If you defend your dissertation in September, you have two choices: graduate with the others of your calendar year the previous spring, or with those of the next one the following year. Because I was convinced I'd fail my defense (not something I had any reason to fear, if for no other reason than because no one ever fails this), I didn't partake in any of the festivities last spring. So I "graduated" yesterday, which was the soonest I could do so after my defense.
Tuesday, May 20, 2014
I felt weird being congratulated for something I did months ago, but then I remembered that the dissertation's only part of the process. That, and when I got there, I learned that, for various reasons, some classmates who defended as far back as spring 2013 would also be marching. I soon realized that one was interested in my impostor-syndrome-ish 'but this isn't really my graduation' disclaimer, nor in the fact that my diploma's been in my apartment for ages. This was graduation, because it was collective. You need to be with the people you went through the experience with, even if it's an experience that ends with a few years writing a project on your own, quite possibly far from the university itself.
Grad-school graduation was, it turned out, a really big reunion of French-studying sorts from many cohorts. The short version of why: my program used to take 10-plus years, but now, due to various reforms in the department and the university, takes 6; I fell somewhere in the middle. This was the year when everyone sort of converged. It was lively and fun, although chances are I wouldn't have said so at the time. I mean, the pre-ceremony reception was fabulous - again, there were so many of us! - but the ceremony itself involved copious sweating under the robes while all thousand (?) MA students got their degrees, one by one, only to skip out on the thing (evidently; I was too overheated by then to make the necessarily movement to see this) when it was time for the far smaller group of PhDs to go to the stage. Given the relative... schlep of these degrees, this didn't seem right, but the word on the cynical street was that because they pay for their programs, they get priority. (At least they let all of us use the gym!)
The main takeaway, though, was that I remember a time when PhD graduates seemed ancient, and yet, looking around, every traditional-age PhD looked... young. While they are - see above - slightly younger than they once were, at least in the humanities, at least at NYU, this is very much a case of age being relative. We are old. These are people I was at of-legal-drinking-age-and-then-some parties with seven years ago.