To Degree or Not To Degree – That is the Question

naughty-librarian I couldn’t resist posting this image — I was originally going to use it for another post I’m working on but fuck it, this works just as well.
For anyone that has spoken to me lately, I’ve become a homework recluse. I work, eat, occasionally knit, occasionally dream about sex, even more rarely catch up on Tivo and but read voraciously. But the bulk of my time is spent with my nose in books doing homework or doing “something” related to what needs to be done for class. My work load has gotten so heavy that I’ve dropped my job hours from 40 to 32, freeing up that one extra day a week that I can actually breathe. I’ve also had to stop hanging out so much with friends and had to give up the Walk For MS that I was planning on in a couple of weeks.
That was one of the hardest things I’ve had to come to make a decision on and while my partner in crime, Steph, totally knew this was going to happen far before I did, she graciously knew that my education comes first before anything else. I know that for the next 2+ years, I’ll be married to the program. It is not just the work load but the accouterments, if you will, of everything else associated with becoming a librarian that surrounds it. It is the networking, conferencing, professional development and hopefully at some point, a pint or two of Guinness. It is also the research on other topics that will be happening that also coincide with all this work that is making it worthwhile.
I’ve never been so exhilarated, frightened or have wanted something so badly as much as I want this degree. There are so many possibilities and opportunities that have arisen since I’ve started this program that I’m absolutely spell bounded by it all. But I need to address something due to a remark that was made to me tonight because I’m highly sensitive on the topic of education and the paths one takes to prepare oneself for the future.
In conversation tonight with a friend of mine who is also a graduate student, I was lamenting about the amount of work that had to be completed, in general. Her response to me was, “No offense to your old program, but welcome to a real Masters program.” She is, in fact, referring to my humanities MA from CMU, of which I finally received the diploma for several weeks ago. From her tone, you would have thought I would have sent in five cereal box tops and $5 dollars. And viola! Several weeks later, a freshly minted, laser printed degree was on my doorstep.
My educational background is not a straight line (and may I remind her, neither is hers). I did not graduate from high school, I in fact got my GED. I have never been ashamed of this fact (though for some reason, the fact that I am not ashamed constantly surprises people) nor do I regret my decision. It is what it is. I made some bad choices in high school, some other things did not work out and I obtained my GED one year from my “official” graduation date. I went to a local community college several years later, did well on a number of things and not so well on others and discovered technology.
Left the CC and worked in the technology sector for almost a decade before applying to, and being accepted by, a number of colleges and universities up and down the east coast and in Michigan. Left my fiancée, a job that would have been made redundant at some point or another and moved back home to finish my B.A. I was 30. Completed my B.A. at Aquinas College, a fairly presitigious school I might add in the Midwest, in May of 2005. My overall GPA walking in? 1.7. My GPA on graduation? 3.3. Not too shabby for a high school drop out.
During my senior year, while looking at graduate schools, I was torn by all the programs and choices that were available. It was suggested to me via several faculty members that I look into a general M.A. in Humanities to help narrow down my focus. Central Michigan University offered such a program, I applied to and was accepted to begin several weeks after my graduation date from Aquinas. Yes, weeks. The program, in cohort design, is set up that each class is done over weekend periods. So for my first class, American Art History up to 1960, I went to class every Friday from 6pm to 10pm and every Saturday from 8am-5pm, alternating weekends for 4-8 weeks. When that class was finished, another one would begin. Was the work load intense? Yes. You try cramming in two weeks of lectures into a single weekend. Social life? Out the window. Now, I joined the cohort in progress that summer and that was one of their last classes. When I started classes again in the fall, my mother found out she had cancer and a few other things were going on. I left the cohort and rejoined in the fall of 2006. I followed through for two years and finally completed the program in May 2008.
During this time, a lot of things happened in my personal life. I fell in love, I was working full time, my then boyfriend and I moved in together, we were quasi-talking about marriage. And I also started thinking about graduate school for something else, as was the then boyfriend. I had done a lot of serious thinking from May 2005 to fall of 2007 about what I wanted to do with my life and realised that I wanted to become a librarian. Becoming a librarian had been simmering in my brain for years, this was not a one-off decision (such as I am prone to make). A lot of things fell into place during that time frame that made the decision more concrete and I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, this is what I wanted to do with my life. Going back to the CMU program, I had often joked that it did not feel “real.” The set up, as it is, is not conducive for someone who is interested in doing serious academic work. Have people gone on to Phd programs from my program? Yes. But for the most part, many of the people in my program already HAD Masters degrees in something else and most of them were teachers.
All part of their enrichment process and professional development were the reasons why they were doing the program. But the work was real, the grades were real and the degree is also very real. Over the several years that I worked towards this program, there has been a number of times that people, not just my friend, who have made commentary to the fact that this degree was less valid than a “real” Masters. The now exboyfriend was one of them and so were several others.
I’m not sure what it was about the set-up that seemed to make them THINK that this degree is any less valid than any other Masters degree (especially coming from a highly accredited university), but nonetheless, the snobbery stings. So you know what? Fuck you people. The simple fact that I have to defend my decision or my choices is insulting enough, but to insinuate that my first Masters is not “real” is beyond reproach. I graduated out of that program with a 3.6 GPA. Just because the program did not follow “traditional” guidelines, did not adhere to the “rules” of traditional programs does not make this degree any less valid. If I went to a shoddy, fly-by-night university or took a class in underwater basket weaving, THEN you would have room to complain. But seeing as I am the one who willingly gave up social life, money, and time to obtain this “worthless” is my decision and my choice. You may not agree with how I did or do things, but you know what, it is not your life or choice to make, it is totally mine. And simply by suggesting that what I did was not “real” is not only insulting to me but shows me how very little respect you have for me.
At the end of the day, when my resume is printed and it showcases that I have a B.A., M.A. and a M.L.I.S. degree, not a single, solitary employer is going to question me on the method of how I did my classes or what I did to obtain my degrees. All that is going to matter is that I have them and the outstanding GPAs to back them up. (And the networking, professional associations, president of something or another by the time I graduate.) In short: Fuck you and the horse you rode in on.
Thank you and have a good night.