The Graduation Speech I Never Gave #TBT

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#TBT to my first degree when I was valedictorian but did not attend graduation. I have been in the top 10 for all of my degrees, but my attendance at graduations has been sporadic, contingent on many factors in my life at that time. This is the speech I had prepared to give well over a decade ago when I completed my first degree. For that degree, there actually was no ceremony, as I graduated in the “off” (fall) semester, so there was nothing to attend. Note that the above photo is from a degree that did have a graduation ceremony.

Speech

There are so many people to thank, that I could be here all day. There are so many inspirational people and speeches that I would love to emulate. Some of my favorite graduation moments, speeches, and phrases come from movies such as Reality Bites and Say Anything. I would love to say something epic that will inspire you to go out and do great things, challenge the status quo, and change the world.

But when it comes down to it, it really does not matter what I say as I stand here before you today. You will not remember any of it. Twenty years from now, you will not remember the speeches, you will not remember what you wore, nor will you remember the unease you now feel as your sock is slipping down into your shoe. What you will remember are the feelings and the people who are here with you today celebrating and sharing this most amazingly precious moment with you.

So, I will say this: people are what are most important in life. This is what we need to remember. Graduation is a great accomplishment. We have sacrificed ourselves, our time, and our future earnings in pursuit of education. Never forget the people who have supported you through this time and who are here with you today. It doesn’t matter how much money you earn, if you get that snazzy corner office, or if you end up waiting tables and riding a bicycle, what matters most are the people in your life. Your legacy will be the ways in which you are able to make life better, even if that person you better is simply yourself.

When you leave here today, be sure to hug your children, your spouse, your parents if they are still alive, and even your grandparents if they are around too. For while graduation is a huge accomplishment, it is only a flicker compared to the flame of love that is the people in your life.

We have all sacrificed something in order to achieve this accomplishment today. Remember to be thankful for every thing in life. We should not be thankful just on the day in November when the calendar tells us to be thankful. Be thankful every day. Congratulations on your achievement and go forth and spread love into the world.

End Speech

I am currently in the home stretch of my final degree with less than two weeks to go. While I oscillate between relief and excitement to anxiety and despair, there is a part of me that knows that these are the days I am going to miss. They say that college is the best four years of your life. It has been the best twenty years of mine. As I look to the future, I am scared. I have been in some sort of educational institution for over 30 years of my life. Some people have been institutionalized by the mental health system, some people have been institutionalized by the criminal justice system, and I have been institutionalized by the education system.

I am sure that at some point I will have panic over the fact that my academic career is over. What is perhaps most difficult is the fact that it is over whether I like it or not. Even if I do decide that I want to return to school in the future to complete a PhD, I am unable to do so because I have officially maxed my federal student loans. Unless some institution decides to give me a full academic scholarship, I am unable to continue with any more education. I am not sure what is scarier – the fact that I cannot receive any more education, or the fact that I have officially reached the ceiling for student loan debt.

I have been half joking and half serious lately that I do not want a graduation party. I want a retirement party. Twenty years in any field is a career. My career as a professional college student is ending. I am not simply graduating; I am retiring from being a professional college student. I will never stop learning, but I will now be learning by less formal means.

I am looking forward to retirement. I have employment I love, and the most amazing people in my life. I am looking forward to running more marathons, and surfing more waves. My library card will be getting a great workout. I think I may even be getting a fishing license for 2016. I will finally have time to devote to the people and things in my life that are as equally or more important than education, which have traditionally taken a back burner role to school.

A few months ago, when I posted about the penultimate paper (the last but one paper), I had foretold that this major life change would be a challenging time for me but that I hoped to be able to face it with grace. I’m not quite sure you would call this last month or so grace; it’s more like the break dance you inadvertently perform on a slick floor trying not to fall down. Whatever is happening, my life is about to change in major ways.

I’m looking forward to being able to Rewind Real Slow.

The Penultimate Paper

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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).