Away out in to the big world, by degrees

Last week, for the last time, I arrived in Dunedin as an undergraduate.

I departed Christchurch with some hand-luggage and a headache, and arrived in student city with the above plus a rueful tear or two at the thought of saying goodbye, at the sight of burnt umber hills lit gorse-golden beneath a ''shepherd's delight'' sky, and even at the smell of burnt coffee (Greggs); Dunedin's beauty is a sensory delight.

Thankfully, such a stunning day arrived just in time for our graduation parade. Yes, the clouds abated, the sun glowed, the sea breathed softly over the shore and into town to ruffle mortarboard tassels.

The whole procession was a credit to the city of Dunedin, and to the University of Otago. The last time I paraded down the main drag was during the Toga Parade of my first year, in 2009. Actually, the ordeal of running, ducking, cowering from eggs, oranges and worse (much worse) was hardly a ''parade''.

Thankfully, this student mass exodus was a more civil and markedly cheerier affair.

Bagpipers and drummers set a scene of celebration (many thanks to them, by the way), roadside spectators were highlights, and Judy Bellingham's address would pose a challenge to J.K. Rowling's Commencement speech at Harvard. Bravo Otago.

How positive it was to hear someone so passionate about making a life of art, and loving it. Packed in with more than 300 other (mainly arts) graduates, I wondered what the world would make of us all.

Before you snigger, I know what you're thinking: ''Would you like fries with that?''

But the girl beside me - majoring in linguistics - was off on the most exciting adventure overseas to discover previously unrecorded languages. Others will soon be working in art galleries, museums, publishing companies, academic institutions, or as painters, poets, musicians, actors, all over the world.

No doubt the majority of arts students have little idea of where they're heading, but before the public questions the validity of an individual who doesn't wear a suit or sit at a desk all day, I urge them to heed the advice of Howard Thurman: ''Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.''

Regardless, it should be considered a blessing that we're able to ask ourselves, ''What to do with the future?''

Oh, and no, I didn't see that girl in body paint. Was she really there?

Meanwhile, during the parade, two elderly ladies sat at a cafe on George St enjoying a cup of tea and a slice of gossip. My family were seated at the next table, but left their lunch in a hurry to watch the students walk past, although Nana remained to finish her toasted sandwich. The two ladies leaned over to ask what all the fuss was about.

''That's the graduation parade,'' explained Nana.

''I beg your pardon, but the what?''

Despite closed roads, the band, hundreds of students ... it's good to know that at least a little of Dunedin life continues independently (even unaware) of the university.

However, Dunedin has been more than a backdrop to my life as a (so-called) scarfie. Our city is charming, special and wonderfully beautiful.

I am hugely grateful to those who have made my time here more rewarding than I expected it to be, to those strangers who - upon reading my column - have invited me into their lives and their community (and also reassured me of a readership beyond my immediate family), to those who have donated invaluable wisdom and time, and of course to the ODT for taking a chance and providing me with this very generous opportunity: North by Northeast.

Thank you.