In the Spring of 2000, I was accepted as a graduate student at Arizona State University. I was so happy. I had a plan, I had interests and I had big hopes. As I tend to do, I threw myself into my new program with such enthusiasm and excitement, that I ignored/forgot some essential bits of reality.
For example, I ignored the fact that I had no programming background, no interest in programming per se, and that the program I was entering was heavily emphasizing programming and technology. I also ignored the fact that the millionaires that had popped up around the dotcom bubble were beginning to lose their millions. I didn't particularly have my heart set on becoming an overnight millionaire (I wasn't especially opposed to it); it's just that when millionaires start dropping like flies, they take everyone else down with them. I also forgot how susceptible I was to distractions of the familial kind.
This collective ignorance allowed me to skip and jump into my graduate program like a giddy first grader and bask in my graduate student status for an entire semester. I was so happy during the first semester that I signed up for a salsa class that started at 7am on Saturday mornings — and attended all of them. I loved life.
By the time I finished the semester of pre-requisites and my first semester as a graduate student started, the distractions had arrived as well. I was juggling three jobs, living with my newly immigrated teenage brother, taking a full class load and panicking on a daily basis. Some days, I would wake up with a headache so overwhelming, it hurt to keep my eyes open.
That was just the beginning. I felt burdened by the weight of expectations from my family, financial shortcomings and the fear of failure that had haunted me my whole life. It got progressively worse; Atlas had nothing on me. By October 2001, I was married, laid off, broke and living apart from my husband (not by choice). In January 2002, I moved to San Diego to join my husband. I told myself, I wasn't abandoning my graduate program, just moving further from it. I had plans to find a job, write my thesis and dazzle the world. I was obviously quite mad.
Between January 2002 and May 2007, I was unemployed for two extended (and very painful) periods of time; I worked two menial jobs before I found my slightly less menial job; lost my committee chair to a foreign country with a promising fellowship program — and then regained him; researched and wrote not one, but three different theses/applied projects; reapplied to the graduate college; struggled with ailments that no one could put a name on; registered repeatedly; listened to professors tell me it was okay for me to quit; lost three friends and a grandfather; listened to people tell me not to quit and learned to live with a burden so heavy, it suffocated me in my silent moments. I think the only time I was free of guilt, anger and anxiety was the ten day period I spent in Costa Rica (which only partially explains my affection for the country).
All of this finally came to an end yesterday. On Tuesday, I defended my final (and frankly best) applied project. On Wednesday, I submitted three copies of said project to the bookstore and took the receipt to our department admin. At approximately 5:07pm, I sat in my rental car in the hot AZ air, and cried tears of relief and joy.
This morning, I went to work as if it were any other day. I am sure I weighed less, even if the bathroom scale refused to confirm it. But I went to work and wanted to be as non-chalant as possible. My co-workers inquired about my trip, congratulated me and for the most part, we all went about our day as usual. I did the happy dance every time I thought no one was looking; and frankly didn't care if anyone saw me.
As of today, I'm no longer a student. I'm a graduate. I've come a long, long way.