Oxford, UK — Gloom and disillusionment rippled across the Oxford University campus today, as students woke up to not only their final exams, but to news that the British electorate voted to separate from the EU, that their prime minister had resigned over the so-called "Brexit," and that their economic prospects were suddenly thrown into turmoil.
Standing outside a university café, after a night of celebration following her final exam, 19-year-old medical student Evie Rothwell said she was feeling a sense of "betrayal" this morning.
"A really important decision was made for us by the older generation," she explained, noting that exit polls showed that three-quarters of voters aged 18 to 24 wanted to remain in the EU. By contrast, more than 60 percent of seniors aged 65+ voted to leave.
"Essentially people much, much older than us — and who won’t be around for the consequences — are giving us a future we don’t want," added Jack Lennard, who just finished his undergraduate degree in archeology and anthropology.
The students see the vast job and travel prospects the EU offered them suddenly drying up, and they described how they felt their worlds would get a lot smaller. Rothwell worried about her future medical licensure, and whether she’d be able to move around as freely as she had hoped.
The students also uniformly said they failed to see how leaving the EU would make Britain great again.
"I don’t think there’s anything non-patriotic about the EU," said Mary Winn, a 19-year-old studying English. "I think [being part of the EU] makes us a stronger country."
Brexit: a cautionary tale for America?
Aside from concern and confusion about the future, the students were surprised that Brexit could be real — and had words of caution for America.
"I was so, so sure it wouldn’t happen," Rothwell said. "I was 100 percent sure." Walking through campus, Rothwell ran into a fellow student who admitted to being so wrapped up in exams that she didn’t vote — and now she’ll have to live with a decision that tilted against her preference to remain.
Rothwell added: "Imagine a world where Boris Johnson and Donald Trump are making the most important political decisions."
Johnson is London’s former mayor, who helped lead the "Leave" campaign after seeing a political opportunity to capitalize on a disillusioned electorate. He, along with UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, promised a return to a truly great and free Britain.
If all this sounds familiar for Americans, the students did not miss the parallels either. And they advised Americans who are concerned about Trump not to be complacent in the upcoming US election.
"In Oxford especially, there’s this liberal atmosphere. You’re surrounded by so many like-minded people you forget there’s an outside world," said Winn. "But especially in working-class communities, the Leave campaign was very popular. You do forget that being in an environment like this."
The words should ripple like a cautionary tale across the Atlantic, added Lennard.
"I have about 2,000 friends on Facebook — and all but three were voting ‘Remain.’ That tells you what kind of bubble you can live in, and how you can delude yourself it’s going to go one way and then it doesn’t."
Lennard is, in particular, concerned about the rise of a violent right-wing electorate in his country. "Just as Trump is coming to his rise in the US, saying all these things about building a wall, politicians here have been saying similar things. And we all thought — ‘You can’t say that, that won’t appeal to British voters.’ But clearly it did."
Correction: Lennard misstated the number of friends on his Facebook account.