I just attended my last class in grad school. Yes, I'm 32 years old, but I have nearly completed my Master's degree in Women's Studies and Public Policy. I'd love to be more articulate this evening, but I'm having a mini-celebration today. I started this degree purely out of curiosity. I definitely had moments when I hated it. I reconsidered, and thought maybe my vanity project was just that. I began this degree because I love a personal challenge, and because I had a lot of free time, and in DC, we find ways to use our time productively. I'm the type of person who, when interested in an idea or a life change, dives in head first, with no thought to how cold the water might be. And I have to say, I'm really, really proud that I finished this. This makes me the most educated member of my family, and I don't say this to brag, but only to recognize where I came from, and how far anyone can go, if they just give it a shot. As a kid, I learned to read when I was pretty young. I believe I was 3, which made me the only member of my kindergarten class (we started at age 4 in my hometown) who was able to read the weekly reader. And I'm certainly not the only member of my class of 32 to go on to an advance degree, but I had a few obstacles to face in the process. Oddly enough, I remember a guidance counselor who told me I probably wasn't college material. I remember these words, spoken to a 17 year old me more clearly than I like to admit. I was smart, but I wasn't rich. I was creative but still craved to fit in so badly that I attended 8, yes 8 proms in high school. But I was lucky enough to have a social science teacher who believed in me, and who...have I said this in public? Gave me a scholarship to attend Student Council leadership camp (WASC, how do you feel!) despite that I lost being an officer, because that was the year the administration was concerned that there wasn't gender parity on the high school student council. Thank you Mr. Somerville.
College was a real struggle for me. I remember specific classes...and this is significant, because I had to transfer schools because I didn't fully understand how financial aid worked. I took a theory class at the University of Minnesota that was fascinating, but that I did poorly in. I selected to not do the women-focused option on a paper, and instead did hegemony, because I didn't know what that meant, and I was changed. I had a hard time at that school, because everyone on my floor but the ROTC girl and I didn't rush. For me, this wasn't something I could afford, and yet since then I create women's spaces whenever I can.
I went to the community college...I still remember the jokes -"I'm going to go to Harvard or UW-Sheboygan..one of the two" except that I worked as hard as I could, and I attribute a love of sociology and political science back to two professors at this tiny school. I actually joined the student council here, all well I bartended 50 hours a week.
I transferred to American University. I still remember the pride I felt at being accepted to an East Coast school. I fell in with a group of "nerds" who, for the first time in my life, made me feel like it was okay to be a smart kid. Unfortunately, thanks to a mix up in the financial aid department, my scholarship, which I depended on, had "vanished," and I went home. I remember two classes that were life changing. One was Sarah Stiles policy class. I had the luck to see her again at a fundraiser I hosted for my organization, and I didn't fully express to her how much her class meant to me. The other was a class on Thomas Jefferson. All of the computers had a melt down at AU when I was completing my paper on TJ's educational contributions, and I had to re-write this paper within a day, because the professor didn't use a computer. I see that professor about town in DC today, drinking wine, and I can't help thanking him for giving me the gift that knowledge doesn't have to be functional - sometimes learning is worth it itself. It is because of this that I fell in love with learning again.
I begged my way into the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I was denied upon my first application. I can say this now. I promised an application counselor that I wanted this more than anyone and I would do this shit. I would not let them down if them let me in. And I was let in. To this day, I worry about why I was let in, but I learned more here than is comparable in dollars, and to W-I-S-C-O-N-S-I-N I will always be true. I suffered a debilitating bout of depression while I was a student here, but my professors, versed in real life, gave me the chance to work beyond this disease, and I graduated, proudly, with a degree in political science from one of the best schools in the nation, the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
I decided to undergo a master's degree out of a pure love of reading and a desperate desire for knowledge. I had worked for 7 years before I decided to apply, and I got in. And now...two weeks away, I do not know where to begin with my thank yous. To many, women's studies might be pure indulgence, and I think to me, it was at first. I studied theory, and the history of women who led the way. I wrote paper and paper and paper, and turned down a million happy hours, which in DC, is social-death. But my friends understood, and humored me. They supported me. They read early drafts of my thesis. And tonight, I took my last class at George Washington University as a graduate student. I still need to complete a theory paper. I'm writing "towards a feminist theory of food" and I'm finishing my master's thesis, a study of food deserts in Washington D.C. And on May 15th, I walk the stage, with a master's degree, that I really had no business earning. But I did it. In two weeks, I will have a master's degree. I type that will apprehension and pride. I'm breaking new ground, and to every kid who doesn't think its possible to get an advanced degree, I call bullshit.
I did it. I'm graduating on May 15th. IN the words of the culinary students I have learned from at work each day,
I Did the Damn Thing!
And you can too.