Reader, I graduate tomorrow. TOMORROW. HOLY MOLY, READER, TOMORROW.
I’m not ready for this. My house is nowhere near clean (made so much better by my being on here rather than vacuuming), my files are all in disarray, I’m not entirely sure where the tickets to the ceremony are, and I just found a library book I have yet to return.
I’m also not ready because this is who I’ve been for three very long years. As you may have guessed from my general bellyaching, this has not been the easiest degree I’ve earned. In fact, it’s pretty much been rock climbing on Mt. Everest without oxygen or a sweater the whole way. People keep telling me that this is how graduate school is across the board, which makes makes it clear why less than 10% of the American population holds a graduate degree.
I turned in my last paper on Wednesday, gave my last final yesterday. Being a teacher and a student at the same time is one of the most disorienting things ever. Wednesday I had a moment of severe sadness that this was my last paper, that I won’t be writing another one for a least a year, that I was truly finishing my master’s degree. (Graduate school breeds masochism professionally.) Then the next day I had to deal with the last of my students’ apathy mixed with some startling notes from some of them about how much they loved the class, how much they’ve gotten out of it, what they now know. Where were you guys the rest of the term? Are you also experiencing that strange warm glow of I-am-finished, that rosy hue that imbues the entire rest of the term with selective memory because, like people, all semesters become more likable when they’re gone?
So I graduate tomorrow, and that has its own attendant worries of family and ceremony and the fact that I really have no idea where I’m supposed to be or what I’m supposed to do there. This is perhaps the least prepared I’ve ever been for a ceremony like this, and a part of me is doing the freaking out thing. Most of me, though, is just looking at this cap, gown, and hood, and saying, “I’m not actually dead.”
This is a God thing. It is, and there isn’t a less blatant way I can describe that. As much as I want to look back now and say, “There, see, it wasn’t that bad”—it was. The last three years are miles of stones, sharp stones that pierced my soul and assumptions and ego and self-worth and certainty and plans and understandings. This degree taught me I was nothing—and God dared me to be something.
I have learned much in the past three years, but most of it has been nowhere near my mountains of books that are now scattered across the living room serving as my desk. My assignments have been writing the analyses of where God refuses to give up on me and how I let that play out in my day-to-day life. My professors have been the people who told me (over and over) that my value was not tied to whether I knew the right scholar’s name in class discussion, or how many papers I’ve presented at conference. My classes have been the hours spent listening to others teach me about what it is to be a child of God, about what it is to be in community, about what it is to abandon my desire to achieve because no amount of schooling will ever make me anything more—or less—than an animated mudman, a being filled with, chased by, loved through an utterly ineffable Deity Who inexplicably wants to be part of my learning.
This is not to say that I haven’t gotten anything out of this degree itself; I’ve been trying to make myself see what I know, and my goodness it’s a lot. At all levels—the things we know how to do on a daily basis are astounding. Can you drive a car? You’re commanding literally tons of steel and plastic to do what you want to do. Can you read? You’re marshaling your brain to understand the patterns of a thousand thousand line variations in order to bring meaning to abstract concepts. For my part, after this degree, I can explain the historical and cultural connections of a 1500-year period of history. I am comfortable in two very dead languages and can discuss the growth of the Church across two continents. I can read scholarly discussions and actually weigh in on their methodology and influences. Hell, I can intelligently use the word “methodology”—in four separate disciplines.
I don’t know if it’s an American thing or a Western Hemisphere thing or a human thing, but there’s this weird habit of ours that we must know everything always and feel badly about not knowing something, but then we must never admit to knowing much at all. One of my friends has made it her mission to inform me of when I’m being academically pretentious, and I’m grateful (mostly) for it because I can be sometimes. I do get stuck in my ivory tower—but a part of me recognizes that it was a hella long climb to get there, and I am proud of that. God knows—literally—the long nights of standing on one stair and seeing the hundreds more curl up and away from me as so much smoke, despairing that I would ever be able to take even one more step.
And then He would reach out His hand—in the form of a friend, usually, who loved me. And He would remind me to look back, to see the hundreds of stairs I’d already climbed, the miles of stones I had left behind, and I would move forward again.
I graduate tomorrow, Reader. And in that is knowing much, and knowing that there will be so much more, and accepting that neither are without a Guide.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39, LEB)