So, I graduated.
My undergrad, specifically. I now have a Bachelor’s Degree of Science in English Literature from Washington University in St. Louis. I started college (not WUSTL) in the fall of 2008 and I finished in the fall of 2017.
It should’ve taken 4. It took 9.
It took me a really long time to be excited about my graduation. I think it was only when I was literally in line for the registration the day of, bedecked in my cap and gown, when I finally started to look forward to it. For months, I’ve asked myself why I wasn’t excited about this. My friends were excited for it. My friends were proud of me. Everyone said I should be proud. Everyone STILL says I should be proud.
A friend of mine congratulated me over the weekend and my immediate response was to tell her that I was graduating from night school, as if that was less of an accomplishment. I received dirty looks from my roommate for this.
Why am I not proud of this? I know logically I should be. I didn’t give up. My roommate gave me a little pin to commemorate this: Nevertheless, she persisted. That resonated and actually brought me to tears. I persisted. If God gave me one thing, it was stubbornness, and I stubbornly refused to stop until someone gave me the degree I rightfully worked for.
Why can’t I summon pride for this? Is it because of insecurity, this absurd feeling that I should be at the level of my peers? I should be in a Master’s degree program by now. I should have FINISHED a Master’s degree program by now, and be looking at the PhD program. What timeline am I working under? There is not a deadline for collegiate accomplishments. My high school guidance counselor got his PhD in his 50’s. My mother got her undergraduate in her late 40’s. Why have I set myself this standard? Why can’t I accept that my route was a little tricky, through no fault of my own?
I had to drop out. I had to leave my university, get a job, pay off a debt (that was not my fault), and basically start all over.
I did everything I possibly could to remain academically active. I couldn’t enroll officially at WUSTL until my outstanding balance of $6,000 was paid to BSU–but I could still take classes. And I did. I submitted papers to two conferences, I got to present. I did that while working full-time. And when I finally paid off the hold, when BSU finally released my transcripts, I enrolled officially at WUSTL.
There’s something about working full-time that puts academics into perspective. There were times when I was working two jobs while still maintaining a high grade point average. I spent my entire time at WUSTL being terrified of slipping into another depressive bout, like I had at WWU and BSU. And in all honestly, there were many times where I DID–but somehow, this time, thank God, it didn’t affect my schoolwork. (It affected other areas of my life, but at least my GPA didn’t suffer this time.)
When I worked at a hotel on the weekends and weekday evenings, I would do homework in the back–write a page, do a load of laundry, fold a load of laundry, repeat. On my 2016 trip to England, I finished my final paper for my “Critical Research Writing” class at Heathrow airport, while waiting for my flight. At that same trip, I arranged an independent study with WUSTL’s bemused approval, where I got to peruse and research C.S. Lewis’ manuscripts and journals at the Oxford Bodleian Library–and write a 25 page paper that fall semester. I worked my butt off to get good grades, to create special and challenging projects for myself, to make up for the time I lost.
But there are certain things I can never get back. I was supposed to graduate from BSU in 2012. My grandfather was supposed to see me graduate–graduate from the same school his wife did. He passed away in 2014. He never got to see me walk. That hurts more than anything else. My mother gave me his watch, so I could have that small part of him (and believe me, you can bet that I started bawling) with me as I finally crossed the threshold.
I didn’t get to walk with my best friend and roommate. I was supposed to graduate with her. It was something we were supposed to do together.
I hear some people say, “I don’t believe in regrets.” I admire the sentiment, but it’s not something I can entirely get behind. I regret everything. I regret so many of my choices in life–choices that hurt people, opportunities I’ve missed, experiences I’ll never get back. I know, deep down, someday I will be comfortable with who I am and the path it’s taken me to get there. But I’m not there yet and I don’t see that horizon anytime soon.
I think it’s okay to admit that to myself. I think it’s okay to grieve and mourn for what I’ve missed out on. I’m beginning to balance that with being proud that I didn’t quit–that when the going got tough, I literally got going and figured out a way to complete my education, even though it took way longer than I wanted. Maybe I won’t be able to escape the feeling that I’ve wasted my 20’s chasing after this stupid undergrad–but maybe I can balance that with the knowledge that I still got a lot done in my 20’s.
Now, you may be asking me…what next?
I have no freaking idea. I have vague thoughts about applying for the PhD program at WUSTL (you don’t have to have your Master’s). I have vague plans of taking the GRE at some point. I have vague intentions of submitting more papers to conferences.
But the only firm and resolute goal is…to finish my book revisions.
So here we go.