By R.A. Contreras, a resident of Highland. He can be reached on Twitter @commgrad71
Someone told me once that getting my Master’s degree would be one of the loneliest things I would ever do. I didn’t understand then. “Wait and see,” he said as I was inching towards the apex of my graduate education.
After the experience was complete, I realized how much of the so-called ‘down-time’ I had lost. I had no time from visits with friends or family. In addition to work, I had mounds of reading to do and my fingers cramped from those 30-page papers I had to slough through. Coupled with food insecurity and living in my car at times, it really was the hardest –and loneliest—thing I had ever accomplished.
That was a mere two years ago but even now I still stare in amazement at that Master’s Degree diploma that is proudly framed on my wall. I really cannot get over the sense of accomplishment after having produced a thesis and probably 50-odd rewrites of my eventual final project. There were long hours of research and constant visits to my professor’s office. There was a point I had even wanted to give up; my head was warped from the decision-making process that goes into planning a graduate level research thesis. The loneliness did get to me as well. Sometimes before class I would sit alone and wonder, ‘Why am I doing all this?’ ‘What does it really mean?’ ‘What’s the point, anyway?’ I had fallen victim to the imposter syndrome—that feeling some students get when they feel they are not good enough for the task of producing highly-skilled academic research.
For those of you who have or will very shortly be graduating from college this year, I tip my cap to you.
You know what I’m talking about. You’ve been through it too. Sure, maybe your Associates or Bachelor’s level work was not as demanding academically as that of a post baccalaureate, but nevertheless you met your goal; you have accomplished a fine feat; you’ve done it!
Some of you had to work multiple jobs while doing it. Others had children and families to care for. There are those who battled illness, depression, or other health problems. Some of you struggled to put food on the table and pay bills. Yet others were even homeless. After earning four college degrees, I have dealt with a bit of it all wondering how I was going to get through what seemed impossible.
And this year was especially demanding. The worldwide Covid-19 pandemic made things even more difficult. You probably had even more trouble concentrating and focusing on your studies. You couldn’t meet in person with professors or fellow students to strategize your college-level conundrums. You didn’t even get a decent graduation ceremony. (Though I have to admit I’m a tad jealous of the speech you received from former president Obama and other celebrities during this year’s virtual ceremonies.)
However, none of that compares to the overwhelming accomplishment you — The Class of 2020 made. The hard work, extra demands, and tears are a little more meaningful this year, right? And it seems the education world as we know it might not ever be the same. This pandemic changed the way we studied, engaged in classes, and lived academic life. Gone for now is the traditional on-campus way of doing things—which also made it more challenging to meet your educational goals. Maybe future graduates will look to you to seek your advice on how you did it under these unique circumstances. This past academic year was indeed different and special. You have graduated a different person in so many ways. I salute all of you who made it through. Celebrate your accomplishments. Own it. You’ve really earned it.