Saturday, October 29, 2011

It is finished

I’m not sure what I was expecting when the final assignment was submitted and I knew the work was done. Up until a couple months ago, I still had some tests that I needed to pass in order to know if I would actually be finished when I needed to be. Once those tests were completed and I knew I had only two eight-week classes left, that’s when I felt relief. I was free to enjoy studying Shakespeare and 18th Century British literature, because the hard stuff, the what-if-I-don’t-pass-this was over. All major obstacles were scaled.

Phew.

That was until a few nights ago I was out with some friends. My friend David leaned forward and said, “I have a question to ask you. I ask this of a lot of people, so I’m interested to see what your answer is.”

I instantly got nervous. I thought all my tests were over. It certainly sounded like a trick question. “Okay, what’s the questions?”

“What did you learn?” He asked.

Yep, definitely a trick question.

So I started talking about the class where I learned about different styles of the autobiography, why I loved English because it was a study of humanity and also a study of humanity throughout history. I went on for a few minutes and than glanced at David. “Is this what you wanted? I could keep going forever.”

“Yes, keep going.”

Later when I’d finished talking about Shakespeare and secular education versus Christian education, I asked him what people normally said when he asked them what they learned.

He said, “The typical answer is ‘nothing, just perseverance.’” David’s wife, Gracie, added that he usually asked that question of people who didn’t love learning or were fresh out of high school.

That was something I’d thought about during the past two years. Sure, I would have loved to have my college degree when I was 22 like everyone else, but then, I wondered, would I have enjoyed school as much without the 6 years of experience that confirmed for me that a college degree was definitely something that I wanted?

Another thing I experienced was the value of rest and relaxation. Taking breaks can actually help your brain work better. For instance, last fall I was working two jobs and plowing ahead with full time school. The season wasn’t so bad when I think back on it and that’s because of this dear, sweet commandment in the Bible about resting on the Sabbath day.

My Sabbath wasn’t always on Sunday, but if I couldn’t rest on Sunday, I’d take a break on Friday or on Monday. I could push myself to burnout level if I knew that day of rest was coming. Thank you, God, for that commandment. I think he was thinking of me when he carved it in stone so many thousands of years ago.

I also learned that good enough is, just that, good enough. A few months ago I was studying with my friend Emily. Emily has been my friend since 6th grade. I had several classes with her in high school. She was one of the student whom I would try to sneak a peek at her papers or test grades to compare my score with hers. Though our grades rarely matched up, competing with her was one motivation to do well in school.

So the day we were studying we were sitting in Barnes and Nobel. She was working on courses for grad school and I was working on a paper that was due for one of my more challenging classes. After I’d re-read it 15 times, I said out loud, “Okay, every time I read this I find something I could change, I think I should probably stop.”

Emily looked at me from across the café table and said, “Take it from someone who had no life in college. It’s okay to get a B.” Then she went back to her books.

“If I get a B on this paper, I think I’ll probably still make an A in the class,” I said.

“No, I meant a B in the whole class.”

Coming from someone who would inadvertently ask our high school English teacher for more homework, this statement meant a lot.

During the past two years of my life, there’s one word I uttered to myself a thousand times, and at least daily, it was focus, focus, focus. Focus. I’d find myself day-dreaming and I’d command myself to, “focus, Katherine, focus.” People talk about eye on the prize. My eye was on it. I can hear the drumbeats of focus, focus, focus sounding in my mind even now. Everything, and I repeat, everything took second place to school.

I wouldn’t say I was completely one-track minded. I had work, and spent time with friends occasionally, but the majority of my mind was focused on school. As a result, when school was finally finished, there was a very large hole where the focus had been.

There is a feeling of euphoria that one often expects to feel upon reaching a goal, completing an assignment, or entering a new season. But, no matter how many times we try to conjure up that feeling when the season changes, it rarely happens. Hence, when the season changed, the goal was attained, and the work was complete, I was left feeling dazed. After the initial dazziness subsided, the feelings of being forlorn and lost set in. Like that feeling you get when you’re used to carrying a purse everywhere you go and one day you decide to leave it in the car. You’re not weighted down, so that’s a good thing, but you still feeling like something is missing. You habitually reach for the purse that isn’t there till finally it sinks in, “Oh yeah, no purse. I’m free and clear.”

So, that’s the only way to describe the ending of my college experience. No fireworks or happy dances. At this very moment I feel grateful—and tired.

What’s next? That’s the big question. The only good answer is “I don’t know.” I thought about saying “I have no idea,” but I do have some idea. However, to bank on any of those (and there are many) would be premature at this point since they tend to change from week to week. Yes, I’ve officially become that person with a new idea every week.

So, here’s to dreaming. Dreams past, dreams present, and dreams future.

War Eagle.

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