The death of celebration
Sure, it’s a little early to think about graduation. Even if I finish on time, I still have a little over a year left before it’s my turn. If I don’t finish on time, then it’s anyone’s guess on when I could hope to graduate. Still, it’s something that’s been on my mind lately because I was actually looking forward to celebrating this time.
Currently I have two degrees, so since we’re talking about it, it’s time for another randomly spaced introduction. I’m currently in my fourth year of my PhD, my BS and MS are in mechanical engineering and I jumped ship to neuroengineering. As I like to remind everyone, those are two very different fields and I found that out the hard way! Still, I’ve managed to power through, I’ve gotten, as of this writing, two publications in the field and I’m working on several more. So I’m nicely settled in at the moment, or more so than when I started.
What I don’t usually share, because it’s not particularly relevant to anything I’ve talked about is that I have not once celebrated a graduation. When I finished my BS I had been at it for almost 10 years. It took a significant amount of time because, well I tried to kill myself and digging out of that hole didn’t happen overnight (more). You would think that it was a victory worth celebrating, but it came and went without so much as a congratulations card or a cake. Ten years of working towards something and I crossed the finish line with noone to cheer for me.
My masters came much quicker thankfully, a year later I defended my thesis and while it wasn’t a celebration I did get to attend two conferences back to back internationally shortly after. Which felt closer to a celebration than anything I had done before. Still, I avoided the pomp and circumstance that came with graduating. I have never once walked across a stage, shook a hand, gave a rousing speech, or performed any of the traditional graduation activities. That includes, but is not limited to, graduation parties.
Thus my bachelors and masters degrees both came and went like just another day for me. Looking back I understand now why I didn’t do it. It didn’t feel like a win to me, it just felt like an ending. It’s a subtle difference, but one I can give a good example for. If I were to ask who won world war 2, you may think to say the allied forces won. It’s what we’re taught after all, but the truth is in war there are no winners. There are only those who lose a lot and those who lose a little less.
My first degree felt like the end of a war, it was a struggle of massive proportions and I saw significant life changes as the years ticked away until I finally finished. When the time came, I simply didn’t feel like celebrating, I felt like sleeping. The short gap between my BS and MS didn’t give me enough time to recover, so to speak. So graduating didn’t feel very impressive, it just felt like a continuation.
If there’s one piece of advice I can give you, my lovely readers, it’s celebrate your victories. Celebrate them no matter how small, celebrate disproportionately to the accomplishment. Celebrate even if you don’t feel like you deserve it, want it, need it, or are worthy of it. Because if you’re like me, you won’t ever feel like something you’ve accomplished is worthy of celebration. But I’ll let you in on a secret, just the two of us, come closer I don’t want the others to hear…. you are worth celebrating, even if you’ve failed at something. That’s right, celebrate your losses, because you tried something new and that’s still a victory.
It’s advice I can easily give, but I find difficult to follow. This time was going to be different though. This time I was going to celebrate my graduation. I was going to do the whole hooding ceremony and even though I feel foolish even admitting it, I was going to do it because damn it this was hard. I’m not quite there yet, but I was genuinely looking forward to that day. Frankly, I still am!
You never know, even with the pandemic, we could be at a good place this time next year… he says as if he wasn’t thinking the same thing the last two years. While I don’t condone big celebrations during the pandemic, particularly (specifically) unmasked events, I will
probably definitely attend my graduation (in a mask if COVID-19 hasn’t been eradicated) because I want to be able to celebrate at least once. It just feels right after all the times I missed this big event to celebrate.
Strangely enough, part of the desire to celebrate this time, comes from all the work I’ve put in here with my blog. I didn’t expect it to affect anything like that, but in a lot of ways it’s helped remind me of all the work I’ve been doing to reach the end. I think the quote goes something like, “you don’t know where you’re going until you see where you’ve began.” I’m probably butchering it and I don’t like quotes like that for so many different reasons, but it does capture the truth in this situation.
If it weren’t for the fact that I’ve written down all the struggles, I honestly wouldn’t remember half of them. Hell even with writing daily there’s so much logged that it’s hard for me to keep track of the things I’ve talked about and things I haven’t. For all I know I have a post just like this floating in the
loony bin archives. That’s kind of the point though, most of us don’t realize all the work we put into something. So celebrate your wins, celebrate your losses, celebrate just because you made it another day and that’s a fucking win if there ever was one.
By your own hand or by time, we all die. It’s just a fact of life, it ends eventually. The simple act of making it to another day is special enough for a celebration. Then to go out into the world and even attempt to do something more than that, well that’s special. And it shouldn’t be disregarded because you climbed the hill and forgot to look back to see how hard it was. Everything feels easier after the fact, if you don’t know that now, you’ll just have to trust me on that.
Eventually I will graduate, even if it doesn’t quite feel like it right now. I’m going to celebrate that, but there are a lot of days between now and that day that are worth celebrating too. So if you’re on the path to your PhD, or if you’re just on the path you’ve chosen in life, don’t forget to celebrate everything along the way to wherever you want to end up.
Life will always be shorter than you want it to be. There’s no harm in taking just a moment of your time to congratulate yourself on just existing.