Even though commencement has been postponed, graduation is just around the corner. As a non-traditional student, I have different feelings about it this year.
I am a senior, and after this fall semester, I will (hopefully) have one semester left until I graduate.
I say hopefully, as this has been the hardest semester to manage.
I returned to college at 30. I turn 34 in December.
I have a son who is 15 months old. I took a semester off after he was born. When I came back, it was harder than it had been before he was born, but I still managed. I kept up with my homework, attended classes and even finished projects on time.
Then 2020 happened.
Beyond COVID-19, earthquakes and windstorms that knocked the power out for multiple days, this year has burnt me out. My little family and I have tapped out.
We have dealt with a person driving up onto our lawn, running over an entire tree. We had to replace our water heater the day after the earthquake.
Our dishwasher motherboard stopped working. My son needed an EKG for a heart murmur (thankfully, everything was normal).
My boyfriend broke his fingertip, meaning I am the only one who has been able to wash dishes for the last 8 weeks. My boyfriend’s grandpa, whom we named our son after, died on my son’s first birthday.
It isn’t just our emotions and bodies and bank accounts that are getting walloped; my college experience knows how to tussle, too.
I have taken proctored tests with my son screaming for me from the other room because he doesn’t want his dad to put him to sleep. I’m sitting there, knowing another student is getting paid to monitor me, while my kid is melting down, and I’m trying to not meltdown myself.
I have sat quietly in the dark, watching night-only classes over Zoom, hoping I don’t get called on. I know if I start talking, it might wake up my sleeping kid.
I have asked one professor for extensions so many times, I might as well set up an email template at this point.
The final thing that officially broke me happened the week before the election. I had been grinding my teeth so much in my sleep, I broke a crown.
When I went to get the temporary crown mold made, the assistant tore out the filling that was covering my root canal when she was removing it. I sat in a dental chair for nearly four hours and had sores in the corners of my mouth from my jaw being held open for so long.
I drove home defeated. Less than three hours later, my neighbor’s house caught on fire.
As my other neighbors and I stood in our backyards speechless, I knew then our survival mode was no longer tenable.
I made the decision to take a break from school until fall 2021 with only one semester left.
I am so close, but this degree is not, and never was, just for me. It has always been about my family.
My boyfriend and I planned our move to Ogden and my return to school around our decision to start a family in a few years. I decided to attend WSU to ensure I have the ability to support our son.
Whether that means getting a job that pays enough to afford the clothing he wants or working an office job that allows me to show up for every school play, I want the freedom that comes with having a degree. The freedom to work at a job that fits into our life.
Right now, my family needs to take a few deep breaths, rest up and most likely get some armor and a new fire extinguisher. We don’t need another semester like this one, even if it is the final boss.
I feel for all of the other non-traditional students in the same spot as me.
The ones doing it all as a solo parent. The ones teaching their kids at home while they are also in school. The ones doing all of that on top of full-time work.
I see you all. I hope you aren’t drowning.
College is often talked about as a young person’s game, especially during the pandemic.
“It’s those KIDS who are causing the spread,” the media shouts. “Those college kids keep going to parties and football games!”
I have only been in one other place besides my house since March 12 this year, and it’s the North Ogden branch of the Weber County Library for less than 10 minutes every 3 to 4 weeks. There are ghosts in horror movies who spend more time interacting with humans than I have this year.
I’m tired of being left out of the conversation when it comes to how the pandemic is impacting college kids. The conversations about mom-trauma during COVID don’t mention attending college, either.
This is why graduation feels different to me right now. This semester has made me realize that even though I am in college, I am in a different college than the one portrayed in media.
Commencement isn’t meant for students like me.
I don’t have friends I’ve known since grade school in my classes. I don’t have dormmates who I need to get photos with, smiling in our caps and gowns before we start our lives.
Tossing my cap won’t make me feel any more or less accomplished. I know all that I’ve accomplished is a huge deal.
Maybe I’m jaded. Maybe I don’t see it as just my degree. Maybe it’s both.
If my boyfriend, the person working ugly hours because a required class is only offered one evening a week for 3 hours and someone needs to watch the baby, won’t be acknowledged for his sacrifices in earning this degree, then is it time well spent?
I don’t want to diminish the ceremony. Your accomplishments are huge, no matter how you went about it.
Extra love if you are a first-generation student. You most definitely worked harder than I did.
I am just a cishet, white woman who was given the okay to write a column. All I know how to do is complain and make it about me.
I personally don’t need the rituals of commencement.
I’m looking forward to the part where I’m not juggling school full-time, working part-time, with a side hustle, narcolepsy with cataplexy, a toddler who has learned to kick — and hard — and an unprecedented pandemic during the year of an unparalleled election, while Black people are getting murdered by cops left and right and children are in cages in an entirely different country than their parents.
I may be the only non-traditional student who feels this way, and my views on commencement might change by the time I graduate (and I WILL graduate). At this point, the end game isn’t even getting to commencement; it’s surviving the zombie apocalypse or the swarm of locusts or whatever new hell that pops up next week.