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When I graduated from high school, I felt relieved, but I didn’t feel like I had accomplished anything. It was just high school, after all. My transcript wasn’t perfect. I hadn’t been accepted to my top choice colleges. All around me, people in scratchy blue gowns cried as they thought about leaving behind these supposedly golden years, while I couldn’t wait to put it all in my rearview.
When I graduated from college, it felt like failure. I’d always thought of college as a means to an end, a qualifier, a thing you do so you can do other things. In fact, when I received my first marriage proposal in preschool, I let my three-year-old suitor know I couldn’t possibly accept until I graduated from college. Needless to say, he wasn’t willing to wait. On graduation day, I had been rejected from every grad school program I applied to and I didn’t have a single job offer. I felt like a disgrace, like I’d let my parents down, and I didn’t want to walk across the stage. My parents insisted, though, and I’m glad I did, because the dean who taught some of my English classes took my diploma (or the case, at least) from the random guy handing them out and handed it to me because she knew me, and it felt special. In fact, I had had classes with every faculty member on that stage, and it was awesome – but I still felt like I’d let everyone down, at least a little.
When I graduated from grad school, it felt like failure. I’d been accepted to a PhD program, but I realized after a year that academia was more political, competitive, and adversarial than I wanted my future to be. I also realized that the future that was laid out in front of me was nothing like what I wanted my future to be, and so I blew it all up and scattered the pieces to the wind. I finished my Master’s and dropped out of my program. I skipped my graduation ceremony and went to work instead. I felt brave, purposeful, lost, free, ashamed, and determined all at once.
On June 30th, 2019 my cousin (who’s really more like my sister) graduated with her Master’s degree. She also skipped the ceremony – I guess it’s a family tradition now. I’m so incredibly proud of her, and yet proud isn’t really a strong enough word. It feels like I want to grab her and wrap my arms around her and squeeze until she can’t breathe, and close my eyes so tightly I cry simply because there just isn’t room for moisture inside them anymore, and I want to scream at the top of my lungs and jump up and down and twirl her around while glitter and confetti rains down on us and then promptly disappears before hitting the ground because I read once that confetti actually sucks for the environment.
If you’ve read anything else I’ve written, you already know I’m not a risk-taker. I didn’t study English in college because I enjoyed it, I did it because I was good at it. I really enjoyed Biology in high school, but it was incredibly difficult for me and I knew I wouldn’t get good grades in it – and back then, I measured my success and maybe even sometimes my worth as a person in grades, test scores, quantifiable numerical data. When I enrolled at LEARN Academy, I made a big commitment to my coding education. It stopped being a hobby I tinkered with in my free time and became a major focus in my life. I wasn’t just doing something I was good at and comfortable with. I was doing something because it was what I truly wanted. When I made the decision to post and blog about it publicly, I made myself vulnerable in a big way. I invested myself, and I told people I was invested, and if I failed, everyone would know how much I cared.
Last night I attended my LEARN Academy graduation gathering. There was no stage, no podium, no lengthy keynote speech. There was pizza and beer and a dog. As I collected my certificate, water bottle, and t-shirt (which I then proceeded to wear to bed and all day today, hold your judgments please) I felt so proud. I learned a lot, and I built cool things, but more than that, I challenged myself and took a very public leap outside of my comfort zone. My cousin and I are two brave, intelligent, dedicated women. It’s an honor and a thrill to make boss moves alongside her. I don’t know what the future holds, and for once I’m not worrying about that. Happy graduation, Melissa. Happy graduation to us!
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[Photo credit: Jody Hong Films via Unsplash]