The woman I was 10 years ago can finally exhale. She can close her eyes and trust the woman I am now to take over. I have a new set of tools. I am armed with a new set of experiences. I have new goals to lock my sight on.
I have accomplished everything I asked of myself. I have new expectations; they’ve been percolating a while, just under the surface while I wrestled with myself to get shit done. I’m going to need a lot of help in meeting them. I’ve been on my own for 10 years. Skirting around the edges of groups and communities, dabbling in relationships, bobbing and weaving around commitments. But I had to. I needed the freedom to come and go.
I thoroughly appreciate the support I’ve had. The phone calls and Skype dates. The extensive text sessions and the random week night dinners I’ve cooked for friends at my place. Each person who took the hour to listen to me panic or vent or question my own abilities- my mosaic of loved ones. The people who believe in me are spread around the world connected by an intricate web of communication networks.
I felt so selfish going to graduate school. I did this for me. I jumped through their hoops and played the role of student all so I can claim my status as Master of something. I told my family- I need to do this and I need you to believe how important this is to me. Me. As a person who’s been raised to be a caretaker, asking other people to make sacrifices on my behalf is foreign to me.
Being a parent while being a student isn’t as difficult as you might assume it to be. One thing about parenting that you have to accept early and often is that you’re never going to know if you’re doing the ‘right’ thing. You can be 98% sure, but that 2% of uncertainty will keep you from sleeping at night. Like a bread crumb in your freshly laundered bedsheets. Being a student is the same. No matter how prepared I felt there was always a 2% chance I was going about it the entirely wrong way.
The hardest part of my thesis was finishing it. I did not know how to end it. I had to trust that my advisors knew better than me. Which. Is. Hard. If they said it was done, then it was, in fact, done. Even if I was unsatisfied, the seal of their signatures meant I had completed the task. This is not normal for me. I am aware of my strained relationship with authority and conformity. Normally, I’m not done until I’ve worn myself out. But this time, I made the decision to meet their standards instead of my own. And I was rewarded with a degree.
I went to the capstone event alone. I didn’t ask anyone to come to the little send off ceremony our department put together to acknowledge our graduation. I did this for myself, I walked away from it by myself. We didn’t have a proper commencement. No caps and gowns or hoods placed over our heads by distinguished faculty. Instead, a few words were spoken by each of our advisors as they handed us a certificate of achievement bound in purple leather.
When I was called up to the podium by the Chair of my thesis committee, she looked at me and said, “You were a challenge. You came to every meeting ready to challenge yourself, ready to challenge me. You had so much energy behind what you were pursuing, it was inspiring. Your direct nature and high expectations are refreshing.” When she said the challenging bit, I immediately cast my eyes downward, not out of shame, but to hide the grin on my face. You bet I’m challenging. And I’m really proud to have it recognized and announced.
When I walked out of the campus copy center where we had to submit out thesis for binding… the final stop after signatures and formatting approval… instead of breathing out a sigh of relief or release, I blurted out a very loud “Fuck You!” with a wide sweeping gesture towards the systems of oppression that keep so many bright and intelligent people out of school.
The entire time I was in school I was aware of all the people who should be there but aren’t. I was also aware of how many people who were there and didn’t deserve it. Every step in the process acted as a barrier for some and a leg up for others. And that’s never going to not bother me. It wasn’t a thank you that burst from me, but a fuck you. Fuck the people who vote to divest in public education. Fuck the people who only feel accomplished based on other people’s disenfranchisement. Fuck an institution who encourages people to view themselves as exempt from accountability based on academic interest.
Am I a challenge to authority? You better believe it. I’ve got privileges and this is how I use them.
So what’s next?
The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen.