My last class was on Thursday. Yep, the last class. I’m officially almost done –one exam away—with my undergraduate education. Well, for the second time. I already did this once. The last time I did this (er, eight years ago?) my thoughts around graduation all centered around this guy who, in retrospect, was about as wrong for me as possible. He would have made my parents so happy though. And I was late to graduation—I don’t remember why—and I had absolutely no idea how my hair looked after haphazardly pinning on the mortarboard, and so I felt even more awkward than usual. And that’s all I remember. Lots of drama about a really wrong guy and needing to fix my hair.
There’s a lot that I regret about my first undergraduate degree. I made a lot of mistakes. I spent four years at a college that wasn’t accredited, that only offered two degrees for women (Christian Ministries and Christian Education—for the preachers’ wives and the teachers’ wives respectively) and a lot of rules about how women ought to behave. I knew I wasn’t in the right place much of the time, I talked about changing schools during several breaks from school, but I couldn’t really see a way out, I didn’t know how to change things. I wish I had. I wish I’d been stronger, more sure of myself at age 21 or 22. Able to jump ship a little earlier. Oh well.
In her essay “Notes Toward a Politics of Location,” Adrienne Rich said,
It’s hard to look back on the limits of my understanding a year, five years ago—how did I look without seeing, hear without listening? It can be difficult to be generous to earlier selves, and keeping faith with the continuity of our journeys is especially hard in the United States, where identities and loyalties have been shed and replaced without a tremor, all in the name of becoming….
I love that, the reminder to be generous to our past selves, to try to understand our mistakes and complications and the things that seem so stupid later. The essay as a whole is talking about Rich’s transition from a second wave to a third wave perspective—she says she initially thought the category “Woman” to outweigh all other categories of nationality or religion (a traditionally second wave perspective), but then, later, she saw the problems with that generalization. Her change in perspective is historically interesting, but her acceptance of her changes is what I find most fascinating. She accepts that humans aren’t static. When we’re wrong, sometimes we think we’re right. We don’t know everything yet. And that’s ok.
I found that paragraph in my first semester, three-four years ago, at this—my current—college. A professor assigned a few selections from The Essential Feminist Reader, and I read the whole thing. Voraciously. Incessantly. Compulsively. It wasn’t academic curiosity, it wasn’t analytical, it was personal. It was therapy. (And god, did I need therapy.) Reading what other women had written about their lives and their politics and their romances answered my questions. They made me think about questions that I hadn’t yet considered. It gave me a different perspective, a wider perspective. And I needed a different perspective so badly.
I’m excited and terrified about the next step. I’m starting a master’s degree at American University in August. I’m moving to D.C.. I want to volunteer at the Sewell-Belmont house and join marches and read books and talk about literature. I’m guessing there will be a lot of stress and coffee in there too, but I’m happy. And scared. But mostly happy.
Eight years ago, trying to figure out what in pluperfect hell I was supposed to do next, I’d never have imagined that things could turn out so well.