Thursday, June 19, 2008

Convocation

I hadn’t really realized the impact of what I was about to feel till I had reached the venue to collect my convocation gear. It was a crowd out there, with people busy distributing, collecting, or posing in their gowns. I held the packet they gave me, with everything they had put- my convocation gown and cap, and the numerous other things I was entitled to as an alumni- free passes for football matches I was never going to attend, free coupons at the nearby Mexican eateries, and a car license plate with my status of being an alumni imprinted on it. I have never had a convocation before. Needless to say, the feeling was very new, and “foreign” to me. I came from a place where you were just another face among the thousands of other people getting their degrees. Some professors remembered your face only if you got famous in the process, made it to the US, were the minister’s daughter, or something like that. I came from a place where professors had no official email ids, and some of them still wrote about you being “known to have a good character” in their recommendation letters.

I held my gown for a long time in the restroom, waiting to change for the photo shoot. The first time I tried, I could not even wear it properly. Then there was the cap with the tassel and “2008” marked on it. I was to keep this with me forever, so that the future generations in my family could remember what a luminary I had been. A good soul in the restroom offered to help me wear the gown properly. Within minutes, they had asked me to look at a certain angle at a certain imaginary dot on the wall, and my photo was clicked. Back in India, the only people I had seen being convoked are the graduates from IITs or IIMs, whose photos their moms and our neighbors proudly showed of. I had always wondered how cool it must feel to prance around in one of these attires while your mom showed off your picture to the other neighbors. Now, I knew.

The convocation was still a week away, but I could not get enough of the excitement after that. I was not really prepared for what to expect during my convocation. Then there were ceremonies organized by the school, where they reiterated how important and invaluable I have been to the program. I listened to them in amazement, wondering what was there to make a big deal out of it. Blame it on the place I hail from, where unless you are the topper or the daughter of a minister (or both usually), you fade out into the crowd of nothingness.

With pride, I stood on stage in my blue sari, the symbol of my Indian-ness, that had taken me a good half an hour to wear without help. I was the sole representative of India in the departmental ceremony. On the main day, I proudly cat-walked the outdoor stadium in my gown, smiling, waving, and throwing flying kisses to imaginary people like the others did as if I was some Miss.Universe in the making. No words can describe the thrill and the sense of worthiness you feel when you go up the stage in front of a packed stadium and shake hands with the dean. Photos were clicked and congratulatory wishes offered, champagne flowed, the smell of good food wafted the air, my advisor and chair patted my back and congratulated me, friends hugged me and offered me pretty floral bouquets, and I took in everything, feeling like a celebrity. Gifts and cards have been pouring in ever since, and my home looks like a Botanical garden and a gift shop now.





It took me back to the days in India when mom and dad had a different future planned for me. I am sure that their intentions were noble and well-meant. But as a 22 year old, all scared and confused and not knowing what to do in life, I used to have sleepless nights wondering how do I deal with the situation and accept the fact that I might end up being a nobody. The matchmaking process had just started, and somehow I found the idea of flying to a different country with a spouse very obnoxious and unpalatable for me. Many people choose to do it, but the idea of living in an alien country where I would not be permitted to work and where a husband would give me a credit card as a gift was an envisioning of a sad existence for me. Five years later, there is a credit card, but no husband. I still have issues finding a job and the tension of leading the penurious graduate student life. But deep within there is this sense of worthiness that I was fortunate enough to achieve what so many others would long to, to go to graduate school, to contribute in my own minuscule way to the advancement of science. It’s a trade-off, I gave up on the security of a married life, incurred the wrath of my family when I told them to stop deciding my future for me, packed my bags, and landed here, but it’s a tremendous sense of achievement nevertheless. When I talk about achievement, I am not referring to the numerous classes I have taken, the new concepts I have learnt, the grades, my GPA, the contacts with people I made here, and the degree I earned in the process. I am not talking about how I learnt about cultural competency, social capital, and heat shock proteins in class. I am referring to the sense of achievement I feel of having taken a decision for myself and sticking to it, of all the effort I have put up trying to place myself in a new country, new situation, among new people, of all those nights of studying hard and the early mornings spent in lab wishing that my work will be appreciated and I will be accepted as one among them. I feel a sense of achievement for having dared to challenge the fate others had chosen for me, and for proving dad wrong when he said that I wouldn’t survive for more than a month here, not knowing how to cook or take care of myself. I made mistakes, and I learnt from them. I made bad friends, and I made good friends too. I went through my normal share of miseries, and more. I lost hair and put on pounds as a token of being a part of the “stressed American society”. But whenever the going got tough and I thought I could take it no longer, I asked myself to hold on to hope for a little more.

I don’t see a problem with any lifestyle we choose. What’s important is we choose it, taking full responsibility of the consequences. We all make mistakes, and there is no shame in failing. Friends and family are always there for opining and advising. But at the end of the day, I have realized that it makes so much sense to decide things for yourselves and then stick to your decisions.

Today, I have a masters degree from one of the best schools in the US. Here from, I know I can do anything I want to. I can find work, I can get married and still work, or I can go get another degree in something I have wanted to study. And what I take back with me isn’t my degree and my convocation gown and cap and the license plate I’ll have to wait to use it till I learn to drive. What I take back with me is 2 years of rich experience, little successes and failures, lots of memories of going to graduate school, of numerous friends made, and mostly importantly, the realization that I have the power to envision my own life and shape it the way I want to. Like someone told me sarcastically- “You have become an American in every sense. You are all of “individualism” now".

sunshine

23 comments:

Daroga said...

My heartiest of Congratulations !!!

and Good Luck for your future, which, I am sure, will be much brighter than you have expected.

:)

Yugandhar V said...

great writing. its a great gift you have. Congrats on your achievement and all the best for a happy and fulfilling future.

Spiritual_Flame said...

Congrats on your achievement.. That's really a great thing.

Best wishes for your future... Hope you get a nice job and sweet husband...

Lots of luv and luck!!!

ken said...

hey congrats on your convocation .. have fun and loads of good luck in life.

Ramesh said...

Congratulations....Wish you all the best for your future...

WaitingforSunshine said...

Hi Sunshine. Congratulations :) and all the best for your future

mars said...

Congrats sunshine... you reminded me of the day when I(presently working in Pune) was all set to attend my convocation(in gandhinagar, gujarat), but instead had to go home(rajkot, gujarat)and miss the convocation. Know why? A guy was coming to see me. After reading your post, I realized what have i missed.
neways, wish all the success and happiness for your future.

Mars

nits said...

hey... congratulations... and good luck for future...

reading your blog...i can empathize with you.... had somewhat similar feeling a yr back... though it was in india...

and i totally agree with you that the biggest achievements are not your degrees or anything else... but the feeling of having taken control of your life... having broken the myth around you... having achieved something that other felt you can't do...

congrats once again...

Neha said...

Hi Sunshine ,,,

Have been reading ur blog for ages but commenting for the first time ... Coz i think this is the moment ... Congratulations ...
Not for just the degree but also for the tremendous courage and strength required to take ur decisions and sticking to them ...

U denote so much that i wanted to be :)

kevin said...

Congratulations !!! Wish you all the best....

As usual, very well written. Brought back memories of my convocation !!

Anilz said...

Surely one of the best posts i have read. I jus love the way u write. Congratulations on ur achievement. Wish u all the very best for ur future endeavours. May u keep inspiring ppl on ur journey called life.

Dust Unsettled said...

Someone said, life is a chain of decisions...
Our parents, elders have the vantage of age to make some big decisions for us... But, often those decisions are not tough, rather they are soft & safe (& as you said well-meant). But, ultimately, it boils down to the individual, to accept it or to put the feet down and go ahead with a tougher/riskier option. Picking the later gets further tougher with the gender of the individual, specially in our country. However, whatever decision a person takes, the outcome solely depends upon the efforts of that very person. And I am sure of one thing that if we go against our parents wishes and and do our best and outdo their expectations, there is great deal of satisfaction and proud in their hearts for us...

Congratulations for making your parents proud of you and best wishes for the road ahead...

Rukmani Ram said...

feels like I'm reading my own thoughts.. not the first half though, but the latter. I am there, right there.

Red Phoenix said...

The sun has finally set in ur college life.. Now its rising time in the career and personal world... Long live the Sun and it's eternal sunshine.. Congratz

Rakhi said...

it has only just begun, my dear sunshine!! :) and glad that it began so well. congrats...

when is the party? :P

Himank Sharma said...

First of all congratulations my dear!!
I have been postponing reading this post by always clicking on keeping it unread when i browse through my Google reader feeds coz from the title itself, I could guess that this is going to be something special and it really is.. :)

You've brought out such a nice perspective of this degree thing, luvd the way you portrayed it, btw talking about career havn't you ever thought about a career in the field of writing, you write so nice and all.. Why not give it a try???

I've been reading your blog since you were a teacher in Kolkata and from there to here, it seems as though it always seemed like I am getting to know about the life of a long lost friend, never felt that you are a person who I have never talked with or someone whose name even I don't know.. Congrats again for completing a phase of your life.. Cheers!!

Himank Sharma said...

Hey one thing.. Since you moderate the comments on your blog, then why dont you activate feature by which other people can also show their links instead of only the blogger link, it wouldnt hurt me to publicize my blog.. :)

Shantanu said...

Congratulations! And a great post, btw. :)

Prof. Integral Calculus said...

hey grad, congrats!

~vagabond~ said...

Congratulations, Sunshine!
I've read so many of your posts and love your blog...but this particular post resonates my own feelings exactly. Like you, I too, came to this country to escape a future planned out for me. I came here with huge dreams, a scholarship and just 3000 dollars to make it all happen. I didnt know a person in this country...no friends, no relatives, noone. I know $3000 sounds like a lot of money, but it really isnt when you consider lodging, food, books, and a gazillion other miscellaneous fees and expenses. I look back at those times and I'm surprised I made it through. I just recently landed myself a new job in a whole new career different from what I came here to attain, and when I read this post, it made me reflect back on my long journey here and how far along I've come. I have no idea where my new career will take me, but like you, I'll have the joy of knowing I made the decisions myself. :) Once again, it's brilliant writing on your part. And congratulations on your big achievement!

santm said...

Felicitations !!

We have been following your blog and updates of your life for almost 3+ years now. It is great that your long due convocation is coming along. It just feels like yesterday when you wrote about life at CAL and applying for VISA to USA.

Congratulation once again for your hard work; best of luck for what ever you choose to do next but keep posting :)

alpine path said...

Congrats!! I've got a year(hopefully!) more to reach this point in my life. About the satisfaction part of it, I totally agree. These few years of grad school would always be cherished in my mind for long. Way to go, girl!

Duhita said...

Congratlutions....I can't believe its been that long already! Well good luck and hope the future brings whatever you look forward to.