In 2008 I googled, "What to put on your resumé when you haven't finished your degree."
It's not that I didn't do the work for a degree. I enrolled in all the classes, and I put blood, sweat, and tears into finishing them. I consumed classic and modern Lit like candy, I stayed up all night on assignments, I begged, pleaded, and practically coerced TAs into accepting late papers, and I hurled myself into the depths of a psych minor, devouring all the information I could get my hands on. I did well enough in my first year, kicked serious ass in my second, followed by two lacklustre years of barely scraping by decent enough grades for a BA.
I grew up in an unsafe house; a war zone, dodging and surviving (if barely) a plethora of attacks from the gamut of abuse. Like other kids who've faced trauma, I've learned that you can grow up and move away, but that shit doesn't go away. The body, the mind, and the soul remember, and release pain in other ways. I'm not exactly good at handling stress, and as all students can attest, university is stressful AF. So, I kind of just...stopped caring. Even though I was close to the end, I couldn't handle the paper work or the petitions, I was drowning in debt I had mismanaged, and then my dad (with whom I had the most complicated relationship imaginable) was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Getting that piece of paper was not a priority, and slowly shifted from sitting on the back burner to that day when I googled, "What to put on your resumé..." and accepting my lot in life. I was a dropout.
In the years since, I've done a pretty damn good job of putting myself back together, if I do say so myself. I corrected the financial errors I made, learned to budget and manage debt. I found a therapist who was a good match, and helped me gain the tools I needed to move forward with my life. I've used those tools to help me build something new, and I have been very open and honest about my healing journey. I travelled Canada first, meeting kindred spirits and the love of my life, before heading off to Asia on a one-way flight. I even managed to snag an English teaching job in Tokyo. But this thing, this "piece of paper," as I called it, hung over my head the entire time. It felt like a lie when people asked, "what's your degree in?" and I said, "I studied English at university." Not a lie outright, as I'd told myself, but a lie by omission nonetheless. And if your gut says there's no difference, well...there's no difference.
The piece of paper slowly, slo-o-o-owly, found its way back on the back burner; not a priority just yet, but a "long-term goal." Some of my friends were in the same boat, having come close to a degree, but not quite there. My best friend and I used to joke that someday, we'd be those 90 year old graduates everyone is inspired by.
In January of 2017, I finally found the courage to face my shortcomings and do something about them. It was a long, tedious process, sorting out all of the things I should have sorted in 2007. I was living in Japan, so it was difficult communicating with administrators over Skype on business hours (well past my bedtime), but I stayed the course. My university went on strike, pushing everything back further, but I stayed the course. People forgot about me, took months to reply, but I pressed and persisted and stayed the course. Finally, the best news of the year came in February of 2018: I was eligible to graduate in June!
Life has a funny way of working things out sometimes. Because of a delay in my visa, I happened to be in town for my graduation, so I decided to go. I mean, why the heck not?
Walking across the stage was surreal. I looked out into the crowd and saw my mom sitting near the front, waving her arms with so much force I thought they might fall off. I smiled and waved back. Her eyes welled with tears and she used both hands to blow me the biggest kiss. She looked so fucking proud my heart exploded. I laughed through my own tears, trying to take every precious second of it in.
Mamma, we did it. We survived.
Lawd-a-mercy, I did it. I fuckin' DID IT. I survived, and here I stand. Everything that happened, or I did, lead me here. Failure is not the opposite of success, but a stepping stone on the path towards it.
To Jeremy, my best friend in the whole wide world, thank you for inspiring me. With everything you've achieved, despite all the obstacles you've encountered, you are a beacon of hope in this sometimes bleak world. Thank you for always being so reliably there for me, so honest with me, and thank you so much for loving me. You're my lobster.
To Jonno, my incredible guy, thank you for your support, and for being my partner in every sense of the word. You amaze me. I can't believe I'm in love with such a dashing fella! How'd I get so lucky? ;) Thanks for growing with me and pushing me to be the best version of myself and thank you for showing me how people behave when they care. I didn't understand before us. You're my safe place.
To Mina, my mamma, thank you for everything. You have a heart so full of love that the world can't help but love you back. Thank you for setting the standard of what it means to be strong and resilient. Thank you for never losing your shine, despite all that has happened --your smile lights up the world! Thank you for helping me up off the ground, supporting me, and cheering for me every step of the way, from my lowest low to that moment on the stage. Where would I be without you? You're my hero.