I’m hesitant to post this, but I think I get to be proud about this and say thanks to some people.
Tomorrow I graduate with a Master’s degree in English. I guess I graduated in the fall semester, but the ceremony — the ritual required to really make it feel real — takes place tomorrow. The vibrations between now, 12:43 a.m. (so technically I graduate today, but the whole go to bed and wake up to a new day thing), and the moment my name is called will continue to increase until the hum in my ears is nearly unbearable. I don’t know, inertia or something? I just mean so much has been working toward this point, the end.
I wrote my thesis on rituals, specifically those that happen between fathers and sons. It’s the best thing I’ve ever written while trying to be an actual sit down and type writer, a tortured writer, a thinking writer — not a first come, first serve, get it out before deadline sportswriter and not a cash in on pop culture and trending topics tweeter kind of writer; however, now that I have a degree, I am available for a position in any of the above (feel free to contact me). I agonized over that thesis: first the thought of the generic thesis, then cornering a topic and theme, then the writing, then the revision, then the blending and shaping and harmonizing — it’s really not that great, guys, but it’s the best I could accomplish and have yet to date accomplished. I spent a lot of late nights during the writing process. Some nights I stared at my computer or Twitter or Netflix or the wall and went to bed feeling empty or full of self-hatred for my lack of productivity — seriously though, sometimes you just can’t. I thought about the hours I would sleep in, minutes I was robbing from my children and my wife. The thesis was difficult. But the thesis is such a small part of the degree.
For me this degree symbolizes everything I have worked for over the past three years: stepping into the front of a classroom for the first time, terrified that some freshman was going to challenge me or sniff out that I had prepared a lesson fifteen minutes before showing up; staying up most of forty-eight hours to Frankenstein together a final draft I had put off because of teaching or grading or working full-time at another job or spending too much time with my two boys and my pregnant wife; taking summer classes to make up for the C I earned for the Frankenstein paper (you can’t count Cs in a graduate program, so the Cs gets degree thing is not always true); torturing my body through lack of sleep and fast food and energy drinks and caffeine or not eating or diet pills; questioning whether I was depressed or bipolar or had ADD because of the way trying to wrestle and pin down an invisible future for yourself and your family fatigues and guts you.
This degree is not just a product of my work. I had friends and colleagues who never said, “Again?” when I’d ask what they taught earlier in their classes or if they would look at my rough drafts or refresh me on what I was supposed to have read — to be clear, I’m not a SparkNotes guy; I detest the idea (If you are a young English major who prides yourself on thinking I can B.S. anything, it’s not too late to stop being everyone’s least favorite friend and classmate). I believe in doing the work and doing the reading, but seriously I don’t see how even a single (unmarried with no kids) person could get through all that reading. Thankfully, I had professors who nodded when I’d ask for extensions. Then I had a mentor who helped me believe I could get my thesis work done. She also helped me believe that it was good work. Seriously she was it. She was angelic. I felt and still feel I could not have gotten my thesis done without her. She knew exactly when and how much to push. It was heavy stuff.
And then, of course, there is my family. My wife never said no. When I had to go to the school until 2 a.m., when I had to go somewhere to study, when I had to stay up late to grade or stare at my computer, she never said no. She woke up with the kids; she kept them away — sometimes — so I could sleep; she reminded me of the things I needed to do in order to stay sane and healthy in the real world, not just the school world; she put the kids to bed, a lot of times by herself. The kids gave up daddy time, and they prayed for me. Before dinner or before bed, they would pray, “Please help Dad get his deesis done.” Honestly, it was a miracle. This is not a joke.
So tomorrow (today), it’s a speech and a cloak — but this time a hood! — and a walk and a piece of paper. And now the responsibility to feed these people and reward these people for sticking by me begins. To be honest, I have no idea what is going to happen and where we’re going to end up or how we’re going to end up, but like any of the tough things that have come before, this degree has only proven that hard things are possible. Whatever comes of it, earning this degree was the right thing to do. We have all grown and grown together as a family.
For me, I get to think back to sitting in the vice principal’s office my senior year of high school and hearing him say, “The ball’s in your court” just a few months before graduation and having the thought start to sink in that I might not graduate. I get to think about sitting at the top row of the arena, watching my friends grab their diplomas and shake hands and smile and wave to their parents. I get to think about my failed attempts at college after testing out of high school and getting a GED that summer. I get to think about the make-up classes and probation before finally getting an associate degree and then two more years of work and struggle with school, with my wife, and with myself during a bachelor degree. I get to think about taking a risk and deciding to move six hours away from home — something those smarter than me had been telling me I needed to do for a very long time — to get this Master’s degree.
I did it. The high school dropout, the newlywed with the plan, the family man with changing plans, and every other variation from start to now, we all did it.
Thanks. Stay cool.