Skip to main content

Going through my old school papers

I left school in 2011, and I graduated from university in 2014. When I was done, I had six plastic crates full of paper – exercise books, worksheets, school newsletters – everything I’d accumulated over nearly two decades of education. It was a lot. 🤯

I’m trying to reduce this to a more manageable size. There’s some stuff I definitely want to keep – letters, handwritten notes, major bits of work – but there’s a lot of stuff I’m never going to look at again, which can be safely recycled.

For example, I had over thirty maths exercise books, which are very repetitive and pretty meaningless without the accompanying textbook. I’ve kept one or two representative examples, but I definitely don’t need all of them.

To be on the safe side, I’ve been scanning and digitising as I go, so I have digital copies of everything I’ve thrown away.

A photo of my scanning setup. I have a plastic box full of exercise books and papers, and next to it a small document-feed scanner. Behind them both is a big monitor, which has the scanning software and some of the already-scanned documents onscreen.

It’s taken a while and there’s still more I could digitise and recycle, but I’ve substantially reduced the pile. To give you an idea of scale, I’ve created about 500 PDFs, which have over 15,000 pages. I’ve recycled kilograms and kilograms of paper. (Don’t ask me how many sheets that is.)

What used to be six large crates is now four small boxes.

I’m not sure anybody needs to digitise their old school work; I know lots of people who threw it all in the bin without thinking, and I don’t think they’ve suffered for doing so. It’s taken multiple years to get this far, and there’s still more to do – but I am glad I’ve done it.

One of the benefits of downsizing is that what’s left is all meaningful, personal stuff. I can reach into my boxes, and anything I pull out feels special. A letter from an old friend. A mention in the school paper. An essay I enjoyed writing. I’d never have found these in the plastic crates, because there was too much other stuff to sift through, but now I can go through and enjoy the best bits.

What’s left is all pretty personal, and it’s hard to pick out anything I want to share with the Internet – but here’s a very small sample:

A collection of a few papers, including a purple exercise book, a blue workbook, a small book with some handwritten numbers, and a newspaper clipping about a chess club.

Because digitising meant going through every page, I also found small notes and nuggets that I’d never otherwise have found. I had an old debating handbook which seemed completely impersonal and mass-printed; I was going to recycle it, but I decide to digitise it first. This was a good choice, because inside I found a superb annotation:

The heading 'Argumentation (SEXI)' with a hand-drawn arrow 'This is Alex'

I laughed quite hard when I read this, and I’m pretty sure I know who wrote it. What a compliment! (I found this page while single on Valentine’s Day, and it was a nice ego boost, because I’m pretty sure it still works today.)

In the same box I found the signed cast from when I broke my wrist on a school ice skating trip. Apparently red was my favourite colour then, and it still is:

A red cast for a broken arm, cut down the middle, with signatures written on the side in black sharpie.

I should probably have thrown this away years ago, but now I’ve kept it so long I feel bad getting rid of it. Any smell or odour has long since dried up, so it’s going back in the box for now.

As I started writing this post, I searched for “papers” in my photos library, to see if I had any pictures of my working setup. It turns out I have almost no photos of what my desk looked like when I was in school, but I do have this photo of A-level maths revision:

A white laptop on a brown table, surrounded by handwritten papers and a half-finished lunchbox. A couple of diagrams are visible on the papers, drawn in purple ink.
You can tell this is an old photo because that’s a Mac laptop that (1) isn’t made of metal and (2) needs to be plugged in away from home.

And I kid you not: I’d been scanning those notes not one hour before – those diagrams are extremely distinctive, and would have been written around the time I took this photo. I’ve been through over 15,000 pages of printed material, and the one photo I have of my work setup has the papers at the top of the pile.

(If you know where this photo was taken and about my new, secret project with ███ ████ ███████ this is even more of a coincidence. I will not be explaining any further at this time, but know that I’m absolutely gobsmacked that this is the photo I found. Sometimes the universe is unsubtle in her coincidences.)

One of the highlights has been gathering together all my “project work”. This was my favourite thing to do in school – write a booklet about a topic of your choice. I had lots of freedom in what to write and how to structure it, and I always threw myself into these projects. The earliest example I found is from 2003, and will actually feature in an upcoming post. 👀

A stack of comb-bound documents, each with red card covers on one side. The cover of the topmost document says 'Cheddar Gorge' with my name and a picture.

In hindsight, it’s really obvious that I love writing. These projects are the precursor to this website, and I was always going to find some outlet for that part of my brain.

In some ways, I’m a very different person to who I was when I left school. In other ways, I haven’t changed a bit. As I’ve been going through my old school papers, it’s been fun to remind myself of that, and to see the through line to who I am today.

And now more than ever, I feel fortunate to be alive to do so.

The cheery, upbeat nature of this post feels at odds with the recent trauma in the trans community.

I can be nostalgic about my school days. I got to grow up, change as a person, be embarrassed by what I did when I was younger. I’m able to sit here and reminisce about old friends and teachers.

But Brianna won’t. She’ll never do these things. She’ll never cringe at her teenage selfies or remember her childhood loves or reconnect with a friend she hasn’t seen in a decade. She’ll never be old enough for school to feel like a distant memory.

Trans teens being murdered is the ultimate end state of transphobia and TERFery. It’s what we get from a culture that says a dead trans person is better than a happy trans person. When prominent figures make sweeping statements like “do whatever necessary to keep men out of girls’ bathrooms”, it is grimly unsurprising that some people take that literally.

In weeks like this, I am scared and frightened and angry, and I know I’m not the only one. I want to believe the world is getting better, that things are easier for young people now than they were for me, that we’re making progress. But sheesh, it doesn’t feel like that right now.

Trans friends, I love you, stay safe, look after yourselves. Brianna, rest in peace.