Today is my birthday. I am now officially closer to 30 than 20. This wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t know that one of my professors had her PhD by the time she was my age. I’ve been running around in circles, chasing after an undergraduate degree for the past eight years, constantly interrupted by health crises, marriage, children (well, one child) and all sorts of institutional drama. Sigh.
Of course, there is something to be said for all that… I have a great husband, a cute kid, I’ve since ditched the questionable institution for one that is honestly fantastic and, on top of it all, I’m still alive. I’m even kind of—dare I say it?–healthy.
There’s only one thing that constantly niggles in the back of my mind: I don’t have a degree. I have more education than many of my undergraduate peers, but I don’t have the all-important piece of parchment that lets me move on to more complicated things. I actually had a professor whose name I was sure I recognized from somewhere… and when I plugged her name into Google, I came up with the graduate program she’d attended. I had wanted to apply to that program back when I’d been expecting to graduate from the questionable institution mentioned above. If I’d been accepted, we might’ve been in the same cohort.
It is really depressing to think that you could have had your professor’s job, if only your luck hadn’t been so bad. It’s even more depressing to think that her thesis looks really fantastic and that you might’ve been friends, but you can’t do that now, even though you’re the same age, because it’d be horribly awkward.
Now, I wouldn’t trade, say, my husband for a PhD, or my son. I certainly wouldn’t trade being alive for a degree (it’s kind of hard to get research grants if you’re dead). I try very hard to live without regrets, but if I had to pick one, it would be trying to stick it out at the questionable college and not walking away from the wretched, broken thing sooner. In the meantime, however, I’ve lived. I’ve sorted things out, overcome my bout of bad luck and have identified my shortcomings. I’m no longer quite so impulsive and I’m less likely to engage my mouth before my brain has had a chance to think. I’ve gotten quite good at weighing my options and, although I still don’t particularly like asking for advice, I know when it needs to be done. I’ve learned that failure comes with consequence, that success is largely its own reward, and that not everyone will always be interested in what I say. In that sense, I can’t really have regrets, because my experiences have turned me into some semblance of a responsible adult scholar instead of a precocious student. I have one year left before I can brandish my B.A. in the face of graduate programs, and instead of a personal essay praising Titian and rambling about a desire to be the next curator of the Met, my statement of intent will go something like this:
Do you really want a 22-year-old who thinks they’re the next Greenberg, or would you rather have a 28-year-old who knows they’re not?