Seemingly out of nowhere, here we are: the end of the semester.
I am left dumbstruck by the realization that I am halfway through my graduate program and thus that much closer to “the real world,” where phone bills, a salary and car payments await. This past year has been a whirlwind, one that has stretched and matured me in ways I never expected, and I feel it is only fair to take some time to reflect on each aspect of my graduate experience (D.C., Georgetown and graduate school in general) and what I have learned from them.
I hail from southern Florida and completed my undergraduate career in north-central Florida — aka the “almost South.” I never thought much about how my environment affected my view on life, but after moving here it became abundantly clear that it had.
I found D.C. to be cold and aloof, full of people rushing from forced activity to forced activity in order to move an inch ahead of all of the other pawns on the chessboard. It seemed the only break from this madness involved “going out,” which again to me felt contrived and over the top.
This “work hard play hard” mentality was something I had heard, but I never truly saw it in action until I moved here. I yearned for the slower speed of my past life, where holding the door for a person ten feet behind you wasn’t viewed as strangely polite, but as almost expected. I missed being greeted by strangers as “sweetheart,” in a charming Southern twang. I dreamed of the lazy beach days that are somewhat of a norm for a Floridian — even in January. Although there is no “correct” way of life, I do believe there is something to be said about moderation, a word that seems sadly unheard of in this city.
That said, I have started to embrace D.C. I do love the bustle of the city. I like seeing men in suits and women in heels, and there is no doubt that people here have big dreams and work hard to accomplish them. D.C. runs endlessly with opportunities that only stop when you do. Making a difference in society seems like an actual possibility when you are surrounded by people who do this on a daily basis. By this, I am profoundly inspired.
I also found Georgetown itself to be incredibly different than my past institution. First of all, it was small; I attended a large state school that was home to about 50,000 students in total. My graduating class was about the same size as the entire undergraduate population at Georgetown, and thus many of the facilities and organizations seemed somewhat limited to me. However, this smaller size does seem to create a more close-knit community and allow for a more personalized classroom experience.
Most discomforting about my new school was the lack of diversity I perceived. Again, coming from both south Florida and a large state school, I feel I experienced a much greater range of social and ethnic diversity than any student would at Georgetown.
Frankly, on the surface, many of the students here seem like rather cookie-cutter J. Crew models: privileged and white. And honestly, the factual breakdown supports this: nearly 60 percent of Georgetown students are white. However, what takes time to notice is that Georgetown houses diversity in different ways. For example, there are many international students, which adds to the classroom experience.
Furthermore, unlike my undergraduate institution, students hail from every corner of the U.S., which, again ,helps bring new perspectives to campus. Religious and LGBTQ diversity abound and finally, not every student is as well off as they might appear due to Georgetown’s financial aid packages. I would not say that I am completely satisfied with the level of diversity at Georgetown, but I will admit it is better than I originally believed. Most importantly, I have found that most of the students here are aware of their more privileged status and feel strongly about helping those less fortunate.
Finally, graduate school itself is not quite what I expected. I suppose I viewed grad school as an extension of undergrad with perhaps slightly harder courses — but it is much more than this. The classes are indeed harder, but the experience itself differs greatly. In undergrad, you feel like part of the larger university community, whereas in graduate school the community is mostly limited to your respective department. You are also encouraged to focus your time and energy on events specific to your program, rather than branching out and experiencing many facets of university life. Depending on your personal goals, this may or may not be a good thing, but that is for you to decide and act upon with little help from outside resources — yet another difference from undergrad, where counselors abound.
I suppose this could all be summed up by saying that what I expected and what I actually found clashed a lot. But with time, I have accepted or even grown fond of these quirks. I am finally able to say that I am glad I made the decision to come here and am looking forward to what next year brings.
The academic year might be drawing to a close, but in this moment, I feel suspended in time: undergrad somehow seems like just yesterday, but also like it occurred eons ago; this past year both flew by and lasted a lifetime; and the summer beckons like an old friend, but D.C. refuses to let me go quietly. This feeling parallels the one I’ve become quite accustomed to: the feeling of being midway between — well, I don’t know what exactly, but like something has just finished, and something else is about to start.
Maybe this feeling is part of graduate school, as graduate school itself is sort of a prolonged midway point between adolescence and adulthood. But regardless of what you think, feel or want, time will continue to pass you by, often much faster than you realize. So, while I may feel like I am on hold, my life surely is not, so I’d better be present every step of the way to help dictate its route. And that is my ultimate takeaway from my graduate experience thus far: my race is my own, and I’m allowed to move at whatever pace and direction I so choose, if only I have the courage to pursue it.
Rebeca Childress is a master’s candidate in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. This is the last appearance of Gradually Getting There this semester.
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