Wine and Story Time: Graduation
Saturday Night Social! Wine and Story Time 🍷
(In which I ...we? ... have a glass and visit times of yore)
In this episode: I Did Not Graduate Either 2020s! (Aka Rituals Matter)
I went back to college after a long pause.
I guess it wasn't that long in terms of actual time passing ... 5? 6? years? ... but emotionally it felt like forever. I started out attending NYU Tisch School of the Arts (DRAMA!!) but had to unceremoniously exit my junior year when I couldn't pay the tuition due to a strange confluence of factors including my family and I being evicted AT THE SAME TIME (in two separate states) but only one of us came under scrutiny from the attorney general for bilking the neighbors out of half a million dollars. You probably can guess Eliot Spitzer didn't come after a 20 year old but you may not have guessed that I was still somehow the person in this situation who was dragged to the doctor for having "mental problems." (In my mom's parlance: asking questions).
That year ended in a bang with me on some mind altering prescription drugs I DID NOT NEED, without the therapy I DID, still clinging to the one relationship that was GOING TO KILL ME (#MamasGirl) and torching every other connection that might mean something in my life.
College, amiright? #JustMe?
Except Joe. Ah Joe.
We got married and waded through the wacky Newlywed Years where you have to pay off your parents wedding “gifts” because they were racking up “surprise” charges on your credit cards (and still writing bad checks in your name)
Newlywed life, amirite? #JustUs?
Meanwhile, everything about the way I left college was buzzing in the background and torturing me to my core.
But also! Bills! Chaos! So I started babysitting for a young couple on the Upper West Side from my church (both kinda my age, young twenties, husband a banker) and the wife needed a sitter so she could take classes at Hunter College for fun, as a way to get out of the house, because she quit BYU and got pregnant (as one does, when one is Mormon, and I say this not as a slam but because this is the path of my kin) and now she kinda wanted to finish her degree in a cost effective way the banker husband could approve of. Because they were rich.
(Tangent! I remember walking into her apartment in December and she was sobbing hysterically because for some reason her husband was not going to get his full Christmas bonus of $350,000 and she was beside herself. I petted her head and told her it was gonna be fine. Trying not to mention we had eaten pancakes for dinner every night for the past 6 months but ok, sure, lady we all got problems). Don't yall worry! He GOT THE BONUS! phew.
So they were rich. AND THAT MEANS they did not like to spend money. Especially for a degree she wasn't going to "do anything" with (Spoiler alert: she ended up landing a nifty internship and then a JOB, therefore needing a full time nanny, so I moved on to work for different couple at church, and when THAT husband asked me if I knew what the heck was going on with her and I just shrugged he said , "guess she's just got to get the wiggles out.” But in fairness! He was a hedge fund manager and I don’t know what that does to your view of the world. Although VERY NICE PEOPLE! Mormons are SO NICE YALL).
TLDR; all the rich folks got their bonuses and I found out about a city college that was super cheap!
And THAT was my point. So glad we found our way back to it. 🙂
So! After I left NYU in a blaze of shaming glory, and fell er was shoved into debt spiritual abyss nervous breakdown suicidal depression by my mother, I quickly! rebounded 5 to 6 years later and ended up at HUNTER COLLEGE wherein they told me all my fancy Tisch School of the Arts credits MEANT NOTHING to them and I needed to start over. From the beginning.
So I took Math and Science and English and History and all the things NYU Tisch didn't care about because that is a school for rich people to spend money on arts education which is GREAT but I cannot state this strongly enough: I had NO BUSINESS being there. I got an incredible education at Hunter. I just fell in love with it. It was everything I thought going to school in a big city would be! People from all different backgrounds and races and practicing religions, who were working or had kids or both or were 16 and taking this class for AP credit as part of their Hunter High School experience (maybe they were Lin-Manuel Miranda?!) It was everything I hoped NYU would be ... but unfortunately I was totally unaware of CLASS and that people of mine don't belong at NYU.
Which is to say. I loved Hunter. I worked hard in school while working to take care of other people’s kids (and Joe worked all the live long day) and there were no loans (because we were still paying those to NYU, as we will until we DIE) and it was amazing. SO! I should have felt beside myself with glee to don a cap and gown and walk across the stage right?
But I couldn’t do it.
By the time I was ready to graduate (10 years after I started college the first time) I had left the Mormon church and my parents weren’t speaking to me. I couldn’t bear going through this major life event without them SO I DIDN'T DO IT.
I gave up my own graduation because it didn’t feel real or appropriate without my parents and I didn’t know how to live in this new world without them. So I just ... didn’t.
My Dad is the person who lit the fire in me to graduate from college. He was so adamant about my education my whole life (as you can see, in a culture of Mormon men who viewed women going to college as some kind of silly joke AT BEST, his singular focus on my ability to achieve that milestone made a deep impression upon me).
I needed him to witness it.
But since life had changed so much and he couldn’t or wouldn’t be there, I decided to pretend I didn’t need it. I conjured the pioneer spirit of my ancestors and carried on.
Several years passed and we managed a temporary, if brief and all too costly peace. One afternoon, I told him about going back to college, how hard I pushed myself, the sacrifices Joe and I made to make it happen. I felt shy but strangely proud telling him and I was hoping for a smile, a hug, one of his signature pats on the head. But he didn't even look me in the eye. I’m not sure he heard a word I said.
I don’t think I felt regret until that moment.
Now, one of my biggest regrets in life is that I didn’t claim my Bizzaro World Graduation Moment when I could. When it came time to decide if I would participate, I tried to picture it, but it was too bizarre. It hurt too much for me to touch it. It didn’t even feel like real life. A part of me felt life my life was on pause, and I would get back to the real thing soon. Now, I think that was trauma talking.
If I could go back, I would grab that awful bizarro never wanted it graduation with both hands.
It took me a lot of living to learn that none of us gets to choose what life throws at us and THANK HEAVENS. I don’t care how sappy this sounds because it’s the awful truth that the very best things in my life have grown out of the Bizarro Moments when everything went upside down and sideways.
Sometimes life doesn’t feel real because our families emotionally / spiritually abandon us and we have to graduate and negotiate a world that makes NO SENSE.
Sometimes life doesn’t feel real because there’s a global pandemic and we have to graduate and negotiate a world that makes NO SENSE.
I feel really sad for this class of 2020 who is missing out on their rituals right now because rituals are important. They are part of how humans emotionally, mentally and spiritually process the passing of time and moving through life's big events. We need them. We should never leave them on the table.
When life gets weird and crazy, DIG IN to meaning.
I hope these graduates grab this painful moment with both hands. So many folks are offering solidarity and lighting the path. Those voices weren’t as loud for me, but they were still around. I wish I had listened.
Rituals matter. This matters. Don’t pretend you don’t need it.
Take a picture. Get dressed up. Make a fancy meal. Make your family announce you in the living room. It doesn’t really matter what you do. Just grab Bizarro World for all it’s worth.
I won’t leave these moments on the table ever again.
Here with you! Cheering you on!