Looking on Facebook today, I saw that it was the graduation day of my grad school alma mater. I’m thrilled for all these cap and gowners, embarking on their new lives filled with exciting opportunities and possibilities… And fat student loan debt. Well, the reality of that will sink in around December — it’s all bliss today. As it should be.
I graduated 12 years ago tomorrow — only it seems like twelve minutes ago. I was sure I was going to be a published author, and my student loans paid off with royalty checks by now… Yeah, not so much. But I’m actually okay with it for the most part. Sure I’d like to be writing more, and published, and all that — but I have to say, life is pretty good, and my education really is what got me here.
When I decided to go back to school, I was in a pretty unhappy place. My dad was dying, and my job, though fun at times, wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life and I was getting terrified that it was going to be. I worked in a vintage store which was sort of dreamy, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do — I had an undergraduate degree in English, and I knew, deep down, that getting first crack at a pair of 1960s deadstock go-go boots wasn’t really that good of a trade for me. (Fabulous, yes. Career-wise, no.) I wanted to be writing, and I wanted to make a little more money, and I wanted to be on the right path for myself. I was going nowhere and getting depressed, and when my dad got sick I realized I only had a short amount of time to make him proud of me. I started taking writing classes at the local senior center, where I was the youngest by several decades. That little class, and those lovely seniors with their far more fascinating stories than mine, set me on the path back to myself.
At that time, my friend was in grad school and invited me to go to classes with her. When I left the campus that day, I swooned, I cried, and I realized that it was exactly what I wanted to do. I could not believe there was a place that you could write and discuss Beverly Cleary (I sat in on a YA creative writing class) and then go discuss Margaret Atwood in another class and then work on crafting essays. It was like heaven! So the next time I saw my dad and took him to dialysis, I told him that I was finally getting myself and my life together, and though he was concerned about the money, he was pleased. One of the last days I ever spent with him, I mailed off my application and writing samples. Unfortunately he passed away before I got accepted, but I do like to think that maybe, just maybe, he had a little something to do with that.
Those two years were amazing. It was really hard but good work, and emotionally there were ups and downs, not the least of which was that 9/11 happened about two weeks into our first semester, and an instructor died in a plane crash shortly before graduation. I was still working at the store, taking care of my mom, dealing with the aftermath of losing my dad, and a bad breakup, but every single day I was writing and reading, and had an extraordinary network of supportive friends. Despite all the craziness of all that, I was still elected to be the graduate speaker at the convocation/150 year anniversary celebration, earned a tuition scholarship my second year, and was awarded writing prizes. So yeah… It was pretty great. I loved buying fresh notebooks and pens, and tapping out my stories on my new blueberry iMac. (Awwww.) I loved doing my independent studies, staying up all night writing papers, my mind going a million miles an hour with ideas. I loved assistant teaching freshman (err, freshperson) English and writing classes for teenage girls. Most of all, I loved being in classes and reading other people’s work and even when I was getting skewered, I loved the feedback and encouragement I got, and the wee bit of confidence I had for that short period of time. It was like a two-year mind spa with intelligent, creative, and inspiring people, many of whom are still my friends and inspiration to this day.
My graduation day was one of the greatest days of my life. It was gorgeous and warm, and I got to walk with my friend Sarah — we both started on the same day, so it was kismet we walked together on our last. (We had known each other already from the vintage store, so it was so good to see a familiar face on that frightening orientation day!) My mom and sister came, my best friend since second grade flew up, my beloved and gorgeous Lit Listers were resplendent in hats, my ex boyfriend’s parents drove up from San Diego, and all my favorite professors were there, cheering me on. The day felt perfect, until a fateful moment.
I climbed the stage in my fancy new heels, and got my diploma and a handshake, feeling like a million bucks. I could hear claps and whoo!s after my name was called, and I thought, “This is it. This is the beginning of my life, and I am totally ready for it.” And as I was thinking these jubilant, motivational thoughts, I completely missed the stairs and fell off the stage.
Yes, I was THAT person. The total doofus. HORRIFYING.
I went down super hard and messed up my knee and broke my new shoes, but I jumped up and held my diploma in the air like I was victorious, but some people in the front row ran up to me and tried to help me and I was utterly mortified and assured them I was okay. I was so super excited about the day that all I could do was laugh hysterically. “Are you okay?” my sister asked after the ceremony. “One second you there there and then you disappeared!” UGH. But I was a trooper and got lots of hugs.
My favorite professor and my thesis reader, Dr. Ruth Saxton
Afterwards the group of us went to lunch at Trader Vic’s, because a fancy lunch was definitely in order. I STILL regret not inviting my ex and his parents. It’s the one thing about that day that makes me feel bad — I was such a turd. A turd that falls off stages and has terrible manners. But despite that, it was so much fun, and hello, Trader Vic’s!
What a glamorous and wonderful gang of friends and family.
And as if that wasn’t enough, that night I threw a party at The Ivy Room, with my favorite band and tons of friends and it was so packed there was a line out the door. Even though I was pretty sure I was going to need a new knee by the end of the night, I was feeling no pain and danced like a fool onstage and lost my hood thing or whatever you call it.
Oh man, that was fun. Next to our wedding and last December’s Supper Club Potluck, it was pretty much the greatest night of my whole life. I even got the most phenomenal bouquet of all time from my friend Carrie:
So… Yeah. I’m not published, will be in debt for the rest of my life, and my knee is permanently screwed up, but I don’t regret any of it for a second. Going back to grad school was the best thing I’ve ever done in my life, and the smartest thing. It made me a better person, a better reader, a better writer, and taught me how to be grateful and that maybe I was a little talented after all. I needed that so badly, and it happened. I made it happen, and it’s my best accomplishment. If I could, I would do it again tomorrow. (If it were free. I’m kinda strapped for the next ten years with this loan.)
Congratulations to all the graduates of the class of 2015! I wish you all the best of luck in your bright, shiny futures.