Disembodied Graduation

Last week I graduated with a Master of Arts in Theological Studies. Rather I watched my friends graduate in their gowns while I wore a T-shirt and shorts. Something about living halfway around the world and teaching that week made it somewhat difficult to come back. And there was the exorbitant flight ticket too. Frankly, for someone paying off college debt and living modestly abroad, anything over $100 qualifies as exorbitant.

At any rate, I did watch my graduation through live streaming on YouTube. And aside from a few extended buffering moments, the streaming went well. It was sort of odd hearing my name being called and the dean saying I graduated in absentia. But better to graduate in absentia than not to graduate at all.

Looking back on my Master’s program, I don’t think I would have chosen to do the program like I did. But I am thankful I completed it nonetheless. One full year in the states and two years overseas were sufficient for a two-year program in theological studies. I can’t say I ever thoroughly enjoyed writing papers for class in the states, but trying to do research papers in China was like eating a bowl of peanuts with chopsticks. It’s a time-consuming, laborious endeavor.

But I shouldn’t complain too much. I’m sure a generation ago the Internet was a new fad and there were no online academic databases for research students. EBSCO was a valuable resource, and without it, I would be opining on matters I was largely ignorant, which would be disastrous. I’m sure my professors were happy that my papers had some source material. But whether it was written cogently or not is another matter.

I’ve heard some graduate students say that their post-graduate studies weren’t terribly helpful. For them it was a more intensive extension of university life that left them more penniless than before. That’s quite a depressing thought. And I can’t deny that I’ve forgotten a lot of information from my classes. But I don’t think that the accumulation of information should be the sole reason for going to graduate school.

I went because I wanted to study the Bible more extensively and I had no idea what to do after college graduation. In some ways, I was slightly surprised at the copious amounts of reading and plethora of papers required for graduate work. I also discovered that graduate school is much more dependent on your own determination to finish. Teachers won’t babysit you (not that that happened much in college either). Either you get the work done, or you don’t.

And sometimes in graduate school the smartest don’t always graduate. It’s those who persevere, those who refuse to give up. It’s those who commit to finishing even after flooding their brains with caffeine and watching the sun rise as they furiously type a conclusion to their research paper. I almost did an all-nighter for a final exam, but after realizing that my brain function was plummeting dramatically, I decided a few hours of sleep was better than none. And rather than coffee, I drunk black Lipton tea to stimulate my neurons. I’m not sure if the stimulation always worked, but it certainly stimulated all the bitter parts of my tongue.

So if I’ve learned anything from grad school, it is that success comes to those who persevere and endure the good and bad times in their scholastic endeavors. I’ve also learned that I’d like to take a hiatus on any theological book reading for one year. And for those who are in the midst of their graduate studies and wading through the morass of scholasticism, one word of advice. Don’t give up (besides, we all know sleep is overrated).

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