This week has been absolutely surreal for me. I sit here writing this post as a college graduate, a day I hoped would come, but thought something would interfere and keep me from it. (I wrote an entire column on my fears of not graduating for PQ Monthly and the issue is now available. I don’t want to plagiarize myself here!)
In January 2008, with the support and encouragement of my wife, I enrolled in two community college classes–an English and a writing class. I was almost the oldest student in the class and was surprisingly challenged by the work and the expectations from the instructors. I did well and I learned a lot and suddenly fell in love with Literature and learning to write. I’ve always been a writer. I published my first book when I was just a young girl–it was a book of poetry for my grandfather covered in green construction paper and tied with blue yarn. I told everyone that I would someday be a writer to which my one or both of my parents replied, “Well, that’s not going to pay the bills.” I settled for focusing on Journalism the first time I went to college, but found that my college experience was more about the parties I was attending and much less about the classes I was supposed to be learning from. I left my first year of college on academic probation and a list of poor grades on my transcript that would follow me forever. And let me reiterate that point. Those grades when I was 18-years-old still sit there staring at me each and every time I run an unofficial transcript. They were part of my transfer grades when I applied to Portland State University and kept me as a provisional student for an entire term. The only way I could be admitted was if I had letters of recommendation and completed the term in good standing. The fact that the poor grades were twenty years before had no bearing.
I did well the two terms I was at community college, and was very anxious to move on to a university. Because of my provisional status, when I started at Portland State for the Fall 2008 term, I was only allowed to take two classes so I enrolled in two more classes online through the community college in order to have a full schedule. Once that term was finished, my transfer GPA came up, I was in good university standing and was fully admitted and was allowed to declare a major. I knew I would be an English major and minor in writing.
Portland State is a liberal arts university that focuses on academic diversity. Each student is required to take three classes outside of his or her major and then of those three, chooses one to take three more focused classes in that subject. I chose Child and Family Studies, Sexualities and Women’s Studies. My focus was on Child and Family Studies. I mention this because without that diversity requirement, I may have finished a bit earlier, (PSU students generally take more than four years to complete a Bachelors degree unless they also take summer classes,) but I would have missed out on a lot of learning; I’m grateful for the extra education I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
I remember seeing my English adviser for the first time and looking at the long list of requirements that I still needed to fulfill. Along with the diversity requirements and my major and minor classes, I also needed to satisfy my B.A. requirements, which included a foreign language through the 203 level and a Science or Math class. I knew I could handle the English and writing classes but Spanish and Science? I didn’t know how I would do it. Spanish was the bane of my existence for five terms (I skipped over one term, thinking I could handle it, Ha!) Somehow I managed to get through and discovered how to properly use the Pass/No Pass credits I was allowed! I finally started to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
This last year of school has been amazing. I’ve had the opportunity to study and focus on subjects I was really interested in: Advanced Critical Theory, Memoir, Essay and Composition writing, Philosophy, Virginia Woolf and two of my favorite classes, Genocide in Literature in Film and Environmental Ethics, both of which profoundly changed my life. (More on that another time.) I’ve been taught by some of the most brilliant people I’ve ever met and pushed to think and expand my mind in ways I couldn’t have imagined four years ago. My education has been the greatest gift I’ve ever given myself and I am enormously grateful that I’ve had this opportunity.
None of this has come without a lot of work, time and sacrifice. It’s truly been the most difficult thing I’ve ever done and without the support and love of my family, there is no way I would have finished. They were patient with me when I needed to study or write papers, they understood when I needed to take an evening class (although they complained a bit about not having me cook dinner!) they reminded me that I was capable and even put up with my constant pressure to achieve and when I complained about any less than perfect grades. Hearing my daughter say to a friend, “My mom is the smartest person I know” elucidated to me that I absolutely made the right decision to earn my degree. My hope is that I’ve modeled for them the value of education and the importance to attain a degree, no matter how long it may take to achieve.
This week has been like living some kind of dream, floating through the days with one good thing following another. Last Sunday Cher gave me a beautiful graduation party and I was surrounded by so many of the people I love and cherish. On Tuesday I took my last final; on Friday and Saturday we will celebrate some more with my fellow graduates. On Sunday it will be official. I will wait in the Rose Garden Arena in my cap, gown and honor cords to have my degrees conferred: Bachelors of Arts in English with a Writing Minor and Arts & Letters, summa cum laude.
It’s a very, very sweet victory.