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I’ve come a LONG way, baby
I did the happy dance every time I thought no one was looking



May 5, 2006

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. Comment

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