Note: The above photo was taken shortly after I completed my first masters thesis, which was 120 pages. Today is nothing like that.
I just submitted the last paper. It’s not a big deal. There is always a final paper, right? Well, right, except this one is huge. After almost 20 years as a professional college student resulting in numerous degrees, this is the last paper I wrote before I complete my thesis. That’s not a huge deal, either. I have already written and successfully defended a 120-page masters thesis in another field. Ultimately, my thesis for this masters degree will be the final paper ever. So, I guess this one is technically, in the words of Monty Python, the penultimate paper.
It took me 7 years to complete an associate’s degree, 3 years to complete a professional degree, 15 years to complete a bachelor’s degree, and when I am done this fall, 5 years to finish a master’s degree. My life has been all about school.
When you ask most kids what they want to be when they grow up, they respond with cute answers like ballerinas, firefighters, or veterinarians. Not me. When I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my response was “college student.” I started giving that response at about age 10. I had literally no plan of what I wanted to do after college. I never imagined a life after school. I just knew that where I was, in grade school, middle school, and high school, was so ultimately miserable that College was like the Holy Grail (Monty Python again – it must be that type of day).
I was so focused on going to college that I skipped a grade and graduated a year early. I did not just skip any grade. I skipped 10th grade. While most girls my age were engrossed in how high they could tease their bang with Aqua Net, which boys were going to light up their see through slim phones, and trying to perfect the ultimate roll on their jeans, I was reading Flannery O’Connor, Jean Paul Sartre, and studying just what really makes poison dart frogs poisonous.
The only thing I’ve been good at is school.
I survived a shitty childhood by being good at school, and basking in the praise and attention of my teachers and instructors for doing such a good job. I just want to stay in school forever.
When I realized I was actually going to finish my bachelor degree, panic set in. What do I do after school? I had no plan for this. Life after college? What is that? Graduation is not supposed to happen. I had a mid-life crisis over graduation. Granted, it was my fourth graduation ceremony, but that one is particular held a sense of doom. I was so clueless, that I remember standing in line at the ceremony getting ready to walk across the stage when someone yelled “Congratulations” at me because I was apparently graduating Summa Cum Laude. I had no idea what that meant. I didn’t even know I was graduating Summa Cum Laude until I was standing in that line to walk across a stage.
I now know that I was 6th in my class of over 2,000. Apparently, that’s really awesome, but to me, it’s just a pretty gold sticker and some fancy looking letters on a piece of paper.
Back to the penultimate paper.
In my panic over graduation and trying to figure out how I cold possibly graduate and still stay in school, I decided to go to grad school. My idea was that with a graduate degree, I could be a college professor, thus staying in college forever. Perfect.
However, after working on two masters degrees in five years, and being buried in an exorbitant amount of student loans, I have decided this is the last degree. 20 years in any field is a career. I have spent 20 years as a professional college student. Tap, tap, I’m out.
The fact that I just wrote the penultimate paper is a huge deal. It signifies the sunset of a huge part of my life and identity for 30 years of my life.
I’m trying not to stress. I am going with the flow. I am looking forward to focusing on my thesis (the real LAST paper), as I absolutely love my topic and my field. I cry over it. I laugh over it. I just love my topic. I am sure once it is over, the panic will set in again. I am hoping that when that point comes, I will be able to take it in grace and stride.
But for now, I just gave a sigh over the submission of the penultimate paper.
I am about to take my last math class ever. Yet another statistics class. After my time in nuclear physics, I have taken a great many math classes. While I may be able to find the square area of a horse, that knowledge has done nothing to help me in life. Don’t even get my started on algebra- I can tell you right now, there is no point in dwelling over your “X” (ex?) because life has taught me that the “Y” is more important – like “Y did I date you?” or “Why am I here?”
I am relieved that the penultimate paper is done. I am unsure what the final paper will make me feel like when my thesis is complete. I am hoping that I will be able to find ways to enjoy my retirement from being a professional college student. I am still slightly unsure of what I want to be when I grow up. Sometimes its fun to ask kids just so I can get some ideas. I’m hoping this time when I graduate, that I do not have the level of panic I had with my bachelor’s degree. Unless, I have to adult now. I just don’t think I can adult.
I may have to be an adjunct. If retirement gets to be too much, I can just go back to school by teaching. But, for now, I am going to relish in the achievement of completing the penultimate paper. I may even celebrate with a mariachi band.
(To get these references, you may need to view Monty Python’s “The Last Supper.” You can find it on youtube).