With Highest Praise

summa-cum-laude
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In just a few more days, I will graduate from Metropolitan State University of Denver with a Bachelor of Science degree. The culmination of my higher educational journey has truly been a long and winding road. In fact, it began more than thirty years ago.

On December 14, 2018, I will sit among hundreds of other students in the Denver Coliseum, and listen to President Janine Davidson and others give inspirational speeches to our graduating class of 2018. Then, I’ll get in the queue with the rest, and wind my way up to the stage, as the announcer calls out my name, “Leigh Jardine, Summa cum Laude!” I’ll shake the Department Chair’s hand and receive my diploma holder. I’ll walk down the stairs, giddy, and proudly, in my full dignity, walk back to my seat as the rest of my class takes their turn doing the same.

In that moment, when the announcer calls my name to the crowd of thousands of people who have come to witness our graduation from university, I will realize an achievement that I had given up on long ago. For me, this commencement ceremony will be unlike any other I’ve experienced in life. It marks the public witnessing of my finishing, with highest praise, a journey of learning, growing, and accomplishing a goal that had eluded me for many years.

It seems like little in our modern culture is taken very seriously, or given much respect. The cynicism and practice of “dissing” others is a very real disease of society that has infected people through popular culture in a myriad of insidious ways. For many in western cultures, getting a bachelor’s degree is no more important or special than making it through high school—a means to an end, whether that is a decent-paying job or the ticked box when applying to graduate school. I know there are plenty of young people who only want to “be done” with their academic career so they can get out and start making money, and living a “real life” as opposed to the unreal life they led as an undergrad. My own response to that line of thinking now is incredulous.

Now into my sixth decade of living on Earth this time round, being a university student has been a profound joy. Especially because of the wonderful, self-designed major program I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of, I have had the delicious freedom to pick and choose the majority of courses I took. When some piece of the plan I’d set up with my advisor didn’t feel like the right fit, I’d go back to the drawing board and find a different course or set of courses that did. In fact, there’s a word for students like me: Multipotentialites.

According to the website Puttylike, a multipotentialite is “an educational and psychological term referring to a pattern found among intellectually gifted individuals. [Multipotentialites] generally have diverse interests across numerous domains and may be capable of success in many endeavors or professions; they are confronted with unique decisions as a result of these choices.”

The day I learned that what I’d struggled against my entire life, believing the socially-normative story that people like me are just losers who can’t get it together long enough to “make something of ourselves,” actually had a name and was recognized by some as a positive personality trait, was a turning point in my life. It was true, I’d never been able to stick with one job or career path for more than a few years before getting bored or burnt out, and then I’d begin the process of finding the next new thing to throw my creativity and curiosity into full-speed. For years I thought this was due to a serious character flaw, perhaps owing to my Gemini astrological sun sign, or maybe some dark, undiagnosed psychological problem I’d never been able to overcome. Then, sitting in a room full of other students and professors for a course on promoting our Individualized Degree, we were collectively enlightened to the fact that we weren’t losers or lame-beaus at all, but that we were, in fact, a bunch of cool Multipotentialites!
I went home feeling extraordinarily gratified that afternoon.

My bachelor’s degree is unique. It’s titled “Creative Arts, Women and Nonprofit Studies,” with a minor in English Rhetoric, Composition and Professional Writing. (The minor was already a thing; fortunately I didn’t need to invent that too.) The wonderful irony of me, Leigh Jardine, studying English as my minor, after being a writer my whole life and loving the English language with all its crazy wackiness and illogical frustrations—has been sheer pleasure.  Plus, most of the English professors whose courses I took are my kinda peeps—serious about learning, enthusiastic about English, words, and nerdy about the finer details of grammar, style guides, proper citations, annotated bibliographies, and the history of our absurd and wonderful mother tongue. It was gratifying to be among peers who loved the study of words and how they fit together into coherency.

We’ve all watched celebrities as they stand up at awards ceremonies, reeling off long lists of names, to thank all the folks along the way who helped them achieve their dream of fill-in-the-blank. We all know how tiresome that can be for the rest of us. But, in this moment of near-completion of my personal dream, I completely empathize with why they make everyone suffer through those five-minute-long-thank-you speeches. Nobody accomplishes their dreams on an island. We do it in rowboats, as teams in flow. I have many fine rowers to thank during the past eight semesters at MSU Denver.

The past two and a half years of being a student again have been enlightening in so many ways. I’ve learned a great deal about Millennials, intersectionality, racism, feminism, sexism, and many other isms. I’ve gained a deeper understanding of why higher education is so valuable for the upliftment of our society. I’ve come to greatly admire the work that many dedicated people are doing to lift up those on the margins in our communities and around the world. And, importantly, I’ve come to view the world we live in through a broader lens than I had before. My perspective has widened and deepened as I’ve come to view people in a more humane way than ever before. We are all doing what we can to survive under very chaotic circumstances in our world. I am fully aware of my privilege to be able to study in a peaceful city, to have plenty to eat and nice clothes to wear and to have a warm, cozy apartment I can afford. I’m fortunate to have my beloved daughters living nearby. I’m fortunate to be able to take a reliable bus downtown to campus each day and back home each evening. And I am privileged to possess an American passport. There are far too many in the world who have none of these things, and are suffering greatly in ways I cannot even begin to fathom.

I will be looking up when I stand to receive my diploma. I will also be looking straight ahead toward the future. Right now I honestly don’t know what I’ll be doing with my life in a year’s time. But at this moment, in the middle of December of 2018, in the smackdab middle of my life, I’m feeling fine with beginner’s mind. I don’t have to know, only to trust that I’m just exactly where I’m supposed to be, shining as brightly and showing up as bravely as I can.

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