Actually, technically I’ve been able to call myself that ever since last September, when I got the parchment – that folder they handed me on stage was just a prop; it had a piece of paper inside that said, in effect, “Congratulations; this is a piece of paper which we would like you to give back to us afterwards.”
But for some reason, having done the hood and gown and pomp and ceremony makes a difference. Getting the parchment in the mail was nice, but there wasn’t much to it – I didn’t particularly feel any more graduated that day than the day before. But attending convocation, striding into the auditorium to the rousing heartbeat of the First Nations drum, sitting on the stage under the glare of the spotlights and watching graduate after graduate going across the stage, then taking my own turn and looking into the sea of darkness that was the audience, knowing my family was out there somewhere (and though I didn’t know it, some were even watching the livestream from more than a 1000 km away); receiving that black folder, shaking the hands of several official people in fancy chairs of whose identity I was rather clueless (I believe one was the university president), and then walking in the procession back out of the auditorium, through the double line of our professors in their gowns cheering and applauding our achievement – I really did feel different then. I still do.
No, being a Master of Arts doesn’t mean I’m any different than I was last Wednesday, or last August, for that matter. But all the lovely ritual brought it home to me that I really did finish that degree, that it is a big deal to have put in all those years of work – seventeen, to be precise, for the equivalent of five years’ full-time study, during which I also birthed, raised, homeschooled and graduated several of my children.
I don’t mean to brag – although, actually, yes, I do mean to brag. I think we don’t brag nearly enough about the right kinds of things, sometimes. I know I’m very prone to getting down on myself, to not acknowledging to myself what I have, in fact, accomplished. And what that does is raise the bar for everyone else. If all we’re doing is looking at our failures, it’s very easy to get the impression that nothing we have done matters, that success is an elusive thing. But it’s not. It’s totally possible.
And that was the key phrase in the hugely inspiring speech my awesome friend Desi (whom I finally got to meet face-to-face after three years of online friendship) gave to all of us graduates: There is no “impossible”.
That’s why I dare to brag about this, to show off my hood and gown: to let you know that it can be done. I got my whole degree by distance education – last Thursday was the first time I ever set foot in my university and met some of my professors and classmates face-to-face. It was exhilarating. One of the students who was graduating that day was a frail white-haired woman who needed a supporting arm to lean on to make it across the stage. She had begun her studies in 1979 – that’s right, nineteen-hundred-seventy-nine – and last Thursday, she got her Bachelor of Arts degree. As she turned to be helped back to her seat, a man’s voice in the auditorium yelled out, “WAY TO GO, MOM!!”
Yes, I cried. In fact, I’m doing it again as I write this. There is no “impossible”.
Life, the Universe, and at long last, a Master of Arts. It can be done.
PS: In case you’re wondering, my uni is Athabasca University, the Canadian Open University (which isn’t just for Canadians, either). I’m not sure what the equivalent US institution is (I’ve heard something about the University of Phoenix?), but I’m sure there is one; and in Germany, there is the FernUniversität Hagen. Where there’s a will there’s a university. Oh, and here you can click through to my final Master’s project (the link goes to quill and qwerty, the blog that I kept for documenting my research).