I haven’t done this in a long time, and may never do it again. But I just had one of the best weekends of my life, and I find I just want to write about it. So I decided, why not?
Graduation pictures are misleading. They show the graduate looking proud and happy, as if they got themselves through their program alone. And that may well be the story for some graduates. But it’s not quite my story. My story includes a community of family and friends who supported me, helped me, loved me, cheered me on, and stepped up when I needed them.
So my pictures should show my parents worrying over me, and offering me any kind of assistance they could think of. They should show my sister, who is always there for me, and who worked tirelessly over last weekend to make it as special as possible. Or Brian, who, in his quiet way, can always be counted on, no matter what. And Miko, who uncomplainingly put up with a frazzled grad student mom for 7 years. There should be pictures of my friends who came to celebrate this day even though they had brand new babies and were probably unimaginably tired. A picture of my friend Rose, offering her house for me and my family to stay in while we were here, and to throw a party in after the ceremonies. She did so without recognizing her generosity, saying, “but what’s mine is yours, Lauri.” Her picture should also show all the times I cried to her in frustration and all of the judgment she has NEVER given me. Also a picture of Renee driving 8 hours to surprise me, only revealing herself to me as I walked out of the first ceremony. There should be pictures not only of everyone who helped me celebrate, but who knew me before cancer, carried me through cancer, AND celebrated with me. Because trust me, it was incredibly powerful and humbling to look around and see how many of those faces there were (needless to say, these powerful and humbling moments resulted in frequent bouts of tears). And there should be pictures of my family and friends who wanted to come to my graduation ceremonies, but just couldn’t, so sent me sweet, loving messages. They should show the literally (yes, literally) hundreds of hours my professors spent on me to make my thinking more critical, my writing more concise, my skills more polished. Somehow, it seems the pictures should show the systems of privilege that benefit me, because they certainly don’t benefit everyone, and that’s a huge part of the story of my Ph.D.
But the pictures don’t show those things. They show me being happy and proud. I was (am) happy and proud, but it’s more complicated than that. I’m proud largely because I believe it’s an act of rebellion against the patriarchy for a woman to take pride in her achievements. I’m proud of my persistence and my resilience. That even when it got harder than I imagined, I stuck with it.
And. I’m not so arrogant as to think that, for me, any amount of persistence or resilience earned my Ph.D. I am well aware that I am the giddy recipient of a Ph.D. because of how fortunate I am. I wish all of my pictures showed that.
Luckily, one does. It shows my mom ironing my graduation robe, so that I looked my best during commencement. My sister was perceptive enough to take it, and it is my favorite of this whole, wonderful, perfect weekend.