When I got married, a friend of mine said that every wedding she to went to after reminded her of her own wedding and all the reasons why she got married. She said it was a lovely way to reconnect to your partner and your past.
I didn’t have much of a chance to experience this with my marriage, mostly because things started to fall apart so quickly after the wedding. But I did have that experience this weekend as I participated in my last graduation ceremony.
This ceremony was different for me for many reasons. Yes, because it was for my Ph.D. and it’s the last degree I will be getting. The three of us getting doctorates laughed in unison and said, “No, oh no!” when during rehearsal one of the organizers said we may graduate again.
No, I am pretty sure this is THE LAST ONE.
Sharing the stage with my own students was a once in a lifetime experience. I was so proud to be able to cheer my own students across the stage. I felt a certain level of satisfaction in my own walk across the stage and my big, puffy doctoral sleeves. But the real joy for me was seeing my students succeed in their own endeavors.
But this isn’t what I intended this post to be about. Putting my regalia together, I played back all the many moments I’ve participated in commencement, walked across a stage and shaken hands with people I don’t know. I remembered my high school graduation and the slick red polyester robe that I wore, how my friend, David, had made us comedy and tragedy masks to wear on the top of our caps. In homage to David, I made my own cap topper this time.
It dawned on me sometime during this insanely busy and exciting day that it’s called “commencement” for a reason. For each of us, it was a new beginning. I’ve never felt that way before, regardless of the other ceremonies I’ve participated in. This felt new and different. Scary and exciting.
For the first time since the defense, I felt happy about finishing the dissertation and moving on. Some really smart person somewhere said “timing is everything.” Getting the news about my summer job being cut two days after defending my dissertation sent me into a downward spiral, panicking about the future and worrying myself into a pretty heady depression.
And yes, some things have shifted – I’ve had a couple of job interviews and I have some prospects on the horizon. Maybe that was all I needed to be able to acknowledge my own success – the prospect of *something* on the horizon other than the job search.
I’ve talked about my struggles accepting happiness, shifting my outlook from having sadness and disappointment as my life long companions. Finishing the Ph.D. shifted me back into that place of doubt, that place where I found comfort in disappointment and heartache. Commencement – my true beginning – shifted me back out again and reminded me I have lots of reasons to be happy.
I have a loving partner.
I have great friends.
And I have a shiny degree that I worked my ass off for.
Life is good.