A Trip in the Way Back Machine.

Ten years ago last week, I sat in my 7th hour speech class and silently read an email from the Department of Popular Culture at Bowling Green State University. Months earlier, I had applied there for graduate school. This email was congratulating me on my acceptance.

I remember turning my head from the computer, and looking at my buzzing classroom of lovable goofballs. Several of them would be graduating that May. I adored them. I couldn’t imagine teaching without them–most of them had been my students for four years. A couple of tears escaped before I turned my head away from my students. None of them saw.

It took me a couple of days to make a final decision. I had spent most of that school year complaining about the trajectory of public education and I wanted out, so I was surprised that my immediate reaction wasn’t “I accept!” Accepting the admission to BGSU meant giving up a steady paycheck and moving across the country to a place where I would know absolutely no one. I had never done that before. It paralyzed me for a bit.

And yet, ten years ago this week, I decided on grad school. I’m at a point in my life where a decade is starting to feel like a decade. One decade ago, I left the security of my adopted hometown and went to a small town in Ohio, where the closest Target was 30 minutes away.

When I decided on grad school, I had no idea what would follow. It was, without question, the best choice I have ever made in my entire life.

The Small Envelope.

I’ve never had a problem getting what I apply for–the only college to reject me was the University of Iowa for grad school, but Bowling Green ended up being such a good fit that Iowa’s rejection doesn’t even register in my tally of life’s disappointments. Same with when I applied for a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship: I really wanted the one at Harvard, snagged the one at Amherst College instead, and I loved it there so much that I place Harvard’s rejection squarely in the “your loss” category.
A month ago I applied for a scholarship to complete my 2nd master’s degree. It covered the entire cost of the program and required that I finish the degree in 19 months, which would mean two years of significant pay raises for me.
Since the scholarship is at the podunkiest of podunk schools, I never really entertained the idea that I wouldn’t get it. Colleagues have taken grad classes through this school (which I view as a glorified degree factory; perhaps the scholarship committee sensed my hubris and rewarded me justly) and laugh at the simplicity of the coursework. I have great letters of recommendation and really thought I was a shoe-in.
Then yesterday, the small envelope arrived, telling me how competitive the applications were and #SorryNotSorry, I didn’t get the scholarship. But please–apply for financial aid and take out more student loans to get a 2nd master’s degree from us!
I was surprised at how bummed I was at reading the rejection. Had I won the scholarship, I would have taken my laptop with me to Japan and balanced classes while on my 6 week vacation. So I spent most of the evening focusing on how much better my vacation will be without the stress of classes.
More reasons why it’s good I didn’t get the scholarship: 
  • Time to work on my book. 
  • Pursue other educational experiences more relevant to teaching journalism
  • Clean out my TiVo every week
  • Keep up with the personal training schedule
  • Continue seeking the ever-elusive work-life balance
And I’m certain that if I really tried to find more reasons why this is a good thing, I could find them. The sting of rejection is a bit less painful right now, and I suspect that by Friday, I won’t hardly think about it. But today, I’m going to wallow just a little bit longer.
Tomorrow, I will have a plan. 
And in 21 days, I leave for the vacation. The epic, homework-free vacation.

A Break in Our Regular Programming

I write this sitting in a dorm room at Amherst College. I am one of three people here right now–the rest will arrive tomorrow–and I am exhausted. Do you know how far I’ve driven?

I stayed two days in Bowling Green, visiting friends, and as I drifted to sleep Thursday night in my friend Katie’s super-comfy bed, one phrase came to mind: “I feel bathed in love.” It’s cheesy, I know, but it crystallized how I felt while I was there. Everyone I saw was thrilled to see me. Everyone I talked to was proud of what I’ve been doing since I left. And everyone wished I could stay a little longer.

Last night I stayed in a hotel just outside of Rochester, NY. I visited a couple of church history sites before I turned in for the night. And today I drove through the Adirondacks and the Berkshires en route to Amherst. And then I attended the Massachusetts Springfield Stake’s conference.

Tomorrow is another session of the conference, then meeting over a dozen new people, a welcome barbecue, and finishing up reading for Monday’s class. I’m adjusting to no air conditioning in my room, and to not having my regular creature comforts (Nutella! Bread!) but in most difficult situations, I always come back to this:

I served a mission. Everything else in my life should be cake.


Well, not really.

I still have finals to grade, semester grades to submit, graduation ceremony to walk through, celebrations to attend with friends and family, and a book chapter to revise and submit to my publisher by June 30.

And then it’s learning the junior English curriculum, purging–then packing–all my belongings, cleaning the apartment, moving to Omaha, attending a family reunion and setting up my new classroom. If I get my own classroom, that is.

I’ve told many, many people that the degree I’ve earned here in Ohio is really secondary to the other things I’ve learned about myself and life in general. One of those general life lessons is that life doesn’t stop. No matter what my plans are, there is always something else to do, something else coming up. You’d think that my years coaching speech would have taught me that. But no, I came to grad school to learn it.

At any rate, I finished my M.A. on time and with reasonable success, and it was hard work. I couldn’t have done it without the support of my family, my friends, and this: