Coming to a close…

Tonight, I will begin the final phase of my undergraduate career. I need two half credits (one 400-seminar course and the Digital Text) – which means night classes Monday through Thursday – to finish the degree that I began in 1988. It is my 24-year degree. The BA 2-4.

I wasn’t in school that entire time. I arrived as an eager student straight from high school but I’m an example of someone who should have taken a bit of time off in-between. It wasn’t necessarily about grades (at least not at first) but that I didn’t know how to ask for help. I’m sure the help was there; I just didn’t have the confidence to seek it out. And so I left mid-way through my third year (actually, I left for a variety of reasons. There is, of course, a much longer version of this story but probably more appropriate for another post…. and maybe some place other than the CTSI blog) in 1991 and returned in 2008 after I began working at U of T. I didn’t take the first class thinking that I would finish my degree. I just wanted to delve into a subject that interested me (history of science), stretch my skills and do something that scared me. It was a year or so later that I realized I could actually finish my degree. So, now, 4 years (24 in total), 10 courses and 9 credits later, I am nearing the end. A giant sigh of relief.

It wasn’t necessarily that I came from a small town and was overwhelmed by the big city. I was pretty happy in the city and living in residence those first two years. I met people who remain close friends today. The culture of houses must change through the years but back in 1988, Jeanneret (Sir Daniel Wilson’s, University College) seemed like a collection of oddities. We joked that if they didn’t know where else to put you, they assigned you to Jeanneret. This was all fine by us, of course. Somehow, all of our jagged pieces fit together and we were happy to find each other. We were the Island of Misfit Toys, except we didn’t really mind being stranded. And of that group, there is more than one professor, a geneticist, lawyers, teachers, writers, an editor, journalist and, well, me, who will soon be the proud recipient of an Honours BA. And, yes, there will be a party.

A photo of me a few years after leaving school….

This time around, I’ve been more willing to speak in class (which is still a bit frightening but I persevere) and I ask for help when I need it. Well, most of the time. For a final essay this past term, I let things get away from me. Too busy (full time work, 2 classes, freelance writing work that occupied whatever free time I had), trying to do a dozen things at once and I made a right mess of it. I should have asked for help but I didn’t. In fact, it was such a tumble that I wrote an apology to the professor.

And one of me today. Better hair, same blank stare.

I’m not surprised that there are some darn clever folks at U of T but I am often amazed at the insight and comments of fellow students. Yes, I am sometimes intimidated. It always feels like a risk when putting my hand up in class – don’t want to say the wrong thing, or if I know how to identify the right or wrong thing to say, or worry that I’ll speak too quickly. And there are times when I already feel like an odd duck in class. I stand out. I’m a woman in her forties. I have a student number that begins with 880…. I have to check myself sometimes so I don’t sound like a grandmother telling stories about the depression (“Now, let me tell you what it was like to live through the Reagan years!”, “In the years before the internet, we had to remember things all on our own!”). And, as a friend so helpfully pointed out, I could be the mother of many of my classmates and it wouldn’t have been a scandal. I can get past these fears (for the most part) because I recognize that few people are paying that much attention to me, at least not as someone who is old enough to be their mother (or a much older sister, or maybe a cool aunt?). Most people in the classroom are there to learn. Most are accepting and interested in comments and suggestions from classmates. My goal is to leave the classroom more informed, with a better grasp on the subject, than I when I walked in. I’m happy to report that I’ve met this mark over these last four years of my BA. Now, I just have to get through these last six weeks…..