Last Saturday, I graduated. I finally have the piece of paper that says I know what I am talking about. I think the greatest pleasure truly came from looking back on my four years at Lakehead University. In fact I had many mixed feelings when I finally got my parchment.
I graduated. I’m still in disbelief. Front second year onward, I have been ill and from a clerical error, made to pay $10,000 for my second semester and my father sold his truck so I could continue. . My third year, I had a surgery and life changing diagnoses. My last year, certain relationships went sour but nothing stopped me. I have had a million and one reasons to stop schooling. I have had a million and one reasons, outside of school, to quit school.
And then I ask myself… “Is this it?”
I need to backtrack to help explain…
My mother came into town on Friday night, and we were up early Saturday morning. Dress to the nines, eyelashes and heels on we went to the community auditorium… really nothing special. We waited an hour and a half to go in (in that time the wind complete destroyed many a well coiffed hair including mine), then to march in, two by two, to the music and sit down. My biggest problems: fixing my hair in line just before walking into the view of cameras and hiding my purse several times. After the long march to the organ and trumpet prelude and our infinite procession, then was the invocation, followed by the chancellor declaring the convocation open. Here’s what I found fascinating, and please keep in mind I’m the first in the family to graduate university, the regalia. Colourful garbs and “beefeater” hats (of course I think of the gin at this time) proceeded on stage with the rest of us. I thought my gown was spiffy but then seeing different hoods, coloured bands and hats. And then, the unsaid protocol was also interesting. At least in the time that we were bored, we were given the programmes to read and the first page explained the traditions.
This was, paraphrased, in our programmes: “Convocation”, derives from a latin meaning of “calling together” and the costumes were based from 13th century universities and that was based upon ancient European Universities. The regalia was to distinguish doctors, masters, bachelors, licentiates and would have been worn daily in the middle ages. Hoods would used to cover the heads of medieval scholars. Neat! Our university fashioned their colours from the University of Oxford. Any student of a University in Medieval times could have worn a gown, however only those with degrees are only then allowed to wear hoods. Which would explain why all other convocation volunteers wore their gowns and respective hoods. Honorary degrees earned a member of the convocation ceremony a hood so those with outstanding knowledge and community special honour also attend in the academic affair. There were also those attending with dark blue gowns and white scarves or, something I learned after called, a epitoge. These individuals also contribute to the community by means of development, welfare and so forth. As for tradition, I had noticed that all speeches were opened with addressing the Chancellor and then lightly grasping the rim of their hats, and only when the chancellor returned the gesture did the speaker continue. It was phenomenal to see the tradition, furthermore, to be a part of it. My mother said after that it closely reminded her of when she was a part of the military, and the old ways being passed on in ceremony including the etiquette and regalia. It’s something that almost feels exclusive, and in reality, is. Only in North America does one have higher education as a norm.
The speeches were pretty standard from then on “We hope the discipline you learned here will carry you forth, we have high hopes and aspirations for you, yadda yadda yadda.” and then came Dr. Irmo Marini and then the ceremony was appropriate for me. Dr. Marini was injured during a hockey practice and it left him with the diagnoses paraplegia. His prognosis was grim as well. Having only been an athlete, Marini feared he may have a sad life ahead. He decided to change that just by reading as many psychology books as he could shortly after his accident. Marini earned his Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Masters of Arts degree from Lakehead University by 1985. After being a student councilor for a time, he attended Auburn University to earn his PhD in rehabilitation in 1992. He has published over 70 – peer reviewed papers and has single-handedly furthered the study in rehabilitation. Seriously, google this guy. But my appreciation was not for his achievements, but his speech which seemed so personal to me. It is one of those times I feel I cannot re-articulate his words of wisdom. It was something as simple as “when you have a goal, have a plan to get there. once you have made that goal, ante up to another one and don’t stop. And only in times of adversity, will one see this, and one needs to see this in themselves.” How appropriate for what happened to my family and how appropriate for my health challenges during my education. And then he spoke about happiness – and it made me so elated to know that I figured something as grand as happiness out because of the adversity in my life so young. Happiness is not the money you have or the ritual of the day being most culturally accepted, it is when you choose to “ante up” your goals already reached. Happiness is achieved when you choose to be happy and challenge yourself. He asked the students, at the beginning of his speech and again after, “What is your next goal?”. He said that he understands why some do not think this far, as our past four years have been focused on just getting through, but I felt proud to say to myself “I’ve got everywhere to go, and nothing can stop me”. But in the quaint honesty to myself, I thought – Where will I end up? I believe that’s a choice, isn’t it? I cannot be guaranteed a place in graduate studies and I don’t know whether to pursue working at art galleries and marketing actively and have my art at the other half of what I do – or do I carry on with this make-up artist thing? It wouldn’t take me long at all to earn an aesthetician’s diploma. But then why did I attend University? How many other girls go into make-up school? If I were to become a make-up artist, am I acting on a whim or have I honestly stumbled upon my calling? And really, the pros and cons and further thoughts on the matter are for another blog one of these days…
After the touching speeches and a few awards and some musical selection (I didn’t know that was tradition, and wasn’t expecting “Let it Be” to be played [that’s a break-up/funeral or tragedy song for me]). We finally begun the conferring of degrees and diplomas. Only handfuls of Master degrees were given, and a few social work, but then the 300 plus degrees for engineers was extensive. And that was about half the engineers that graduated. Technology, Forestry, social work, and then the six of us from Visual Arts, better than the three from music, followed by numerous vague Bachelor of Arts students and finally outdoor recreation degrees. A few last awards are given and then the national anthem. We then are proceeded out first before the general audience. But when My name was called, that was an important moment for me. I will have to get the video from my mother – because I couldn’t stop feeling like a 1000 watt light bulb. “I fucking did it.” I walked, believe it or not gracefully, across the stage, shaking the hand of the chancellor and thanking him, then to the vice-provost and our photo-op and then I was handed my degree (and a mug from the Alumni Association with “Class of 2012” on it [ i forgot to take a picture of it’s christening but i’m sure you’ll see it soon enough]). And after I sat back down with my fellow graduates, I looked at the parchment.
It had my name. “Elizabeth Gail Hoskin”, I quickly spun my head to look for something to count. You see, I am quick to cry, and when I do cry, I could drown a hippopotamus. And I had false eyelashes on, already loose from the wind. I counted heads, determined the angle of some noses, started to asses the value of light across the structure of faces due to the blaring countless lights. After collecting myself and preparing myself for the shock again, I look back at my degree. “Elizabeth Gail Hoskin …. I fucking did it”. I have had to grow as a person, had my father’s truck sold to keep me in school, I worked the entirety of my education, I have been thrown every financial obstacle and health hell, I have gotten myself through school. I did it. At the end of high school, I didn’t know where the money would ever come from to get to school. A few years ago, I didn’t think I could continue with being so sick. I thought I would have had to throw my year after my surgery. But I did it. But then it hit… “That’s all I have right now? JUST one piece of paper, no awards and only HBFA affixed to my name?” I am going for a masters program. I will earn a masters degree because I am worth more than this. I’m not sure what the MFA after my name will get me as opposed to what I have already gotten myself, but my god, an honours degree is just not enough. or is it? I may never get accepted. That is one slim reality but is it really that slim? I am not as disciplined as some would figure. Driven I am, disciplined, not so much. I don’t think I would be selling myself short if I do not attend school for a masters. What’s my calling from this point on? I will always be able to do art for the rest of my life now… but what will my 9-5 be? Marini had mentioned, something that mirrored what my parents have always said, if what you are doing is fun and you enjoy it, you will never work. But what will I do for a living? Will I curate? Will I advertise? Will I be a makeup artist? There are so many open doors, I’m sure I could not be wrong choosing either one, but It’s still a big decision. My whole world changed with a piece of paper, a whole new set of responsibilities came with it, and I am relieved in knowing that this stage is over. I suspect it is too soon for me to relax. I have a lot to consider now. I always have, but the reality looms over me more. It is the difference between being able to see the rain cloud or even smelling the rain, or the cloud over your head and the thunder lightly rumbling. Sometime very soon, it will rain, and it is likely it will strike. It’s a welcomed storm, don’t misunderstand. After every storm, things grow rapidly. A storm is there to get you excited for what is going to happen after.
After the ceremony I text my mother to tell her where I am waiting. When she got into town and just before the ceremony my mother mentioned she didn’t have presents this time. I have not expected presents any time she has visited and the biggest present any time, has been to see my mother. My father could not attend, the trip is too much for his health. But just before we phoned him and after, during our dinner, we phoned him again. My mother comes to see me with a small bouquet of red carnations and one red rose. “From your Dad and I”. I grabbed the flowers and said thank you. But we held in the embrace a little longer. She had to fight crying during the ceremony to. We swayed a little (I’m a sap, okay?). I said to her “You know, a few years ago, I doubted this ever happening”. To which she replied, “You did it, kiddo”. Fighting back tears again, to avoid opening the floodgates and loudly bawling like I watched the end scene to “Moulin Rouge” again, we step apart, grab photos and return my robe. We went straight to dinner because, my god, it was a two-hour convocation. it was close to 5 and we were famished. I mean the cookie and juice trays were decimated instantly after the ceremony.
Mum and I went to Ruby moon to gush over what had happened the past four years in getting this degree. We call the family in southern Ontario and Florida to say I got my paper. I had a mimosa with double the champagne to celebrate and my friend who was a server there, gave us desert on the house. In all, it was uneventful, but it’s the small things in life that make it so enjoyable. A good drink with my mum during a swaggar dinner, knowing well that the university gave me my paper…. and they can’t take it back!
I fucking did it.
I am Elizabeth Hoskin HBFA, and I am LovingBedlam.