History has a way of repeating itself. Nearly two years ago, I almost didn’t get on the plane to begin my master’s degree. A couple of weeks ago, I almost didn’t get on the plane to attend my graduation.
I couldn’t afford to miss a week of work, I reasoned. I couldn’t afford the expense after two years of accruing student debt. I might miss something blooming in my garden.
I don’t know why I was even thinking of not attending my own convocation after all my hard work, but I knew none of my excuses were going to cut it. I missed my high school commencement due to illness, and blew off my undergraduate event because I’d done my degree over so many years that I wasn’t really graduating with a “class.” But I’m now 58 years old. It’s unlikely I’m ever going to graduate from anywhere again. If I missed this event, I’d regret it for the rest of my life.
My family makes a big deal out of graduations. In the past decade, I’ve attended more than a dozen of them. When anyone in our family graduates, the whoops and hollers erupting from our aisle in the audience can probably be heard a couple of blocks away. I wanted to hear that yelping and yeehawing for me, yet I almost didn’t go.
I’m so glad I didn’t listen to my doubts. My MFA graduation was even better than I imagined. I couldn’t fly the whole family across the country to be my cheering section, and there were good reasons most of them couldn’t have attended even if I could have.
But I took my older daughter with me and we had a fabulous time. And my two dear writer friends in Halifax, Marjorie Simmins and Silver Donald Cameron, came out to cheer me on. (In fact, Don, who has an honourary doctorate from the University of King’s College, donned his regalia and took part in the procession. I felt wonderfully honoured.)
Chronic headaches have, for the most part, put an end to my partying days, but I was determined not to miss anything during grad week. For me, the celebration started with a day of attempting to show my daughter around Halifax but instead getting lost and walking around for four hours. No problem; we laughed a lot while wandering around looking for water (which shouldn’t be that hard to find in a small port city). That was followed by a wonderful dinner with Marjorie and Don. The next day, there was a rehearsal in the afternoon, a pre-dinner reception, and the President’s Dinner.
Then it was the big day, and it was worth every bit of the two years of hard work that preceded it. It started with photos of our MFA class on the steps of the Admin building, continued with a procession through the city from King’s College along University Avenue, and culminated with the encaenia (King’s still uses the Latin word) at the Cathedral Church of All Saints.
The wait for the ceremony, in a hot back room of the church, seemed interminable, but in no time we were processing into the cathedral. To my right, I saw my daughter’s smiling face as she snapped photos of me. Tears were streaming down her cheeks, and that made me cry, too.
The ceremony was about two-and-a-half hours, and the MFA class was the last group to receive our degrees; in hindsight, it seems appropriate because we were the loudest, rowdiest group of all.
Maybe that was because we’re all mature students and never expected, before 2013, to do this; maybe it was because people’s book topics were so intense that they couldn’t help but bring us close together. Maybe it was because we were the very first class in the first program of its kind in Canada, or because all but one of us came to grad—and that one had a very good reason. (Good luck, Spencer Osberg!)
Regardless, there was no group of recipients in the convocation who were more enthusiastic about every single member of the class being “capped” and receiving their parchment—no group that cheered louder or clapped harder or made every member of the class feel more loved, appreciated, and proud.
After it was all over and we’d taken a million photos, my daughter took me out for dinner before our grad party at Helen McDonnell’s, where I received the MFA (see photo) Zuckerberg Award for Most Impressive Social Media Launch. Then it was coffee at the Cobourg on Friday morning, a pre-party at program director Stephen Kimber’s home in the afternoon, and a final barbecue at Pauline Dakin’s house (with many thanks to Pauline for hosting our last “wrap” party as well as our first).
And, yes, I actually got drunk (all Starlit Simon’s fault).
When I was accepted to the degree program two years ago and was wrestling with my doubts, one thing that kept me going was that I wanted to be a good role model for my kids—to show them it’s never too late to start over. At that point in my life, I was struggling to cope with daily headaches and deep depression. I’d given up on ever getting a master’s degree, writing a book, travelling, or anything else I’d once imagined doing before I died, so anything good that happened after that was a bonus, from my perspective.
If you’d told me then that, two years later, I’d be halfway through a book, partying in Halifax with some of the best people I know, and writing a blog about starting over in mid-life, I would have smiled politely and nodded, while inwardly rolling my eyes.
I’m not rolling my eyes anymore. And I can’t even begin to imagine what else might still be in store for me.