some thoughts on graduation

On Monday, I will graduate in American Studies – BA (Hons). It’s not really sunk in that this is going to happen, but considering it’s been five years in the making I can understand why. The haze may also be – in part – due to my thoughts of this not being my only graduation, as I plan to continue my education through to at least an MA.

To think that, at one point, my life could have been so much different. I could have graduated two years ago in a completely different subject –  something that I remain passionate about, but my heart just was not in. I remember travelling to my old university on the bus, reading books about the American Presidency and thinking that I needed something more. I just wasn’t going to be fulfilled. The added complication of the repression and denial of my sexuality led me to breaking point. I dropped out of university and things instantly improved. I moped around for a while until I was told that I needed to make some kind of plan as to how I was going to spend my time. Cue an afternoon trawling through the UCAS website (I say an afternoon, I don’t think it was more than an hour!) where I located “American Studies”. American Studies can’t really be defined, it’s such a multidisciplinary subject, encompassing so much, but I just knew from the minuscule amount of reading that I’d done, that I’d found what I wanted to do.

I was admitted onto the course, but decided to defer for a year and ended up spending three months living in New Jersey with some relatives. I had some doubts about coming back to study American Studies – I didn’t find America to be that place I’d always wanted it to be, but the conditions weren’t perfect and there was a lot of “background noise” if you will. I had a lot of fun, there was a lot of soul searching, missing the little things about home, and realising how much you take for granted on a day to day basis. I also got to learn a lot about American football – spending most of my weekends watching every possible game on television considering I had nothing else to do. It was an added bonus that New York City just happened to be an hour’s train ride away, so I frequented the city on more than one occasion.

The next nine months were really a waiting game for my new start at a new university. In the summer, they held an event – a residential if you will – for incoming “freshers”. It was here that I met someone who – not to sound overdramatic – changed my life in a way that I could never have imagined, and led me to “come out” to my parents.

It was such a relief to be in a place where I had a fresh start, I was a blank canvas and I could be myself from the start. Nobody knew me, I had a space for myself and could mould myself into whoever and whatever I wanted to be.

I had to take a lot of compulsory modules in first year… Quite a few of which I didn’t like, and one of which I almost failed – I vowed never to take another history module during the rest of my degree, and I didn’t. It was so great to have my American Studies Family (plus a few internationals) with me in those modules – we laughed and (could have quite easily) cried together, and became a family. I can safely say that my favourites were “Cultural Theory and American Studies I + II” taught by one of – if not the most – inspiring and engaging lecturers/seminar tutors I have ever had teach me in the history of my education. (A high accolade considering I can count about 3.) I learnt about things I had never known existed before, the most important for me was the Stonewall Riots. The Stonewall Riots fuelled some kind of fire inside me, and are now a fundamental etching in my brain and make-up. It was also during this time that I began to gain confidence in my writing, and was given the opportunity to follow my research interests with expert guidance. I started to write extended essays on topics that intrigued me and captured my imagination. I began to think about how writing enabled me to – over any other medium – express myself and communicate my opinions.

In Year Two, and few of the family went off to America for the year. I would have loved to have been afforded this opportunity, but it was simply not economically viable at that time. I was also in my first “proper” relationship, which ended right at the start of Semester Two and took a lot of time to “come back” from. Those of us who were “left” became even closer, but at the same time, somewhat estranged. I was again afforded the opportunity to write a lot on subjects that interested me, and continued to be introduced to literature that had never been known to me before. One of my favourite discoveries during second year was Jackie Kay’s Trumpet. Another was the film, Philadelphia. Towards the end of the year, we were asked to start thinking about our dissertation topics.

Choosing a dissertation topic was extremely difficult. Before I had started my degree, I had been dead set on writing about the forthcoming Presidential Election. Obviously, things change and you develop new interests, one of which was the Civil Rights movement. I thought about Civil Rights a lot, but it just wasn’t what I wanted, there had to be something else. Then (and I’m sure people have far more inspirational stories about how their topics came about, but this is mine) I was lying in bed one night, wracking my brains, and a thought popped into my head – my dissertation was born: anti-gay rhetoric. I spent most of the summer researching and finding out as much as possible (or so I thought – most of it was rendered useless and I doubt any of it was even included in the final document!) and then september arrived. 10,000 words (alongside everything else we had to do) in 7 months was our Everest. I would say that I was absolutely relishing the challenge of writing 10,000 words, especially since I was able to write on a topic that was so personal – I described my dissertation as my “baby”, because it was. Just before Christmas, somebody I’d known and had crossed the path of once or twice re-entered my life. From this time to date, this person kept me sane throughout the writing process, took me in on weekends, and gave me “time out”. All the while enabling me to live my truth and providing me with the realisation that I am okay, and who I am is so much more than perfectly fine. I am so grateful for her influence every day, and I don’t know how I would have gotten through the process without her.

April 16 was the day I could do no more. It was (literally) out of my hands, and I then began the painfully slow process of waiting for June 24 to come around to see how much justice I’d given to my topic. 10 days later, everything was submitted and I flew to Holland that evening to spend the weekend celebrating Queensday. Two days after I returned I was in London for the next weekend. (I’ve been at home ever since.)

I – of a fashion – celebrated my 23rd birthday on June 19, and “patiently” waited for the next five days to pass for the big day to arrive. I had already received notification from one of my lecturers that I had been given an 80 (ridiculously good mark, that I actually queried with them!) for an essay written on waterboarding and the War on Terror, which served only to heighten the anticipation. Thankfully, I had a rounders tournament on the Sunday, so I was slightly preoccupied for most of the day, but spent the rest of it climbing the walls and not knowing what to do with myself. As was customary for the previous years, I stayed up until midnight and hoped that I would be one of the lucky few who were able to gain access to the university servers before they overloaded.

First Class Honours


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