Monday, February 1, 2010

Public Displays of Education

Today marked a deadline that I realize I was half-ignoring over the past few weeks: this was the last day to apply for spring degree conferral at my university. And apply I did, today, after hemming and hawing. This means that my department will review whether I can walk in the commencement ceremony in June, and if they deem me worthy, they'll invite me to do so.

My hemming and hawing was driven by what I worry is a lack of worthiness for the ceremony. As of March, I will be finished with the course work I started in September of 2007, which is admittedly an accomplishment. But there is essentially zero chance that I will have defended my master's thesis by the time graduation rolls around. I'm uncomfortable with the idea of participating in a ceremony that says, "You've finished!" while I will likely return to field work or coding data the next week - certainly moving along in the process of my thesis, but not finished by any means.

So I'm slowly gathering the opinions of people around me. The way I see it, I have three choices:

1) Walk this June.
2) Don't walk and have a party instead at a later date.
3) Walk in 2011.

Well, I guess there's a fourth option:

4) Do nothing.

But who knows how many more degrees I'll get in my life? I think I should do something to commemorate this. So option 4 will be tabled for the moment.

I've found myself wondering for whom the commencement ceremony is organized, anyway. As someone who has worked at many graduations over the last 6 years, I have long thought that, though it's important to recognize and celebrate the graduates, commencements are at least as much about thanking the family, friends and colleagues who supported those folks through school. I'm interested in walking across the stage and getting a master's hood because, sure, it'll look cool and I've worked hard for it, but I think I'm more interested in taking my parents, siblings, in-laws and of course my husband out for a meal, to thank them for three years of encouragement, support, love, and laundry assistance. Do I want to make them sit through a ceremony? What if it's a ceremony at the crack of dawn on a Saturday? Is that thanking them? Or just being selfish?

And what if I'm asking all this of them and I haven't even earned the degree? The idea of that makes me feel... greedy, I think.

I also worry about what I perceive as my disordered enjoyment of graduation ceremonies. In my previous job, I organized two graduations a year for adult high school learners. In my current job, I volunteer each spring to marshal a graduate school commencement ceremony. For each of these, the ceremony required a long day on my feet, organizing a large group of people - but I love them. I understand that most people do not enjoy graduations, and that probably a majority of the population loathe them - they are long, the involve speeches, there are a lot of people you don't know there who are crossing the stage while you wait for the one person you care about.

Do I want to "thank" my loved ones with that?

Am I over analyzing this? (Uh, probably, Schmei.)

What would you do?