Thursday, June 10, 2004

Graduation Day (which happens to be a terrific Chris Isaak song)


Today is commencement for the university that I work for. It's warm and rainy and the quad is laid from corner to corner with a thick carpet of happy, black-robed, square-hatted graduates. Every few seconds they let out a collective hoorah. Last year I worked on a satellite campus. It wasn't that far away, but I didn't have to walk through the quad to get to my office, so I was totally unprepared for the hooplah and the bag-searching, metal-detecting, I.D.-checking, etc. this morning. So I got through the gate and then I had to walk along the periphery of the shenanigans to get to my building. The reason that I work for this school is so that I can get my degree on the cheap. I work full time and usually take three classes per semester at night. The university pays for two of them. I'm a good student - I got all A's last semester - and I love being in school, being busy, even being stressed out. But it feels like it's taking forever. The credits build up so slowly. I need 128 credits and each class is worth four. That's twelve credits per semester unless I take an agonizing lab class and only have time for eight credits or even four or even zero, like the semester that my aunt died and I had to drop everything. Somewhere along the way I lost track of the fact that someday I'm going to graduate. I just take my classes, do my thing, slog through it every minute, every day, every week, every year. And I would like to say that seeing those kids today was a pleasant reminder of the reason I'm here and an affirmation that it has all been worth it. But it wasn't. Walking along the edge of that sea of rustling robes and dangling tassels, I was only reminded that I'm 28 years old and I don't have a bachelor's degree and yet another year has gone by that I don't get to feel like I've really accomplished anything even though I have worked so fucking hard. And this cold stone of envy just sat there in my gut. I really didn't see it coming and I was shocked at how much it hurt and how it pulled the tears out of my eyes even as I was being waved across the street on the other side of the quad by a policeman holding the traffic back with the palm of his hand. It was so hard to breathe. And I know it doesn't make sense. I mean, everyone who works in this office has a master's degree and they don't make any more money than I do. The woman who sits at the front desk and answers the phone has a master's in theology. The guy who moves money back and forth between accounts has a master's in history and he's doing glorified data entry. As is the guy who pays invoices and who has a master's in music theory. But it's not about money. It's about shame. I'm a smart person who fucked up and now I'm trying to fix the life I broke and it's taking so long and when people ask me what I do I can't say what I want to say. I have to say, "I work at this university...*pause*...and I go to school there at night." And people assume I'm getting a master's or a PhD, but no, I'm way back here at square one, overseeing reimbursements for a bunch of post-docs who are younger than me. Blah. I know it's stupid to complain. I was just so jealous of those kids this morning and it made me feel shriveled and sour and exhausted. Even now my eyes are leaking and I'm trying to hide behind my hair so that I don't have to explain that I'm crying because I'm too petty to be happy for anyone else.

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