This is how grad school ends: not with a bang but a whimper.
Today's the day. Yes, the one I thought might never come, the glorious, praise heaven, and hallelujah day where all of my professors say au revoir and send me on my way with a shiny, new Master's degree. I had counted down, buckled down, fallen down, broken down, and finally--FINALLY--I got the last class attended, last final taken, last paper written. I had one last meeting with my independent study adviser today at lunch, and we closed out the semester with a fist bump and a "don't be a stranger." I's dotted. T's crossed. With very little fanfare, it's finished.
Who remembers when it all began? It seems like so long ago... I beat myself up mentally many a time, regretting my decision to go back to school and trying to push through the growing pains of limiting my social life while cramming my brain full of information. Weekends were too short to catch up on real life AND stay caught up for classes. I wondered if the degree would be worth it, if I had enough drive to even see it through. I caught myself thinking that the worst that could happen is that I quit school because it wasn't for me. It was those little head voices that tell you you weren't cut from the right cloth, that you aren't as smart as that person.
And then slowly but surely, I started getting it. Life little-by-little began chugging back to a state of normalcy as I made my way through classes, which turned into semesters, which turned into an entire school experience full of great people (and some weirdos, too!), great classes (along with the boring ones...yaaaaaawn), and an overall learning experience I cannot believe I survived.
I could not, would not, DID not do this on my own, though. I'm not saying my papers were plagiarized--heavens, no. But I had countless people cheering me on during every step of the way:
Friends who helped me come up with paper topics and listened to me drone on about the research.
A mom who did things like spend an entire afternoon and evening helping to design a stupid newsletter assignment for me.
Friends who rearranged plans time and again to accommodate my school and homework schedule.
A dad who always sent me home from his house with a quiet word of encouragement to keep on going.
Siblings who know just how to make me laugh. Or who give me a place to stay. Or always take my side when I'm up against a problem.
Friends who bring me care packages or let me vent or find me the best television shows for me to keep up with.
Sisters who each individually texted me (without realizing the others had done it!) the same Ryan Gosling "Hey Girl" meme about finals.
Friends who put up with every stupid school status I posted on Facebook.
A job that is supportive of part-time students.
Friends from the MPA program who helped me study and commiserated with me over and over about professors and classmates and papers and tests and classes.
And Steve. He wins the prize, ladies and gentlemen. When he met me, I was 3 semesters deep, not even halfway done. I don't know if he fully realized what it would mean to date a graduate student, but seriously, he filled in all the cracks and more. Sometimes he would surprise me by doing things like cleaning my bathroom (which got sorely neglected) or filling my fridge with Diet Coke (it's like he knows me...) or watching cheesy Christmas specials with me while figuring out how to list citations for my papers. I know he hates when I brag on him, but I do not feel like I deserve the amount of amazing he brings to the table. For the last year and a half (almost), he has seen me through the ups and downs, the crazy highs of getting an A on a paper to the despairing lows of melting down into a crying heap of madness because I cannot for the life of me face one more edit on a paper. He picked me up on an almost-daily basis, dusted me off, believed in me, and helped me power through the darkest, hardest parts of this whole school adventure.
It will take awhile for all of this freedom to sink in. People have been asking what I will do with all of my free time. Play the piano, volunteer, quilt, bake, organize my house, go do things with my friends, see Steve more often than on weekends, read, veg...I could blather on and on. But do you know what I'm most excited about? Getting my brain back. Not devoting such a huge portion of it to always being in school mode. Being able to rid myself of "the school guilt."
So now I'm taking a deep breath. Patting myself on the back. Reveling in that quiet moment of achievement, because I worked hard for it.