I’m sure that you thought you had seen the last of me after I took my final exam and strolled out of your classroom and into the world, aglow with my newfound freedom. I saw you in the crowd as I walked across the stage and accepted my degree. I even stopped and gave you a hug as the mass of graduates surged out of the stadium and into the arms of their waiting loved ones.
(Don’t get it twisted – I was still pissed about the grade I got on my midterm but graduating does funny things to enhance a girl’s forgiveness factor.)
Two years later, I remain proud as hell about that degree (and slightly miffed about the midterm). But as the class of 2012 prepares to celebrate their scholastic achievements, I find myself thoughtfully considering all the things that never made it into any of those hundred dollar textbooks I accumulated while I was in school.
Although you were one of my favorite professors, I am convinced that there was some valuable stuff you forgot to teach me, some wisdom that you never got the chance to impart.
You didn’t tell me that it would take so long to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.
In school, it all seemed so clear. Interests and passions and proficiencies divided up into neat little boxes – major, minor, prerequisites, study abroad, student interest groups. I took classes in Venetian architecture by day, mentored at risk middle school girls in the evening, partied at night, and went to bed feeling all types of well-rounded.
But all that well-roundedness that looked so good on my resume? It feels more like a confusing mess when it comes to making career choices. (It turns out that there’s not much of a market out there for middle school venetian art teachers with party girl tendencies. Le sigh.)
You didn’t tell me that multi-passionate women take a little longer to find their stride, that our path may not be as linear as some of our peers. You didn’t tell me that I would sometimes feel like giving up and doing what was “expected” of me instead of all the stuff that gives me butterflies… and scares the ish outta me.
You didn’t tell me how hard it would be to make friends – real friends.
Friends that are happy to see me grow and evolve and don’t use the phrase “You’ve changed.” as an insult. Friends who are willing to put in the work that any decent long distance relationship requires. Friends who remember my birthday without the aid of Facebook. Friends who would never sit by and let me make a fool of myself over a man, a job, or a bathing suit that does, in fact, make me look fat. Friends who actually live in my city.
You didn’t tell me that I would still need my mamma.
And not just my mamma but my aunties, mentors, and sista friends – older women who know how to turn battle wounds into badges of glory. You didn’t tell me that I would need to seek out the words, wit, and wisdom of women who have stood where I’m standing; women who are used to flexing strong shoulders under a Chanel suit. You didn’t tell me that it would not be a flawless resume or flashy graduate degree that propelled me up the career ladder, that instead it would be these women who would see to my survival and success.
You didn’t tell me that all of the aforementioned angst is a perfectly normal (i.e. inescapable) part of being in your twenties.
For a full year and a half, I walked around feeling like the craziest, hot mess on the planet. Sure, to the outside world I was a young Carrie Bradshaw with Claire Huxtable aspirations – name brand degree, apartment in the city, great job, lots of friends, and my eye on the brown-skinned cutie who lived down the block – but on the inside? Lonely, confused, insecure, and broke was more of the order of the day.
You didn’t tell me that everyone else around me would be feeling the exact same way. See, whether we realize it or not, in school women learn not to show weakness. We are constantly asked to prove that we are as smart as the men in the room, as tough, and as worthy. Throw race and class into the mix and it’s no wonder that most of us try to overcompensate by being smart, accomplished, fit, beautiful, and popular, all without visible effort.
You didn’t tell me that effortless perfection is a myth. Nor did you mention that Sex and the City and The Cosby Show, while entertaining as hell, are fictional and one-dimensional portrayals of modern womanhood. (Ok, ok, maybe I should have figured out that last bit myself, but still…) You didn’t tell me that my life would be messier, my journey more treacherous, or that I wouldn’t always be ready for my close-up.
And most importantly, you could have warned me that I ain’t seen nothing yet.
I thought your class was hard. Shoot, you told me that your class was hard and then proceeded to prove that fact with the ridiculous amount of test and papers you assigned. But as much as I bitched and moaned, I didn’t really mind. Every A that I received was like a little love letter, reassuring me that I could do it, that I was not a token – I was a force to be reckoned with.
Except, um, it’s way harder to get an A in things like “Adulthood” and “Real Life,” and that’s if you can even figure out who’s doling out the grades. In fact, I got so used to looking to you to assess my performance that it took me awhile to come up with my own metrics and measurements of success – not to be confused with yours, my parents’, society’s, or my former self’s. Thankfully, I did learn a little something from you about grading on a curve.
On second thought, I guess there is no need to teach this stuff in the classroom. If they haven’t already, most of your students will figure all this out for themselves eventually. They will learn it holed up in their cubicle, pounding out an Excel spreadsheet; they will learn it during a teary eyed goodbye to a friend or a lover; they will learn it while fighting with their parents or their best friend.
Just when they think they are done being a student, that they have earned their cap and gown, they will realize that there is a lesson in every moment that makes them laugh or cry. There are test that they will take that they have no means or method to prepare for. And that yes, there is a final exam, but hopefully not for another eighty years or so.
No need to include any of this in next semester’s curriculum. I guess this letter is just my way of sending my love to the graduating class of 2012. If it’s not too much to ask, tell them this for me: The best (and worst) is yet to come. But that’s ok – you’ve learned everything you need to know to make it through the next decade or so. It just so happens that you didn’t learn it in college or grad school.
Yours in sisterhood and scholarship,