a Guardian senior editor, but it turned out to be a relaxed and mercifully short affair in which I did not embarrass myself. By the time I went to the actual awards, I was pretty chilled out (apart from a minor bout of hysteria when Alan Rusbridger appeared) – especially as, let me reiterate, I did not expect to win.

But I did. I won. I am the Guardian Student Columnist of the Year 2014. Isn’t that something?

The actual moment of winning was quite surreal. Before my name was announced, they played a short video about the category and the winner – kept deliberately vague, of course. I recognised several allusions to the pieces I’d submitted, but adamantly refused to believe my own brain. It’s not me, I thought, it can’t be me. And then he said my name and everything became very strange.

I don’t really remember the rest of the night, apart from a brief and bewildering conversation with Hugh Muir about writing some pieces for Comment is free (what?) and sending/receiving more messages than my hands could cope with. I gave up a while and handed my phone to my friend who had come with me, so she could assume my identity while I remembered how to breathe.

So that was that, my night at the Guardian. I could go into infinite detail about what happened in the following days; the celebrations, the seemingly endless messages of congratulations, and just how happy I was. But none of that is particularly interesting for you, so I’ll summarise in a few sentences.

In July, I will be doing at least two weeks work experience at the Guardian, possibly four, depending on various factors. And I may indeed appear on Comment is free sometime soon, you and I will both just have to see.

I’ll end with a message I sent that night, sitting in bed at home, reflecting on how life has changed in the past few years. I was speaking to one of my best friends at university about how ridiculous it all was. “I know it’s weird,” I typed, “but right now, everything feels like it’s been worth it.” That feeling won’t last, but being able to experience it just once was pretty special.

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