Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Croissants of Shame

[compiled from several emails sent today]

Hi Everyone,

If you were following the news a couple hours ago you heard that one of our fellow students took his own life on campus.

The Newsminer gave the student's age: 48. By that definition, whether he'd heard of us or not, he's a non-traditional like us.

We all know how stressful student life can be. Especially at the end of the semester and the end of the year--when the fun weather and darkness sets in along with the projects and tests and grades and all that fun sh!t.

I've been reading all semester for my comps. I took my writtens the week before Thanksgiving. I got feedback from a couple of my committee members, and successfully got through some rewrites before the week was over.  On Tuesday of this week I went to take my scheduled oral exam. I got there early and sat outside the conference room for a half hour. After what seemed like ages my advisor finally came out and told me that the committee decided I wasn't ready to take the orals, because some of them were not satisfied with my written answers. 

I was completely shocked.  It was all I could do to hold back tears.

In hindsight, I should not have been subjected to that. I should have been contacted beforehand by each person who felt a rewrite was in order. Well, Thanksgiving week came and went, and blah blah blah. It (and I) fell through the cracks.  It really sucked. I spent $ on breakfast items for them, I had to request an outside examiner weeks before, and the poor fellow showed up just to have his time wasted. Worst of all, my advisor had emailed all my friends the day before to announce that she was throwing a big party for me (with CHAMPAGNE!) on Wed night to celebrate my advance to candidacy. She had to email them all back and explain why the party was being cancelled. That REALLY sucked--now everyone knew!! And so I went home in tears with my bag of croissants, and wondered whether I should continue being a UAF student or just give up and fling myself and the croissants over the Goldstream Creek Bridge.

Before I left campus that day, however, I met with the members of my committee who were not satisfied with my written answers, and we discussed the issues. They gave me a framework for rewrites.  I just sent rewrites to one of them a little while ago, and I am in the process of rewriting for the other. 

If all goes well, I should be able to reschedule my oral exam for early January.

Sounds easy. But it wasn't.  I was doing everything I could to hold it together. My advisor had hugged me and apologized. It wasn't her fault.

That poor student. I know how he felt. I came close. [I didn't tell anyone about that part]

When I got home, I sat in my house and cried for hours. I didn't eat or drink or light a fire, and the house got cold. I thought about driving up the Elliott Highway some ways past Fox and pulling over and just walking out into the snow. I thought about the thirty thousand dollars in loans and scholarships that would need to be given back. And I thought about my Dad, who went to college on the GI Bill after surviving the final campaign through Europe during WWII. I emailed him and he called me; we talked for over an hour.  

When something like this happens, it's not good to internalize your feelings. It may be embarrassing for others to know, but holding back the pain can seriously damage one's health and prevent us from going forward, which is what being a student is all about.

My advice to you guys, if this should happen to you, is to keep your chin up.  Also, don't harbour angry feelings. Faculty are human, miscommunication happens, holiday weekends happen, and sometimes everything comes together to create the Perfect Sh!t Storm of Humiliation hitting you, the student, in the face. Allow yourself one day to scream your head off, cry your eyes out, eat Ben n Jerry's, whatever [my Dad's advice]. The next day, get up and do your student thing as usual. Day by day it will get easier.  I talked to my girlfriend in California (a UC Davis non-trad) and we ended up laughing about my croissants of shame which I ended up giving to my neighbor's sled dogs (that felt good). The day you laugh again, you will be out of the hole.

I'm not saying you will be the way you were before. No. You won't ever forget it, and certain things may trigger bouts of tears for a while. But (my Dad again), you must let go of the bitterness. 

If you continue to feel resentment it will poison an otherwise awesome education opportunity that you worked so hard to be part of. And I'm sorry to say, it can poison your whole life from that day forward. 

If you want to use this group as a forum for this kind of support, please feel free.This group is whatever you want it to be. We all have a voice, we are all in charge. And I wish this group to be a safe place to fall for all of us.

OK, so I had my horrible experience on Tuesday. Today I am feeling much better. Writing this, I am feeling much better.  It helps to let it out. University is meant to stimulate our curiosity and develop our intellectual skills, and I often feel I learn more from my mistakes than I ever could by doing something "the right way" which, remember, is often subjective and consensus-based. By that logic I ought to be a frickin' genius by now, but oh well...

Albert Einstein's teacher supposedly told his father that the kid was an idiot who would never amount to anything. (and they didn't have Title IX back then when Einstein was a college boy...)

We all know student life is peer-oriented and can be very judgey and cliquey.  You can't stop someone from judging you negatively, but remember, judgments like that are fear-based, and very different from the constructive criticism that shapes a student into a critical thinker, a skilled writer, an impassioned and highly skilled doer. In the culture of academic excellence it's easy to feel inadequate, and the quickest ego boost for low self-esteem is to look down our noses at someone else. But don't forget that you are individuals.  Nobody can place a value judgement on another person's individuality. What you have is unique and irreplaceable, it's really your hard currency. Each one of you struck me as a kind of maverick when I first met and talked to you. This is what is so interesting to me--perhaps that's why we're all in this Non-Trad boat together!

So continue to be the awesome Non-Traditional mom/dad/grandparent/soldier/community leader/artist/mountaineer/philosopher/engineer mavericks that you are. And make friends with some sled dogs just in case you need to ditch a wasted committee meeting breakfast in a hurry :-)

And please have a wonderful break.

Your friend,


1 comment:

  1. Hi Diane, I think one of the reasons I follow your blog is because you are succeeding at something which I attempted to do but failed at early on in the process. I'm proud of you for how far you have gotten. You have worked hard for a long time. Take care of yourself by eating right and get your rest. Please keep moving toward your finish line. As someone who never even made it to the starting line, I would like to see you succeed.