I wrote my last examination on April 21st; my final grades will be posted in mid-May and my diploma will be ready for pick-up by the end of June. I’m not going to convocation because, for one thing, I’m returning from a work trip early that morning, and, for another, I have no friends in my faculty. (I did a combined degree in English and Health Studies but I ‘belong’ to the Faculty of Social Sciences, and the few people I know well enough to hold conversations with are in English, and their convocation is the day before.) Nothing much will change now that I’ve graduated. It makes no difference to my job; I’m not getting a promotion or a raise. All I did was finish getting one of the supposed pre-requisites for my current position. The only things that change are that I gain several more hours of free time every week, that I can read books and drink alcohol and watch shows without feeling guilty about taking time away from studying, and that I no longer have a good excuse for avoiding doing some of the things that I and/or others think I should be doing with my life.
The first class I took started eight years ago this week — May 2004. I had been accepted into the universities I applied to for the previous fall in the normal course of finishing high school, but I started working in the spring and decided to keep at it because I really liked the job and didn’t think I was cut out to be a full-time undergrad. (My suspicion that I wouldn’t be happy living on campus started with a disastrous weekend sharing a condo with friends during a high school trip to Quebec.) A full-time position came with tuition assistance, without which I would never have finished or probably even started. It hasn’t been the easiest eight years, but I have never regretted my decision.
I think I registered for my first class the day it started. I was stressed out about it, and someone I was close to at the time told me that I had no right to be stressed out in comparison to what other people were going through. I understood their point, but in retrospect, I should’ve told that person to fuck off, but didn’t have the nerve, and that I regret.
I only took evening classes until the last year and a half where the leftover required courses were only ever offered during the day. I got something out of all the classes I took, but the only ones I really enjoyed were the English classes, and I wish I had been able to take more of them. I almost never spoke to the instructors, never made an effort to be friends with anyone. I rarely skipped classes or readings. I never handed in an assignment late. I was on the Dean’s honour list every year. And, meanwhile, I worked full time well beyond the hours I was paid for at a job that none of my fellow students would be qualified for after graduation. I’m not sure if that’s enough to justify the unpleasant feelings I had about undergraduates in general, especially in the last couple years. Every conversation with another student seemed like a competition to see who had the most readings, the most assignments due, who had the least time to get them done in, who had the most frustrating professors, who had the worst problems in their family and social lives. Maybe some of them will never have a spouse or a mortgage or a 9 to 5 job, but it was a burden to pretend that I didn’t, that I was one of them.
The second half of this last term was the most difficult, when what was supposed to be a backseat role on a work project turned into a much bigger and more demanding role. There were a couple of weeks where I slept badly for three or four hours a night, did the bare minimum for school in a couple of hours, and spent the rest of my time working. I could hardly eat. I missed weeks of one of the two courses I was taking, but I handed in all my assignments on time and my grades turned out fine.
One weekend during that time, Scott and I went out for lunch at a restaurant kind of out in the country, and there was a cat hanging out on the picnic tables on the front porch. I’m allergic to cats so I usually avoid touching them or letting them touch me, but when the cat approached me and started purring and rubbing its head against my coat, it seemed like the only thing that could alleviate my anxiety, and I had to pet it. My heart broke a little, petting that cat for a few short moments, taking the risk, because the affection from that cat — independent of how hard I’d been working, how badly I wanted to do a good job, how personally I’d been taking other people’s flaws, how little I’d been sleeping — was the nicest thing I experienced during that whole time.
I’ve been, perhaps foolishly, trying to plan what to do with this free time. Read more books; that’s a given. Spend more time with my nieces and nephews (they’re the next best thing to an affectionate cat). Work on some professional and personal long-term goals. But am I justified, at least for a while, in doing nothing with this extra time? Do I need something to take up the empty space, or plan for things to happen so that I’ll have something to do? The more days that go by the more I suspect I don’t need to think so hard about this.
What I mean this piece to say is thank you — to the universe for allowing the pieces to fall in my favour, so that my degree came, albeit slowly, with little cost to me; to my boss for understanding more than others what an accomplishment this was; and to my husband for accepting my absences and distractions and frustrations throughout it all. It’s hard to believe that it’s over.