August 11, 2009

*Long post. Took a couple days to write. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.*

Alas, I will be graduating on Saturday…

I found out last week and when I saw the email with the subject of “Konvokesyen 2009” my heart stopped for a few seconds and then it started to beat faster and faster as I read through the contents of the email. I couldn’t believe it. In fact, I still sit here and wonder if this is all a dream and that at any given time I will wake up and it would have all been my mind playing tricks on me.

This is a short version of my experience…

In December 2005, I signed up for a Masters Degree while Rob was here visiting. After he left, it took me quite a while to get off my ass and started my research. It was supposed to be a 2 year ordeal program and I was scheduled to graduate by 2008. In the span of a couple years, I have re-written and edited draft after draft of my six-chapter thesis.

The process goes like this. I finish a chapter, email it to my supervisor. He then takes about a month or sometimes up to 3 months to read and then email me his feedback on what edits/corrections to be made while I worked on the subsequent chapter. Initially it was a challenge I enjoyed. I secretly enjoyed the fact that I was acquiring all this knowledge about my area of study even though sometimes it didn’t fit in my thesis.

I learned about things from Marxism to Chinese history, from theories of dialectic materialism to revisionism, read texts written from the 18th and 19th century and many more. All this would not have been possible had I not taken up this Masters Degree.

In 2008, I was denied graduation  because the process was lengthy and required more time. I now assume that my supervisor thought I wasn’t ready to bring my thesis to a panel that would accept it and let me graduate. I was devastated. Nonetheless, 2008 turned into a good year when I was able to spend 5 and a half weeks with Rob.

He knew I was sad about not graduating and so he suggested I go over for summer during July-August. I knew that he wanted to get me away from being at home around graduation time (which is always in August). For that, I am thankful. The entire time I was there with him, I didn’t think much about graduation. I wholeheartedly had one of the best 5 and a half weeks of my life there.

I came back home with renewed determination, hope and faith. I was refreshed and I knew I was going to finish what I started. I worked hard because I was determined to graduate in August 2009.

Fast forward to the last couple months…

Even though I had personal issues to deal with, I still managed to keep myself focused. I was in constant contact with my thesis supervisor and he assured me over and over again that I would make it to graduation this year. I, on the other hand, was sceptical at first but after so much assurance from him, I was sure I was going to graduate this year. I would cordially say I am graduating this year when family and/or friends enquire about my studies.

Anyway, after 4 drafts on each chapter later, I submitted my final draft for evaluation in early June as instructed by my supervisor. In fact, my supervisor mentioned that he was going to push the university to publish my thesis as a book.

My jaw dropped when he brought this up to me. ME? An author of a book? Crazy, isn’t it? I was ecstatic(!) yet somehow didn’t think to announce it to the world because I’ve begun my journey down cynicism and wondered if it would ever happen. Nonetheless, Rob and I had fun with the whole author thing as he commented that if the book sold great (not that it would) I would be his sugarmama. =))

Meanwhile, because of bureaucracy and incompetence, my thesis was not read by any of the examiners until a week later. My supervisor literally had to jump in and personally forwarded my thesis to both internal and external examiners for evaluation.

Two weeks later, I gotten my evaluation. Both passed me BUT the external examiner me requested that I added parts here and there to make the thesis more comprehensive. The internal examiner was more critical on my referencing style and requested that I cite my sources more frequently. I understand that to a certain extent. What pissed me off was that after every paragraph he drew a line and wrote “Source?” on it. Now my gripe was (and still is), “Does he expect a source after EVERY sentence?” You know what, I don’t think I should get into that now. It would make this an even longer post.

Once again, I met up with my supervisor and showed him the evaluation I got from the examiners. He then proceeded to tell me that since there was THAT much to clean up and edit, I should consider the fact that I won’t make it to graduation this year. Apparently he didn’t expect this magnitude of a feedback. I then asked “If I get this done in a week, what are the odds of graduating?” He answered “I can’t promise anything. You can try but I can’t promise anything. Don’t kill yourself over it. Just take your time and do what you need to.”  To which I just said “I don’t care if I don’t graduate anymore. I want to get this done and over with. I want to get on with my life.”

At that point I was so angry and I channelled it into more determination. I wanted to finish the damn thesis within a week, submit it for final evaluation and get it out of my life once and for all. For a week I slept an average of 4-5 hours every night and worked really hard on it. To my amazement I really did finish all the necessary edits in 6 days. I submitted what I hoped would be my FINAL copy and waited.

I had no expectations. During the 6 days I worked on it, I pretty much had the thought of not graduating implanted in my head. I dealt with it, albeit not so well, but I did. I braved myself to face the many people who had expected me to graduate this year and started hinting the news of not graduating.

To my surprise I will be graduating this coming Saturday as I mentioned earlier.  The first person I told was Rob and later that day I told my parents.  Aside from them, I didn’t tell anyone about it until a few days later. I was scared that someone was going to call me up and said it was all a mistake on their part, that the email was not intended for me. That goes to show just how much of an impact the journey of writing this thesis had on me.

I don’t know if I can blame entirely the university for this but it really has not been the experience I hoped it to be. From denying my right to JUST apply for a scholarship to rude staff, from incompetence and lack of research material, I pretty much backhanded the university when I did a survey conducted by the Ministry of Higher Education.

This has been a long journey, with much blood, sweat and tears. Mostly a lot of tears, to be completely honest.

I am relieved that I will be graduating but I am indifferent about it. I don’t really feel like celebrating, mainly because I am still in fear, fearing that it will all come crashing down again. It feels like a defeated victory. Mostly I am just glad for the people who are happy for me because they deserve it.

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is true but how does one define “stronger” in this sense? Am I stronger now? Yes, to a certain extent. I am stronger in the sense that I am more cynical.  That is the strength that I have acquired from taking on this degree. Even though I am looking at the graduation gown hanging on my door, I am still questioning whether this is really happening? I still have my doubts and I am questioning my faith in some things.

Perhaps ten years from now I will look back and smile and think about what a great challenge this was and how it affected my life.

For now, I am done with school. I want to get on with my life.

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