“Stick a fork in me Jerry, I’m done.” I’m quoting Kramer from Seinfeld here, but unlike him I haven’t basted myself in butter and sat out in the sun all day. I’ve just finished undergraduate.
Last night they had a reception for all of us who are graduating this semester. It was in a barn-like auditorium they use for student dances. It has a cement floor and cinder-block walls, and I’ve never felt like chattel so much in my life. It was sweltering. The air parked itself motionless above the screaming babies and sweating students and I have to say, I became cynical.
Most of the graduates are adults: single moms, adults going back for a second degree, and people who weren’t ready for college the first-go-round. I fall into the last category. As I stood there listening to the generic “now-all-the-doors-are-opened” speech, smelling stale bodies thinly masked by cheap deodorant, I tried to make this momentous occasion mean something. Still, I couldn’t help feeling like a number—a boost to enrollment, a warm body. If you are going to recruit adults to your institution and then give them four years of liberal-arts ideology you have to expect a few to see it for what it truly is.
Okay it is time for me to boast uncharacteristically. Why? Because after last night I need to remind myself of what I’ve done here and not feel like a statistic who’s just received a distracted and patronizing send-off in a building with the warmth of an abandoned train-station. Here are some things I’ve done at college.
The Thomas Thompson Award for History
The Eugene Hire Award
The Dorothy Gilbert Award
The CCE History Award
Who’s Who’s on American Campuses 2006 and 2007
Dean’s List 9 semesters
Phi Alpha Theta Historical Society
GPA 3.8, GPA for History 3.9
Was a TA
Wrote a very well received food review column
Landed three campus jobs
Helped numerous students with projects, papers and other life-issues
Double majored—with English being my second major
For most of this time I worked full time while attending school full time
Organized two benefit dinners for The African Medical Mission raising $15,000
Taught my dog to play Frisbee
It’s hard for me to brag. I don’t like doing it and I don’t like people who do. But I feel I needed to do this in order to individualize this experience. Still, I’ve been around long enough to know that how ever well you’ve done, there is someone who will do better, unless you are Michael Jordon.
After the ceremony wrapped up I ran into Vivian, a woman who was with me in my very first class. She graduated last spring. She gave me a huge hug and we talked for a while. She said that for a month after she graduated she would keep writing in the margins of every book she read—she just couldn’t help it. I believe her. It’s hard to give up these habits of thinking, reading and writing.
It was great seeing Vivian, and she lifted my spirits to no-end. Life throws some strange coincidences at you and I feel that this chapter has been book-ended in some way by the presence of Vivian. She was there virtually on my first day and my last, although I rarely saw her after that first semester. She was so gracious and encouraging and funny. I realized that this whole thing has been more than just a treadmill for me and a payday for admissions. As I pull away and try to put things in perspective (the curse of a student of history) I know that through time I will see this for what it is, truly. And then I’ll be ready to start giving back.