“I really don’t know what to say.” For most people, this phrase means: 1) The person is trying to be nice because what they actually have to say could hurt feelings, 2)That the person really has tons to say, and just used that phrase to preface all the ramblings that were about to follow, or 3) The person actually has NOTHING to say. I’m on the fence between reasons 2 and 3.
Three nights ago (November 19th, for those of you who don’t feel like doing the math) I attended what was probably my final graduation ceremony. I say “final” because I have no intentions on getting a doctorate degree (college loans are expensive enough as it is without adding more debt to the debt I can’t pay off now). Usually one’s graduation day seems to hold about the same weight as someone’s wedding day. There’s hair to be tended, clothing to purchase, gowns to order for the ceremony, and tickets to request as every family member you know has been invited; Not the case for me in Scotland.
It was agreed a long time ago that to have my family over here from the US would be more than expensive. So, my mother agreed to let me go it alone (but only if I took pictures, which I did). I have enough trouble finding a barber over here that can actually make me look presentable without messing up my hair -or lack of- too much, so I’d gotten the grooming taken care of Saturday before work. And since we had a dress code of sorts indicated on our graduation instructions, I realized I had to go no further than my closet to find what I needed for the ceremony. What I’ve just mentioned, however, were the least of my worries.
Last Monday, I developed a tiny cough. I thought nothing of it, but I did hope that it wasn’t the makings of a terrible cold. But something in my heart kept telling me, this is something to worry about. Just the day before, I was on the bus looking at a fellow passenger with disdain because she coughed without covering her mouth. I instantly thought ‘This is how people catch swine flu, because of people like you.’ What a coincidence that on Tuesday my cough rapidly became a scratchy cough (which hurt my chest), congested sinuses, and a stomach that didn’t know if it was queasy or not. I was losing the battle to stay in control of my body.
My job at LUSH only had me scheduled to work on Wednesday. I figured, my sickness should be gone by then, but of course it wasn’t. That night, when I tried to go to sleep, I had to sleep in a hat, gloves, and socks and I was thisclose to actually putting on a coat as I was freezing cold. The heat was on full blast and I had actual goosebumps. To top it all off, I couldn’t touch my skin, let alone hair follicles because they hurt. Mind you I didn’t get proper rest that evening. But somehow the next day, I made it to work, with a running nose and a persistent cough and managed to make the money I so desperately needed…and still need to see to believe (I also got the devastating news that jobs only pay once a month here………can we say livid?).
Anyway, I slept from 2:30 that afternoon, until 10:45 that evening, and didn’t eat (as my appetite wouldn’t allow). At that point, I hadn’t cared about what I was wearing to graduation. All I cared about was getting the piece of paper I’d worked all my life to have. For me, I have never known a time when I wasn’t in school. This would symbolize the end of academia and the true start of my life, whatever my life is supposed to be. Somewhere deep inside me is that excitement that one is supposed to have when he finished something big. But to be honest…It hasn’t manifested itself.
Yes, I smiled a lot during graduation day. I smiled during the ceremony (though all I wanted to do was blow my nose) and I smiled afterwards when I shook the hands of many and thanked tons for their kind words. Yes, I’d worked hard for this day. But something still felt like it was missing.
I wasn’t missing my family’s attendance (I did have a couple friends who showed up to support me). And of course I wasn’t missing “a special someone to share the moment with” (Do I look that pathetic?). But I was still unsettled. It would take two more days for me to discover why….
Last night, I was out to dinner at Oko Express, a small Japanese restaurant (which always makes me feel like I’m in New York). We were saying our goodbyes to a classmate who was heading back to Canada the next morning. It was all very chilled-out, no frills fun. When I was waiting at my bus stop, I saw a bunch of drunken Scotsmen yelling something indecipherable at the top of their lungs, causing a ruckus. Some uncouth guy, wearing a sweatsuit (yes…they wear sweatsuits and full tracksuits over here in the UK), had his hand completely down his pants, while another drunk man was trying to make some woman’s baby laugh (while the baby kept swatting him away). The bus finally came and as I sat watching the city of Glasgow race by me, the realization hit me hard….Just because I have a Masters degree doesn’t mean the world will change.
Now most people reading this are saying “Aw, C’mon, don’t say that,” while others are wondering “What does that mean?” Well…here goes….
My having a master’s degree is not going to make the world a better place. It makes MY world better, supposedly, but drunkards will still be yelling offensive shit at the top of their lungs. Young kids will still have premarital sex and father/mother babies they don’t know how to take care of. People in Philly will still cling to their stoops for solace and comfort. And racism will still simmer under the surface of the new presidency.
At my graduation, I was the only black man present. The only one. And I was seated smack dab in the center of everyone. (No lie) There was no way you could miss me. In Scotland, I will continue to stick out and I will continue to be made fun of by ignorant people because I would rather dress up and look presentable than be frumpy, or pretend to have “swagger” (whatever that means anymore). More importantly, I will still be financially struggling until “my day” comes. Lastly, just because I’ve achieved this goal doesn’t mean it will stop raining in Glasgow (which I’m sure is influencing my mood).
But all hope isn’t lost, people. I’ve not completely out of touch with my faith. You see, my cold has subsided. And there is a song that has been on my mind since graduation day:
The eensy weensy Spider went up the water spout
Down came the rain and washed the spider out
Out came the sun and dried up all the rain
And the eensy weensy spider went up the spout again!
It’s a wonder we don’t see hidden messages in songs until we get older. I am that eensy weensy spider. And damn if there haven’t been many times when the “rain” hasn’t come down and washed me out, made me feel bad about myself, and hurt my pride, or whatever. The sun always does come out eventually, and in the song the spider, as eensy weensy as he is, chooses to go back up the spout, knowing the danger of being washed out again. That is bravery. That is having faith in yourself. That is also persistence and patience.
That spider waited until the rain was done to try again. What is never said though is whether he makes it to the top of the spout, which leads me to believe, this up and down journey is something this spider will just have to deal with, as will I. It’ll be tough, but I want this spider’s resilience. Eensy weensy, he may be, but they wrote a song about him, and he’s making a difference in my world. That leads me to my next question: Did I really need a masters degree to make a difference?
At the end of my graduation ceremony, The Chairman said something to us graduates that will always resonate with me. He said, “You were extraordinary before you came here.”
If that were the case, then why did I feel I needed that piece of paper? To open doors? To make my family/friends proud? To join the upper echelon of Masters? What’s the significance?
Here’s the meat of why I feel I needed this degree…
To be blunt, I’m sure the number is small, but I know there are tons of people who could care less about my progress. Most of these people are black men. I’ve met these men before in my life and either we’ve had little in common, or they’ve never uttered a word to me. Instead these are the men who have ridiculed me from the age of 5 until even now, judged me because I never fit in with them or fit a stereotype like they did, and whose lacerating words/comments to me have been the reason I push myself so hard, even now. They dismiss me because my conversations are about substantial items as opposed to the mundane. Lastly, none of them wanted to be truly associated with me. (I dare people to refute this) Though my master’s degree will not change how they feel about me, it’s proof to some of these men that disliking me doesn’t stop my hunger for greatness and going about it through the proper channels, at that. These haters have reminded me, in little ways, of my father, whose heart means sooooooooooooo well…but he just never executed the job of being a father properly.
Though I love him, I always vowed to never be like my father, who I used to watch cheat on my mother. I vowed to never let opportunities pass me by, like he did. I also chose to not become the guy who “waited on foodstamps” to come to my house or use sickness as an excuse to not work. I needed my family name to be associated with greatness…not mediocrity. For far too long I needed full support from my father, but over time, he’s proven too inconsistent to trust, so I have to trust him to be inconsistent. That sucks, but its life.
I always had huge dreams and I had a mother who was there to see them flourish. She was someone who never got mad at my success and who ALWAYS found a way to support me financially and emotionally. She and I have been through too many rough times for me to even list, but it was always she in my corner. And she never thought twice about helping me. My mother is the woman who told me two week ago that she has always been so proud of me and she’s happy I pursued the thing I loved the most and that she will continue to invest in me because she knows the outcome will be hugely rewarding. She is the woman who when I was in tears about having no money at all to my name here in Scotland, she said, “Shut up! And stop worrying yourself. I got something put away for you for a rainey day (so I could climb back up the spout).”
She also told me, “Tom, I have all the faith in the world that you are going to succeed. You just have to have that faith in yourself.”
I still have days where my faith in myself wavers a bit. How could it not when I’m alone in a foreign place? But I have my mother in my corner, my LIVE 5, my family, and my grandmother watching over me in heaven. I’ll be fine. 🙂
It’s still raining here in Glasgow…it’s light sometimes and sometimes it’s pouring, but you best believe, when there is a sliver of sun, I’m starting my journey up the spout again…