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?


  1. Can you please add a "comment as" option for Name/URL. I read you thru my reader, and when I click over to comment, I'm signed into google under a different account (the one with my full name) than the account I wish to comment under (so I'm less googleable). And then I need to sign out and retype my response because your blog won't let me copy/paste my previous answer in. And sometimes I don't want to retype it. I've gone to comment probably 4x more frequently than I do but always abandon it because it erases my post when I go to sign into a new google account and it won't copy/paste it in.

  2. I can copy and paste if I start from scratch I just discovered. So here is the response I typed out 10 minutes ago:

    I would combine 2 and 3. I too am in grad school (started Aug 2005, will walk June 2011) and I don't think that I could enjoy walking when I know I'm not done and I don't think I could go back to work after celebrating being done. I say keep working on your thesis. You'll finish when you finish. After your defense spend a week doing nothing but planning your party. Have your party. Walk at the next available walk date. That would be what I would do.

  3. JOW - thanks for the heads-up! This shows the learning curve I'm on. From here on out you should be able to comment with name/url. Which is great, because you always leave good comments!

    I like the plan you propose. Two parties has to be better than one, right?

  4. I will be in this predicament in a few years. Walking for my bachelor's degree was amazing. One of the life highlights. So I know I'll want to do the same -- but with my MBA program, I'll actually finish in the summer, after commencement.

    My husband is finishing law school this spring -- and we're going to party in May, even though he'll be hitting the books to study for the bar exam. But we've booked tickets to Paris to celebrate the completion of that too.

    So two parties?

  5. Natalie: you make a good point. The law students I know think I'm making a big deal out of nothing, because, as you mention, they all have to do this: walk in the ceremony, then start studying like crazy for the bar exam. When I consider their process, it does seem to be OK to walk if I'm finished with all but the last of the thesis, and then have a thesis defense party at a later date.

    A trip to Paris is a GREAT idea, though... maybe I should do that, too. :-)


Be nice, now.