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COVID-19: A Student Blog

In part two of our series of student blogs recounting experiences of life in lockdown, Asrif Yusoff (MSt 2017) discusses his thoughts on leaving Hughes Hall early and the disappointment of having his hard-earned congregation delayed.

Longing in Lockdown

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

I have long dreamt of a Cambridge graduation. A ceremony steeped in tradition and history with customs dating back over 800 years which for some, defines their collegiate experience. It’s a moment that I’ve been waiting for after two years of postgraduate research and hair loss. 

Pre Coronavirus with Tutor Dr Jean Lambert

As soon as I received the e-mail from the Degree Committee notifying me that I can graduate, I went straight to the tailor to get a black suit done — I don’t have one and the dress code is strict. The suit is ready but it has since, remained untouched.

On 16 March 2020, our group of graduands received an ‘urgent’ e-mail announcing the cancellation of our much-awaited congregation originally scheduled for the end of the month. I was momentarily deflated, but not at all dispirited. 

The postponement was for a very good reason: a global pandemic. I wouldn’t have been able to fly out of Kuala Lumpur anyway. Our borders were closed and the majority of flights have been grounded. The country was under a ‘movement control order’.

Working from home has its challenges in the beginning with ordeals ranging from choppy Internet connection to a screaming child. But I got used to it and I believe my experience as a student at the university’s Centre for Social Innovation has somewhat prepared me for this unexpected transition.

At work, my colleagues began working from home and I was joined by my six-year-old whose school had begun teaching online. Her two-year-old sister grew curious seeing everyone around in the morning. It’s usually just her enjoying Peppa Pig over breakfast.

Asrif working from home surrounded by his family

During my studies, my research was on the funding structure of public universities in Malaysia, thus my fieldwork required me to be in the country while I travelled between Kuala Lumpur and Cambridge every term. This allowed me to learn how to navigate my way around working remotely (and effectively).

One thing that I’ve learned from this coronavirus experience is the importance of being adaptable. The ‘new normal’ will demand us to step out of our comfort zone but I believe adaptability can be developed with the right mindset and focus. Both of which I still struggle with.

It might still be a while until I do make the walk from Hughes Hall to the Senate House for my graduation. I am still keenly awaiting for the big day to come, though. In the meantime, I guess it’s worth making the best out of the situation.

On the day of Eid this year, we had a small ceremony to celebrate my graduation with the family at home. I was already in our traditional Baju Melayu in Cambridge Blue courtesy of my mom. And in the absence of a graduation robe, I had my trusty Hughes Hall hoodie on.

I guess I’ll save the suit for the actual day.

Asrif at his home graduation