Thoughts on graduating.

And so I sit in a silent house, beside a dog whose slumber is disrupted by the nearby sound of somebody’s lawnmower.

I am graduating tomorrow.
I’ve already reflected a lot, out loud and in my head about what I’ll miss and for what I’m grateful. About how far from me this day felt when, in August in 2009, I sat in the second row in a classroom in jeans and a racerback tank, quiet but smiling on my first day of grad school. Graduation, then, was a figment of my imagination.
But today I reflect on tomorrow.
On “no more pencils, no more books…”
On knowing that because I know what I know, I am gratefully obligated to modify my behavior accordingly.
On putting my world (and my closet, and my car) back together. Reorganizing. Praying more, sleeping more, drinking more water. Exercising. Socializing. Dating? Writing.
On fulfilling responsibilities.
Growing up more.
Growing.
Graduating!
How many times I said “let’s do this!”
How great it feels finally to say “we did.”

What I learned in grad school that you really need to know.

As I type, I am six days from walking across the stage at the Sun Dome in Tampa to shake hands with the University of South Florida’s president and to accept my master’s degree in rehabilitation and mental health counseling. After 20 classes (60 credits) and three counseling internships in nearly four years, there is only one succinct way to sum up what I learned in grad school:

A LOT.

Some of it applies solely to people who’ll work as counselors. Some of it applies to everyone.

Here are four of my favorite parts of the latter:

Don’t pamper your kid. It is okay to let a kid work. He or she spills milk on a high chair tray? Hand him or her a sponge and have him or her help you clean. In my human growth and development class, I learned that in children whose parents do everything for them or whose parents otherwise shield their children from work or stress, the part of the brain that buffers it doesn’t fully develop. If you want your kid to turn into an adult who can handle stress, you have to let your kid experience stress. According to Alfred Adler, “pampered children often grow up expecting others to care for them and so do not develop their own resources.”

Be open to experience (and to not deciding to do stuff solely to impress somebody else).¬†According to Carl Rogers, “healthy and fully functioning people (are) those who are open to experience, appreciate and trust themselves, and are guided by an inner locus of control rather than by an effort to please or impress others.” An inner locus of control says “I am responsible for me.” An external locus of control says “other people and/or my circumstances are responsible for me.” You’ve got a heck of a lot to lose when your happiness (or your esteem or your success or your value) depends on people or events you can’t control.

Close the gap between your expressed values and your manifest values. Expressed values are what you say you value (i.e., “I believe TV is a waste of time.”). Manifest values are what your actions imply you value (i.e. you watch TV for five hours each day). When there are discrepancies between what you say you value and what you actually do, the odds of feeling fulfilled are really low. According to one of my text books, “Our success in leading lives that are congruent with our values is strongly connected to the meaningfulness of our lives.”

Tear down your walls. Boundaries are good. Walls are not. In authentic relationships (all kinds), we stretch and grow. In isolation, we wither. Nobody says it better than my textbook: “People who avoid closeness with others and live isolated and circumscribed lives may believe that they are protecting themselves, but in reality, they are preventing their growth and actualization.”

– – – –

All quotes in this post come from the second edition of Theories of Counseling and Psychotherapy: Systems, Strategies, and Skills by Linda Seligman.

Goodbye is a hard word.

I listened to a sad song on repeat on the parkway earlier.

It worked.

It worked because it dawned on me during class tonight that I have class only two more times. What has monopolized my time since 2009 in easy ways and hard is ending.

It’s ending in the best ways.

Tests from now on don’t have grades. All of them are open book. The books are cheaper. I can commit where I wouldn’t. I can sleep when I couldn’t. I am shifting from unable (to socialize, to read, to write) to able.

It’s ending in the worst ways.

I cried here. I laughed here. I grew (up) here. I am a little bit attached to here. There is comfort in the couch outside my adviser’s office. In the creased counseling magazines on coffee tables. In the classrooms where I learned everything I know (later to learn I kind of still feel like I sort of don’t know what I’m doing).

I am ready but not ready.

Happy but sad.

Goodbye is a hard word.

What not to do in grad school (or, “things I totally did”).

As I type, there are just 28 days, two quizzes, a reaction paper, and a research proposal between me and my master’s degree.

What a ride.

I equal parts can’t believe and am so sad and so happy it is over.

As this part of my journey draws to its close, I look back on it with gratitude for the growth I experienced, the knowledge I gained, and the friends I made.

I also look back and laugh. This is because in the process of learning about mental health and mental illness, I learned by experience what not to do in grad school. For me, the following faux pas ended well. But while I don’t regret that I did these things, I recommend you don’t do them:

  • Forget to write a paper. First semester of grad school. Foundations of Mental Health Counseling. Ready for bed at eleven at night the night before class, it dawned on me that I hadn’t started (let alone finished) a paper due the next day. Who needs sleep? Stayed up, wrote it in full, turned it in, and got an A. #boom.
  • Cry while presenting to your class. Had it happened in, say, Foundations of Mental Health Counseling, or in Group Theories, or in any other class in which we facilitated therapy for each other, I’d cut myself some slack. But there is no excuse for crying in front of the class when the class is Career and Lifestyle Assessment. Bonus points, though, for making at least one classmate cry (and in my defense, the story I shared was totally sad).
  • Yell “gonads” during class. It happened in human sexuality, during an exercise in which our professor asked us to list all the sex words we know in effort to desensitize us to them. Believe it or not, grad school isn’t the first time I did it. I also yelled “gonads” during a tenth grade biology class. And you know what? I take it back. I recommend this, because, um, hilarious, and it hasn’t ended badly for me yet.
  • Run out of engine oil in the parking lot. I owe a debt of gratitude (and/or of approximately $12) to Dr. Wright – the chair of the Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling department at USF – for the couple quarts of oil he happened to have in his car the day this happened. (Long live my 13 year old car. Still kickin’. And still rapidly losing oil.)
  • Forget to pay your tuition. Final semester of grad school. While I filled out my graduation application, I read the stipulation that says you don’t graduate if you haven’t paid your tuition. Which is when I remembered I hadn’t yet paid my tuition. Which is when I checked USF’s website for the deadline. Which is when I discovered I’d missed it. While I’m currently mildly short of breath at the thought of how badly this could have ended, it actually ended with a miracle. A financial services adviser discovered I’d been given a deferment, which – although entirely inexplicable – meant I had the university’s permission to pay my tuition late without penalty. #boom.

The countdown.

Our “GRADUATION IS COMING” faces.

Eight weeks until graduation.

Two weeks until the giant exam I have to take and pass to graduate, more popularly called “comps.”
I wonder if they call this “crunch time” because of all the snacks you eat while you study.
(Is that just me?)
I have loved grad school.
The classes. The professors. The brilliant adviser. The introspection. The conversation. The journey from not knowing what I’m doing and hating it to not knowing what I’m doing and being ok with it. The trek from feeling like I can’t do this to knowing I totally can.
The laughs. The listening to strangers’ life stories at Starbucks while I studied (which happens when people watch you reading counseling text books). The tears. The mid-registration panic when all 40,000 of USF’s students break the Internet by signing up for classes simultaneously. The post-registration sigh of relief. The growing pains. The growth.
I have loved this.
But I am excited for what comes next.
Ready for it.
Let the countdown begin.