Graceland

Today, my student loan grace period ends.

It’s hard to believe six months have passed since graduation. Sitting in the Marriott Center, falling to sleep to Elder Oaks’s commencement speech. I only slept because my friends who sat by me made me so very comfortable. The hour before, we happened to find each other in that giant mob of the School of Humanities, all of us scattered about in the ASB parking lot, and it’s not like we planned it. We’re humanities majors; our degrees were not in planning. But we stood in the sun, waited for our cue, marched into the arena. Passed by professors in their regalia while “Pomp and Circumstance” blared. I wonder if Sir Edward Elgar ever got annoyed by how long his piece could be.

I could not have been more honored sitting with these friends:

Maddie thinks big and likes small houses. She’s passionate for noble causes and homemade pickles.

Jen, “Ms. Magna,” was so very ready to take her vacation to Ireland and wants to take on a certain spritely dancing violinist.

Stephanie, was more or less on her way to an internship in France, because if you can change France, you change the world.

Bridgette has already landed a job, and her mind is anywhere but Provo. She might be too smart for her own good.

The five of us. A juggernaut of awesome women. BYU graduates. Ever so ready to take on the world.

I wish we would have gotten a picture.

Always, I’ll feel indebted, but friends are the kind of grace never ends.

On Homework

Another semester is well under way. School campuses everywhere teem with eager and already-weary students. Disciples. Learners arrive early in the morning, sit through morning classes with their droning instructors, grab a bag of Corn Nuts or stop by the eatery for a refreshing caffeinated soda, then sit through a round of afternoon classes. Instructors stand in front of their classes appearing to teach. Lectures, they call them. Professors’ voices may penetrate 30-60% of student skulls, depending on attentiveness and head placement relative to the desk. If my head was down during a class, I had every intent of going to sleep. But of course, if I sat upright, that did not guarantee alertness or even consciousness in any way.

After a whole day of classes, students flock to the library or return to their eclectically decorated or otherwise messy apartments to do at least 17 trillion hours of homework. An estimated 2 hours for every credit hour. I came home to read about 100  pages every night from sundry novels that my various English classes assigned. Then I would have to write stuff or think about term papers or work on a group project. Then I’d do my assignments for French, which involved stumble-reading 20-40 pages, writing in a journal, and doing grammar exercises. Three sets of 20, with a 30-second rest between sets. I was up until 1:00 or 2:00 every night, only to wake up four to five hours later for another day.

I understood the importance of homework; I tried to make my brain achieve balance in learning between lectures and homework. On any particular day I had no more than four classes – four hours. But then came the eight hours of homework. Sometimes it felt that all I ever did was homework. But I also tried to make room for a social life and reassured my friends that I still loved them. When I started dating Reilly, I still did homework, which involved a different type of juggling that I wasn’t used to, but I still did the reading and writing and tortuous French grammar études. When I started dating Reilly more seriously, of course I spent more time with him, which meant there was less time to accomplish everything else. I got the same four to five hours of sleep, so it seems homework was compromised.

We got engaged before my last semester, and I knew that I had to restore my discipline if I were to finish well, or at least with my GPA intact. Our relationship had progressed enough, or maybe we were mature enough for him to work on his lesson plans and for me to do homework while we were in the same room. Sure, we would take a break and make out every once in a while, but most of the time we acted like adults with academic focus.

Is it possible to have an academic focus for making out? Admittedly, there were days after school that I had to tell Reilly that I just had to go home and do homework by myself, else all I would do is gaze into his eyes and admire his handsome visage and distract him from lesson plans with little, teasing kisses.

With Reilly’s help and encouragement, I made it through that last semester, and BYU let me graduate, most likely because I had something like 652 credits, 550 of which came from a science major from my early days at BYU before I wised up and changed my major to English. BYU was happy to be rid of me and all my credit-hoarding.

Don’t even get me started on the science homework.

So, I graduated and got married. Then there was no homework. Just like that. No term papers, no French grammar. I read for fun, though. The whole summer. I decided that I would look for a real-life job before summer’s end, and I started working the same week Reilly headed back to teaching. And the nature of my job doesn’t require homework. Sometimes I stay at the office a few extra hours each week, but I never bring work home. Every day, I study, read, write, edit, and revise. I get to work in groups to prepare presentations. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that my job is just like homework, eight hours a day, . . . wait a second.

Academic focus. The differences are that I really like work, and – again – I get to leave it at the office, and I can come home to the best campus ever and do whatever I want, which is usually reading or watching television or fun house projects or surfing the internet or distracting Reilly while he’s creating lesson plans. He’s even entering grades into the computer right now.

I should go kiss him.

Weird Final Final Exam

We took a quiz.

Then we started the final.

I drank some water, ate some grape Hi-Chews.

Then groups started leaving, taking turns for their oral presentations.

My partner and I gave our presentation after I worked on the final for an hour and forty-five minutes.

Go, de Gaulle! Go, Sartre! Go Picasso and your pointy desmoiselles!

We spent about six minutes on the presentation. Go, Modernisme!

Then I spent about 30 more minutes on the final. Double checking answers and writing the last essay question.

Then I put it on the narrow wheelie table at the front of the class.

Then I left the room.

And I realized I wouldn’t have to take another French final for the rest of my life.

Or at least take a quiz, a final, and give a presentation in the same period of time.

Or go back to BYU.

Probably.

It’s the craziest feeling.

Tomorrow is commencement.

And Friday is the convocation.

My mom is here.

She’s proud of me.

I guess I am, too.

This Week

The trees still look lacy in their early bloom. The mountains still loom, as they always have, and they still do not scare me. They have protected me and given me a reason to wake up every morning.

In January 2010, I rebegan. Confident and cynical, I wanted to finish as quickly as I could. I had been in school long enough. I had been out of school long enough.

That first apartment, my bedroom window All that time looking at the mountains.

Classes have been wonderful. I’m grateful to have learned so much, but I wonder if I have turned into more of a cynic. BYU is a unique environment; I’ve come across a special kind of bigot here. Supposed soldiers of righteousness in an armor of hyp0crisy. At least it’s knee-length, I guess.

Those who aren’t idiots, the ones who have blessed me with their friendship, we can talk about the others. We wonder why marriage is infused into every church discussion; why certain professors say misogynist things or teach non-doctrine. Why these professors seem to be a part of an old-boys club who aren’t really professors.

Okay, so there’s that story of a teacher at a private, religious school who got fired for getting pregnant out of wedlock, and all I kept thinking about was Brandon Davies.

And negative feedback about the Muslim art exhibit at the Museum of Art.

The conversations take on a different tone, and I’m grateful for the contrasts in perspective.

BYU is a good school. I’ve appreciated my experience here, partly because of the classes, but mostly because of the friends. It’s hard to believe sometimes that I’m cool enough to be around all those young people. And I know that I talk as if I’m a few generations removed, but most of the time, it feels like there’s no age difference at all. Times like this, with graduation only six days away, does my life come into a different perspective.

Maybe I would have turned into one of those bitter people who aren’t really cynical but mostly sad and angry. If I didn’t have people to call and hang out with and go to concerts with and watch movies with and play games with, my experience here would have really sucked.

Maybe if professors hadn’t encouraged me to do things beyond the requirements for class or my major, my life wouldn’t be nearly as rich. Maybe if I decided not to risk my GPA by not going to Africa or minoring in French I would have deprived myself of some incredible memories and even better friends.

Friends! What if I hadn’t decided to move in August 2011? What if the circumstances weren’t perfect for me meeting this Reilly guy? Would I still have met him? I probably would have managed not knowing what I was missing, but it’s so hard to imagine my life taking another direction.

I close my eyes, and I’m in the Marriott Center. I’m in my blue cap and gown. I look for my mom and her husband in the crowd of friends and families, and I wave to them again. Reilly’s there, too. Maybe others. Hopefully others. I look around at my classmates, and I see quite a few faces that I recognize, and I’m glad to be graduating with them. I look toward the professors, and I remember everyone who has cheered for me during this time in my life, and think I couldn’t have been luckier, more fortunate, more blessed.

The arena is the mountain range. I am in the valley. The faces I see are facades of ridges and crevices and looming cliffs and majestic peaks; familiar terrain, steady, solid. The reason I will keep waking up.

It is time to begin again.