Are you graduating…or getting a haircut?
Another academic year has drawn to a close, and it’s time to catch our breath before starting summer jobs, summer courses, or both. A few of us (including me) are now finished undergrad entirely – a very strange feeling indeed. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only student parent slightly amazed that I’ve managed – with a lot of help and endless support from Woodsworth College – to reach this particular finish line.
Unlike so many of you brave moms and dads choosing to study at U of T while raising young families, I waited until my three children were adults before mustering up the courage to start pursuing a degree. I doubted I had the stamina to juggle the multiple roles of caregiver, student, and employee, so I waited until my “caregiver” role had largely expired before starting my studies. Life, however, had some surprises in store for me. By my second year of undergrad not only was I co-parenting my infant granddaughter, Lulu, but my daughter – Lulu’s mama – was also a full time university student. In other words, life handed me a multilayered student parent experience to replace the simpler one I spent more than two decades avoiding.
What life gave me when Lulu arrived was at once a sort of prank, a valuable lesson, and a tremendous blessing. As soon as I realized how deeply involved my new role as grandmother to Lulu was going to be, I saw the humour in life’s little prank. As time went on and I realized that I do in fact have the stamina for the elaborate juggling act I once found so daunting, I learned a valuable lesson: if you don’t try, you’ll never know what you can accomplish and who might be willing to help you out. And quite aside from the blessings of having grandchildren (increased exponentially when my son and his partner, who live in B.C., had my grandson Jack), Lulu’s daily presence and my active role in her care has added not only challenge but also great joy to my academic experience. While undeniably difficult at times, having Lu as a sidekick has enriched my studies in countless unexpected ways.
Since she’s been so much a part of this experience, it was only fitting that Lulu join me for graduation photos. As I put on the academic gown for our sitting, a little shiver ran up my spine – in a few months I’d be in a gown like this “for real,” walking across the stage at Con Hall to receive my degree. I’d dreamed of this moment for more than half my life. Lu looked at me in that dreamed-of garb, scrunched up her small face, and asked me, “Are you gettin’ a haircut?” She’s right: an academic gown does look an awful lot like a barber’s cape. For the rest of my life, every time I look at my grad photo I will remember that academic pride is no match for the humbling observations of a three-year-old.
Congratulations to all who are graduating this summer – see you at Convocation Hall! And to those of you still pursuing degrees – keep pursuing! Soon enough it’ll be your turn to don a barber’s cape – er, an academic gown – for your graduation photos. May I recommend bringing your little sidekicks to keep you humble?