I graduate tomorrow. I’ve graduated a bunch in my life, starting with kindergarten, but this is it. The end of the line. I’m even breaking with my personal tradition and attending the ceremony, which I’ve avoided the last few times. Partly because I’m not crazy about graduations, partly for logistical reasons (I seem to have a habit of graduating at the time of year when you have to come back later for a ceremony, which is a pain), and partly because I could always see another future graduation looming.
And now here I am. I’ve finished a PhD. I can’t tell you how bizarre this is to me. Someone asked me a while ago at what point I hit the point where I didn’t think I’d really finish, and I said honestly, that’s always how it’s felt to me. It’s an act of imagination, I think, to enter a degree program (or to embark on any other venture): you have to have some vision of it going somewhere. But while I could theoretically see all the steps and make a plan—I could intellectually imagine it—I couldn’t really imagine that I could personally do it. It just seemed too unlikely. I’m not saying that in some sort of tone of false modesty; I wouldn’t have started without some confidence in my abilities. But still. I’m stunned to have actually finished. My emotions about the whole thing are a combination of relief, excitement, and a bit of pure shock.
And some anxiety, of course. Because I don’t know where I’m going next, and I really have been in grad school forever and it’s disorienting to leave, and the state of higher education is incredibly depressing. I generally skip the articles about that death of academia that people share on Facebook, and don’t read The Chronicle of Higher Ed (which I think of as, The Chronicle of the Death of Higher Ed), because I can’t handle it right now. I’m building a nice collection of rejection letters. I was inspired by a colleague who said he was going to keep them all to wallpaper his office someday.
But back to graduation. It’s relatively easy to be excited about this with my family, and with my friends and colleagues at school, many of whom are also graduating, and who have offered the kind of moral support along the way that really has made the difference between surviving and dropping out. I can’t overstate how that has mattered; when people ask for thoughts on what makes a good grad program, that’s the thing that is so luck of the draw but which has such an impact: the cohort you have going through with you. There are a lot of things about my grad program I didn’t like, but that part has been amazingly good.
But this is the interesting thing I’m noticing. I feel really awkward talking about this in a Mormon setting. Even a little defensive. When I mention it, I find myself wanting to quickly add, but I do realize that getting a PhD is a worldly honor and pales in comparison with the eternally valuable work of raising a family. Because admitting what I’m doing almost feels like making a statement that I’m not really intending to make, about what women should be doing. When I really just did it because it felt incredibly right to me, because it meant studying a subject I love. Maybe that gives me some perspective on what it might be like for a woman who decided to stay at home to raise her kids, because that’s what felt right to her (or alternately, woman who is working outside the home while raising her kids)—whatever you say, it can all too easily be taken as a political statement, a moral prescription. The problem is that sometimes it is meant that way, and that we all have so much baggage from the gender wars that the topic is incredibly fraught. I wonder whether a man mentioning in church that he’s finishing a PhD feels the same awkwardness. I suspect not, though I imagine there might be other issues that come up.
That said, the ward I’m in now really has been enthusiastic in a way I’ve found touching. And that’s meant a lot to me, because I don’t expect to get that in an LDS context. I feel like it’s not supposed to matter. And I don’t want it to matter in a divisive way, and that’s why this feels tricky. But of course it matters, even though I find that ridiculously hard to say.
But this is exciting. I’m saying it. Even though it kind of feels like bragging. And it probably is. But I think I’m going to make my visiting siblings refer to me as Dr. Lynnette.