By Colorado Review Associate Editor Michelle LaCrosse
Next week, I’ll put a shushing note on my door, on the off-chance my roommate comes home early from her nursing job, and then lock myself in my bedroom with my notes and a copy of my master’s thesis to “attend” my defense—remotely.
I’ll examine the tiny, digital faces of my committee members on my laptop, searching for clues to their thoughts. Afterward, I’ll go change my laundry around and check the mailbox. And yes, I’ll be wearing sweats.
OK, so that’s probably a little overly dramatic. I don’t know that I’ll be doing my laundry, I’m not going to run a load just to add authenticity to my pathetic attempt for sympathy. It’s just, suddenly, such a small ending to a chaotic and stressful four years and I had imagined so much more.
I’m not the only one trying to downplay this little disappointment and fold it into the socially acceptable “it could be worse, don’t complain” imperative. Yes, it could be worse. But no, it’s not great. This spring, thousands of students are quietly finishing their programs, defending, taking their undergraduate finals, and looking forward to a daunting struggle of finding employment. All without fanfare.
At least I was able to attend my undergraduate commencement. In 2012, I was just about to turn thirty and had finally achieved my dream of a college degree. My parents even drove from three states away to watch me cross the stage, and I got a tan line on my forehead in the distinct swooping widow’s peak of the mortarboard. I feel bad for the undergrads finishing now, without this rite of passage. And OK, so no ceremony, but at least we still get to graduate. Imagine having to put it all on hold?
I have to admit, though, that I don’t mind missing commencement. My regret is not being able to be in the same room with my committee, to sit with them when they talk about my work. Discussing my essays that seemed, in the end, like giant Sisyphean boulders poised to crush me if I took my eye off them even for a minute. I’ve grown so much as a writer and essayist over the past four years, and I want some validation, dammit! In person! I know, I know. Believe me.
The whole process seems so surreal. But I didn’t know what to expect going into the final part of my program anyway, so I should, probably, just go along and not mind any changes. I’ve never done this before, so it should be as normal as anything else. Lounging at home in my slippers as I video conference my graduate committee is as normal as anything else right now. It has to be.
It’s OK, really. It’s life. Yes, I’m still in my feelings, and I don’t think you can expect sanguinity yet. I think we 2020 graduates will always have some strong mixed feelings about this season. But let’s consider: If a milestone is reached, but no one’s around to celebrate with you, did you really achieve it? Yes, you really did. We really did.
And it won’t be completely without notice. I’m sure I’ll call my mother as soon as the decision is made. She’ll be at work; I’ll leave a message. As an essential airline employee, her job still requires a personal presence. Hopefully, I’ll have good news to share. She’ll call me on her way home and express joy, excitement, relief, and ask questions about what’s next. Questions I don’t know the answers to. A happy phone call will work, but what I’ll really want is a hug.
Michelle LaCrosse is finishing a master of arts degree in creative writing at Colorado State University and works as an associate editor for the Center for Literary Publishing and Colorado Review, and as a communications intern for CSU Writes. She grew up in the Pacific Northwest, one foot on land and one in the sea, and rejoices during rainy days.