Wednesday, June 22, 2011

One for the Bucket List

So, last weekend I graduated.  The culmination of countless (but probably millions) of hours in front a computer; countless (at least a hard-drives full of) papers, essays and projects; weight gain and lack of exercise; many thousands of dollars; working at a less than optimum job for far less than optimum pay to make time for study; spending less time with my family, especially when sequestered for weeks at a time for some courses; ignoring the laundry and most other household tasks.  While all my family supported me, only Mr. EDNurseasauras was able to make the trip with me, and he watched with pride as I walked across the stage to accept my diploma.  It was only fitting since he was, above all, the one who bore witness to my daily struggles, frustrations, and personal achievements of the last four very long years.

From others, I heard an endless chorus of comments:  "are you STILL in school?", "what are you going to do with your degree?", "are you going to get any more money?", and "is it worth it?".

The short answers are: yes, teach I don't know, probably not, and yes. 

I had second thoughts about attending graduation, it was a lot of money I thought I probably shouldn't be spending.  Airfare.  Hotel.  Rental car.  Meals.  A recent out of town family wedding that, while a wonderful occasion, meant more travel in only a few weeks time.  And, we just had our kitchen remodeled as well. 

But, I did go, and it was worth every penny to have taken the opportunity to celebrate.  I would not have experienced the joy, personal satisfaction and sense of achievement by simply opening a large white envelope
containing my diploma.

There were maybe 350 graduates in total, but only 75 nurses; it was about half and half MSN graduates and undergrads.  My early flight on Friday morning allowed me to attend the pinning and hooding ceremony shortly after my arrival in town.  It gave me an opportunity to connect with some of my fellow graduates in a more intimate setting, some of whom I had "met" in classes.

First was Bill, who had been in my Ethics class and hailed from Arkansas; I had enjoyed his sense of humor in the online classroom, and he was wickedly funny in person.  Of course he was an ER nurse.  He watched with envy as the Masters degree candidates milled about, carryng the hoods which were soon to be placed around their shoulders and remarked, "That's going to be me some day".

He had already started taking his courses in January; "Well", I said, "Mine will not be in nursing, if I do continue on for my master's.  If I never take another nursing theory course I will die happy.  If I was younger I would go to law school".  Bill, Erica who was a local, and I  talked about what we would do with our shiny new degrees, the merits and challenges of a graduate degree, and when we would be receiving our honor cords for commencement.  We wondered if there was any food around since it was mid afternoon, and most of us had been traveling since early morning.  "They could at least have thrown us a couple of granola bars", Diane complained.  She was a  nurse I had gotten to know in Nursing Research; she was from Chicago.  "I HATED that course", she said. "That instructor was brutal, then with two weeks left she up and quit!"

"I actually thought that was one of my better courses", I said, "but I took it right after statistics so I think it made more sense to me.  I had one instructor who had a family emergency, but he was replaced right away so it didn't disrupt class.  That is miserable to have an instructor quit like that".

Bill commented, "I took statistics at a ground school, and I did really terrible in it".  The three of us discussed the challenges of online math courses, the reason my GPA was 3.91 and not 4.0.  Diane had required a tutor for College Math; somehow I taught myself Intermediate algebra (there are rules, imagine that!) AND statistics. 

Other classmates included Donna from Atlanta who was considering going on to be a nurse practitioner, but who's husband had died about 8 months ago; it was a bittersweet moment for her, and she was clearly trying to make the occasion as joyful as possible.  Mark from Tennessee was an OR nurse manager who didn't have much to say until he found out I came from the northeast; turns out we grew up about three towns away from each other.

The pinning ceremony was presided over by the Dean of the College of Nursing, who introduced the other nursing movers and shakers of the University.  Her comments were personal and inspiring and made me really appreciate my nursing education, both my diploma program and the RN to BSN program that I had completed.

"Tomorrow, you will march in with your fellow graduates from a variety of different programs.  Commencement speakers usually address their remarks to young men and women who have not yet begun their careers, however you, as nurses, are already experts in your field.  Continue to learn, grow, and mentor others".   

I didn't mind that I was 4th from the end to receive my diploma, it was worth waiting for.