Lots of folks are graduating around now here in the US. From middle schools, high schools, colleges. My nephew even just graduated from high school. (No, not the one that was born in January. He’s barely in kindergarten!) All the stuff in the air about graduations has me thinking. About graduations I haven’t had.
No, no, I’m not lamenting the fact that I’m still in school. This prolonged
incarceration educational endeavor is largely by choice. And I’m making progress on the schemes for tunneling my way out.
The graduations I’m recalling, or not recalling as the case may be, are ones from my past. Or that weren’t in my past. Here’s a weird thing I realized about myself that I hadn’t disclosed in my recent confessional of weirdness: I don’t have a high school diploma.
However, in spite of not actually having technically “graduated” from high school, I have both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. Ha! How’s that for weirdness?
Okay, here’s the story. My family moved around a lot when I was growing up. I actually went to 4 different high schools. The first was in Colorado, the second in Hawaii and the third in California. When I was a junior in high school, which was while we were living in California, my mother remarried. And my mother and I moved in with my new stepfather. In France.
So, high school number 4 was in France. It was an international, bilingual school on the IB system. I was due to be a senior. The last two years of the IB (International Baccalaureate) program were actually cumulative. But starting in the last year of the program (terminal) would have had me going in a year behind in all my courses. So they put in me première, basically junior year. I had just finished 3 years of American high school, and didn’t want to wind up in high school for a total of 5 years. However, the powers that be assured me that completing my 4th year of high school at the new school would suffice for finishing my high school education, at least as far as American universities were concerned. I could get some sort of stamp on my transcript saying I’d finished 4 years of high school.
So that’s what happened. I finished that last year of high school, and apparently got that stamp on my transcript. I never even saw the thing. But it was enough to get me admitted into the American university of my choice. (Brown, if you were wondering.)
But there was no high school graduation. I was never a senior. All my school friends in France were just finishing their penultimate year of secondary school.
Another 4 years went by, and I was scheduled to graduate from Brown. Except for the fact that I took a semester off along the way. (Following extreme burnout from working 3 jobs and raising 6 puppies. Another story.) So, in May of 1993, I did not graduate from college. However, this time, I went through the ceremony. (Hey, all my friends were doing it.) I was scheduled to finish in December, 1993 anyhow, and it wasn’t uncommon for folks to attend the commencement ceremony a semester ahead.
And yes, I did finish Brown in December of ’93, as scheduled. There was some sort of ceremony that December for the midyear grads, but really it was more of a gathering in a hall. No diplomas. Because they only got awarded in May. So hey, I got to have the graduation ceremony all over again in May of ’94. And this time, I got my diploma. Well, actually, that’s not exactly true, either. What I got was a formal-looking roll of paper with a note inside saying that my actually diploma was being “engrossed” and would be sent to me in the mail. (Yes, it the paper actually did say “engrossed.”) (And yes, I did get that diploma in the mail at some point. In fact, I just found it tonight, stumbling across it while trying to find an old journal. It’s been sitting, gathering dust, on the bookshelf next to my bed for probably several years. I had no idea it was there.)
Fast forward 10 years . I finally finished my master’s project at my current school in August of 2004, making me eligible for September graduation. I’m not even sure if they had a September ceremony. (Again, I could have “walked” in the May 2004 ceremony, but this time I opted not to. For one thing, my program doesn’t have a department, so you have to leech yourself on to some other department’s ceremony.) September came, and nothing much happened. As far as I knew, the completion of the degree had gone through: master’s project submitted, paperwork submitted, official admittance to the PhD program. But no actual evidence of a degree.
And then at some point that fall, I checked my online transcript, and the magical words had appeared:
Master of Arts
Major: Applied Linguistics
September 25, 2004
Woohoo! Call me master, baby! But still no diploma.
And then finally, on October 23rd, 2004, a tube appeared in my mailbox. I remember the day well, as it was the day before my wedding. (My second wedding to John.) My mother and sister were visiting. And I had gone out to walk the dog and check the mail. In my pajamas. Flannel polar bear pajamas. And I came back in with that tube. Still wearing my pajamas, I gathered my mother, my sister and my husband (who I was about to remarry), and I sang a wordless (dooooo doo doo doo doooo doo) version of “Pomp and Circumstance.”
I opened my red cardboard tube.
I had been awarded a master’s degree.