Oftentimes, people say that a degree is just a piece of paper. The expression is used in various contexts – perhaps the degree holder has a bad attitude, or the degree holder has no relevant work experience. But many times, there is a disrespect attached to the tone. I myself may have said it at some point, and I ask the universe to pardon my myopia.
I’ve walked the road that leads to ‘the piece of paper’ and lemme tell you… it is grueling! In many cases, the road is unpaved. It is bumpy with anxiety, insomnia, doubt, fatigue, discomfort, loneliness, depression, uncertainty, tears, penuriousness (a fancy word for being broke 😊) among other things. A degree is a physical and emotional separation from others, and from one’s old self. It is the culmination of building upon knowledge and skills; it is learning new concepts, and transforming into a more knowledgeable being.
My road to the paper wove through a pandemic and other political upheaval in the US. It was a continuous flow of challenges; from rescinded acceptance to having no bed or mattress to sleep on. It was experiencing near eviction and having no idea where money would come from for sustenance for me and my two children (I am a single mother).
Often, the work was so intense I did not have the mental space or capacity to properly navigate motherhood and relationships. Thankfully, I have people in my life who are understanding, kind and loving. My daughter, Nataani, picked up my slack and shouldered responsibility for herself and her brother with grace and authority. Many times, I was ridden with guilt for taking them away from a life they were comfortable with and taking them to a foreign space. I was ridden with guilt for not having enough time to be fully present and for placing upon them a kind of burden they did not ask for. Through it all, they were supportive, optimistic and understanding, and I am forever thankful.
The journey to the paper, though arduous, is rewarding. Besides broadening one’s knowledge in their field, the experience also builds character, resilience, discipline, empathy, appreciation for many things, time management skills, endurance, emotional intelligence, and a more in-depth consciousness about differences across cultures and about the world.
These results are true for me. There are other things that are true for me, like the power of having faith, the power of giving and receiving as well as the power of friendships and support. There is so much to discuss on these but I will stick to the topic of the journey to the ‘paper’ and express my sincere gratitude for receiving, support, and friendships. Several people showed up for me; old friends, new friends and strangers – and I will always be thankful.
To those of us who experienced a myriad of challenges and developed life-long skills while putting in the effort to attain ‘just a piece of paper’ whether undergraduate or graduate, I salute us!! Congratulations and best wishes!!!