As of today, I am a graduate with an Associates of Applied Science degree. I won’t tell you what field because it’s small enough to be identifying and I don’t know you that well. Unless I do, in which case you already know! I have some disjointed thoughts I need to get down. Strap in.
A two year degree doesn’t sound very impressive when compared with graduate degrees and before I entered this program I, too, held the opinion that it wasn’t really worth celebrating. That’s because I didn’t know what the fuck I was talking about. I pushed through five straight semesters while also holding down a thankless retail job, paying all my bills on time, walking all my dogs regularly, devoting a not-small portion of my time to volunteer activities, AND I made the Dean’s list. Twice. The particular program I was in incorporates doctorate-level studies (not a lot, but I can talk about some nit-picky science shit, lemme tell ya), and required regular clinical rotations. I worked very hard over the last two years, with no time off, and I earned the respect of both my instructors and my peers. My two year degree is impressive as fuck.
Speaking of peers – I didn’t really make any life-long friends. It’s not that kind of program. Most of us were middle-aged and seeking a career change, with built-in families, friends, and support structures. We weren’t necessarily looking to create a new family. But it’s true that cohorts share a camaraderie that you can’t appreciate unless you’ve been through something challenging and emotional with another group of people. Different groups call it different things (such as “unit cohesion” in the military), but the sense of shared accomplishment and the unspoken understanding that comes from fellowship is real. Whether you want it to be or not. My classmates measure success in their own ways, but we all understand what it took to stand here at graduation and say, “We earned this.” It’s not a small thing.
I won’t be walking with my class. It’s a long, boring, stifling, unwieldy ceremony that doesn’t represent accomplishment to me. But I will be joining my class for a meal, sharing that sense of camaraderie one last time before I move on. I was good at school. A linear path with clearly set goals and expectations is a challenge that appeals to me. My instructors had glowing feedback and recognition for me at the end of my courses. The program director said that not only did I raise the bar, but I brought all of my classmates up as a result. They gave me the department award. And they’re proud of me. That feels really nice.
I have a strange sense of dazed aimlessness this morning. No school deadlines to fret over, no continuing project or assignment to dwell on, no particular schedule to slave to. I have other things going on. There is right now an offer letter in my inbox from an employer wanting to give me a full time salaried position. It’s not my dream job, but it is a real job and I desperately need one of those right now. I’ve been three years without a real income or insurance or security and the weight of that stress has become increasingly unbearable. So I’ll take the job, which is a two-year commitment, and I’ll work just as hard there as I did in school and hopefully in yet another two years I’ll be able to move a little closer to the life I envision.
None of this, not one single bit, would have been possible without the unflagging support of my daughter who fulfilled every support role imaginable and some unimaginable. She helped me with my math homework when it literally made me cry. She walked my dogs when I put in 13 hour days. She listened to me rant, rave, and crow. She single-handedly kept us from being buried under an avalanche of dirty dishes. And she’s proud of me, too. That feels amazing. I absolutely could not have done this without her.
Three years ago, I thought I might die from grief, abandonment, rage and insecurity. Today, I’m about dig into a new career, city and future. I’ve rediscovered myself in the most challenging ways, but I’m not ashamed of how I got here. I’m proud of myself, and that’s everything.