Monday, June 16, 2008

And its Made All the Difference

I graduated from college on Saturday.

Well - not really. I finished my classes in December and my degree says "seventh day of December two thousand and seven" but June 14th was the date of commencement. That's when I turned the tassel and shook hands and walked the line so that makes it official.

I initially didn't want to walk and deal with all the hoopla but my mom wanted me to. Life kind of exploded for our family in December. Jonathan got married, Nick went on his mission and I finished my undergrad. Needless to say we decided to postpone graduation festivities.

I was just as feet draggy when it came time to walk for my AA back in 01, I just wanted my piece of paper and to slip off into the night but my friends were adamant about me walking with them and when I was sitting with them, robed and standing up in front of my leaders and community I really appreciated them forcing the issue. There is something very important about ceremony, about recognition of accomplishments, that I had forgotten and that I had forgotten was important to me. I worked and cried and bled and agonized over this degree and I earned the right to walk the line, so I did.

It's nearly impossible not to be nostalgic and reflective around times like this. You naturally take inventory of the time you spent and the people you knew and the person that you've become that's all reflected in that little piece of paper.

My college experience has been varied and beautifully singular, just like everyone else's. When I first went into college in the fall of 1996 I started work on a two year degree. I only saw music in my future. I loved to sing, I was good at it, it brought me joy so what else was there right? I declared myself and Opera major and all was right in my world for a month or two. It didn't take me long to learn about the dense and dysfunctional political world surrounding music and theater and that I didn't have the stomach for it.

I was focused on going on my mission at the time so I left music and played water polo, tennis, threw myself into student government and took a regular load of Humanities courses until I went on my mission. I left for Washington DC in Aug of 99.

After I got home in Feb of 2001 my hopes of immediate marriage and family didn't materialize so I applied to CalPoly Pomona, the local 4 year.

I wanted to teach and I wanted to keep the Spanish I had learned on my mission so I applied for "Liberal Studies bilingual option". Orientation was exciting and we were about to get our tutorial for how to register that night and the man said "if you want to teach on the secondary level you need to declare your subject and then credential in that". Well Humanities is just a fancy way of saying "English" so off I went traipsing the strange and hilly CalPoly campus looking for the English building. I was registering in a matter of hours and we had priority and the list of classes I had just planed the next 2 years around had just become obsolete. I needed to find the English Dept office, get a new sheet of required classes, figure out a schedule and get on the phone all within a matter of hours. After 2 hours my pace went from a traipse to a saunter to a frustrated strut to a full on panic jog. I couldn't find the bloody place, no one was on campus to ask and the map they had given me was looking more like Orange county's farm land than a college campus. However, I did find the biology building (it was pratically a crystalline castle that you could see from space) and biology was my second choice (that's a blog for another day) so I took it as a sign that since I could find that building that was what I was supposed to do. So for a whole year I was a declared Micro-biology major. I loved it, we got to do some fun genetic research and I felt awesome and empowered. I had taken the course completely different from either one of my parents. Mom was an English major with a Theater and Art History minor and dad was an Accounting undergrad.

Go me. I was original.

But I wasn't too happy. I was working full time. I've worked full time since I've gotten home from my mission and all the lab time and study time was leaving me with about 3 hours of sleep a night.

Then funding changed. My income disqualified me from the grants I was riding on and the student loan option came up and even though I was working on a very lucrative degree I was hesitant to go into debt over it.

I had kept an English class in my schedule every quarter just to make sure I didn't burst from logarithms, percentiles or DNA sequences, so I had racked up a good amount of English Lit credits, enough for a minor. So randomly one day, while driving around looking for a parking spot (a regular tedious activity at CalPoly) the thought occurred to me to flip my major and my minor and finish faster thereby avoiding unnecessary debt. English major, micro-biology minor, and for some totally irrational reason, all the reservations I had about going into debt totally disappeared with that thought. Even though it was a less marketable degree I was more OK with it. Content even

So I thought, If I'm more willing to go into debt over this degree I'll probably be happier dedicating my life to it.

I'll never forget it, the day I made that decision I found a parking spot and went to my Organic Chemistry class, which is a fancy name for "torturous calculus for no good reason at all". WHO CARES about the percentages of where an electron will be and in which orbital on a molecule? I mean, really... Anyway, I listened to my professor for exactly 5 minutes, got up, and found my way to the English building (which I later learned we shared with the Music, Theater and Foreign Language departments and it says "Music" - thats why I got confused that first day) and just marched into the first class I saw and sat down and breathed easy for the first time in a year.

It took me that long to figure out that part of who I was, admit it, and have the courage to do what would actually make me happy instead of what I thought would glow on a resume.

Its been the best thing I've ever done and I haven't looked back. Not once.

In the English department I met people who have changed my life forever, both students and teachers. The people I shared Chaucer, Milton and Calvino with are now some of my dearest friends who I don't know what I'd do without.

But what I fell in love with more than my fellow students or the text was the Faculty.

This is my Alison. Dr. Alison Baker. She's a lot of people's Alison but she's mine too. This woman is a miracle and probably the reason I made it through. She is our Medievalist on campus and taught 8 of the 20 Core Lit classes I took. Milton, Chaucer, Renaissance Lit, the Capstone, Early European Lit, Epics, Folklore etc. All the really complicated daunting stuff that you need to know but hardly know how to approach. Alison not only knew her stuff backwards and forwards but she made it fun and applicable. She made me read the ENTIRE Canterbury tales in the Middle English and made us memorize the first 10 lines of the Prologue in the Middle English. She pounded me through all of Paradise Lost and ALL of the Inferno. Things I never thought I'd be able to do. We talked about Norse myths alongside the Smurfs and Odysseus along side HeMan. She was first one I saw off the stage that night, the first hug, the first picture and the first tear while saying goodbye. I owe her more than I can possibly ever convey and she is more than I could hope to be.

This is Dr. Kramer (left) and Dr. Rocklin (right). We're on stairs, Dr. Kramer isn't 15 feet tall. Dr. Kramer was my Lit theory professor and he was able to teach me Deconstruction where so many people had failed. Derrida actually meant something to be besides another Frenchman that knew more than I did. That was a miracle. He was also my creative writing teacher and I hear his voice in my head every time I go back to my book I've been pecking at for years. I brought in my first chapter one class and he said "well I want to read the rest of it!" and that had kept me going.

Dr. Rocklin is another one of the coolest professors ever. You see him from 100 yards and you just know - that's a Literature professor. The fedora, the elbow patches on the blazer that rarely match his slacks, the dilapidated car that probably had Nixon on its radio at one point. He lives the dream. He is our Shakespearian and a master. He was one of the few who really made me rethink what a question was an why do we ask them. He doesn't believe in any kind of boxes or thinking inside or outside of them. There is just meaning and it's different incarnations. Whether its a prop in a play or an intonation in performance or a posture or an aside or a comma. What it means is what matters. I've never been able to stomach Hamlet or MacBeth but I ate them up under Rocklin's instruction. He is a genius in so many respects. He's changed my mental landscape forever.

This is Dr. Corley and I don't think I can respect a man more than I do him. Dr. Corley is our Americanist. He made his way through Berkley on the GI bill and is still on reserve in the Army as a corporal (I believe). He's been to Iraq 3 times and let us all know that he'll go back if asked at the beginning of the quarter so there was always that lurking possibility that we could loose him. So, not only has this man put his life on the line multiple times in defense of America, but he has dedicated his life to the study and teaching of it's art. I took him for American Literature and learned Whitman at his feet. Whitman lived through the Civil War and wrote most of his best stuff during that time. Have you ever heard a soldier's poetry read by a solider? I have, and its unspeakably moving. I cried. Right there, in the middle of class. The only time I was ever moved to tears by a teacher's reading was in Dr. Corley's class reading Leaves of Grass. He is a giant among men. I really hope every guy that took his class took MANY pages out of his book to paste in their own. A knight without armor that one is.

I probably won't realize the full extent of their influence till I'm in front of my own class and I hear myself say "It's all connected" or "What is X? What does X mean? What does X do?" but for now I'm sitting pretty warm and fuzzy and light years better for being where I've been and seeing what I've seen and finally making it through.

That night after all the insanity when mom, dad and I were nestled in at The Melting Pot dad asked me what were some of my best memories of college and I only saw faces of people. It took me forever to get to CalPoly and to the English department to be guided and shaped by these amazing people. It was road less traveled and it has made all the difference.

1 comment:

Me: said...

I love you! I love you! Contratulations!!! So proud of you and all your commas yet to come!