I usually rather relish the challenge of being really busy.
The last month has been incredible, though, and pushed me to the brink. But finally, after years of being a “Jill of many trades,” I’m a Master of one.
My final Finals Week included a giant presentation, a 16-page paper, a car accident and a summer cold, which lead directly into NeighborWorks, a graduation pub crawl, my baby sister’s wedding featuring scores of relatives…add in some city council meetings, more pawn shop drama, a big dash of disappointment, an exploding bike tire… oh, and some gigantic (but very promising) changes at work.
But it all came to a head Friday when I rose early and drove the unfamiliar path to Evanston. I parked along the beach, met up with my friend Crystal to claim my cap and gown, and set off for graduation. We rode the Purple Line, which seemed fitting, and navigated the unfamiliar campus, finding the smattering of other classmates who had opted to join the big convocation ceremony in Ryan Field.
It was hot, with unrelenting sunshine. We wilted in our purple polyester and tried valiantly to avoid mortarboard tanlines. But we listened, rapt, as Very Serious People gave Very Serious Speeches, spiked with just enough levity and reality. We watched the creator of Sesame Street, Joan Ganz Cooney, receive an honorary degree. Paul Farmer, the genius behind Partners in Health, spoke about “failures of imagination” and their ability to stifle change and progress. He urged us to forge partnerships and collaborate, and to stay creative and curious. (Seriously, read Mountains Beyond Mountains. Thanks for the tip, Amber. I’ll never be quite the same.)
But as I gazed around Ryan Field – I hadn’t been inside since Marching Band Day in high school – I got chills, despite the heat. I had told my parents not to come to the Friday ceremony, as it was large and sprawling and impersonal. The degrees were conferred en masse, by school, and my fellow Medill students rose in a single swoop, our gowns sticking to our sweaty legs while we beamed for the Jumbotron.
Afterwards, four of us peeled off our gowns and fled campus for a pub where we devoured burgers and beer and plenty of water to try to rehydrate.
Friday night, my house was attacked by the SWAN bandits, who festooned my driveway and steps with streamers and balloons and congratulatory signs that made me grin.
And then… Saturday. Saturday was our small, intimate Medill convocation. My parents picked me up and we drove, again, to Evanston. I pretended to know the campus as we took a flurry of pictures as storms threatened.
The ceremony was perfect, with just 20 students and nearly as many faculty. We laughed and teared up during our classmate’s speech as he traced our journey, replete with the frustrations, challenges and triumphs that bonded us.
Afterwards, new Master of Science in Integrated Marketing Communications diplomas in hand, we talked and hugged, taking pictures in every possible combination, introducing families to friends. But we were all lingering, reluctant to leave, knowing that this was the end of something magical and big. We’ll stay in touch, of course, but I doubt we’ll ever again all be in the same place at the same time.
Every day, thinking through problems at work or even just consuming media, I’ll remember what I’ve learned and absorbed. And I’ll especially remember those who shared the journey.