As many of you know, I finally completed my doctoral program! It has taken just short of forever, but all of the boxes are finally checked. I did all of the coursework, written comprehensive exams, oral comprehensive exams, proposal approval, proposal defense, IRB approval, the research study, the data analysis, dissertation approval, dissertation defense, and today I uploaded my work to ProQuest. I even ordered a couple of official, printed copies. Now all that’s left is the pomp and circumstance.
As I neared the end of the dissertation writing process, one of the things I most looked forward to was being able to shout out to all of the people who helped me get to the finish line. I was excited to get to dedicate my dissertation to someone.
This dissertation is dedicated to my wife, Stephanie. I will never stop trying to become the person she already thinks I am.
Then I got to the ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS, and to my dismay, the graduate school guidelines forbade me from including long, personal expressions of gratitude, although I do admit that those could get icky to read in a document like this. So, okay. I thanked my chair, committee, etc. and as many others as I could according to the usual guidelines. For the rest – I’ll do it here instead.
The first person I have to thank is my mom. It was her decision to go to college later in her life that encouraged me to go as well. Her father’s wish was always for his kids to do and be more and have more opportunities in their lives, and he was so proud of her for going to college. She showed me that if there is something I wanted to do, I should find a way to do it. I took that and ran with it. She encouraged me every step of the way, from my very first day as a community college student and beyond, and when I walked into the room to defend my dissertation, I knew that I had her and, because of her, many people in the greater Knoxville area praying for my success. Thanks, Mom.
My teachers have always inspired me. I am so grateful to all of the wonderful teachers I’ve had in my life – from Mrs. White in 3rd grade at North City Elementary School to Coach Chris in high school to Kendra and Dr. Peirce at the University of Baltimore. I’ll always feel indebted to Dr. Mallios at the University of Maryland for being the one professor there who really seemed to believe in me. I owe special thanks to my most impactful teacher and mentor, Tara. I remember Tara telling a story about when she knew she wanted to be a college professor: she said she had a young, female professor and looking at her, she thought to herself, “I could do that.” I had a similar experience when I went to my first class at Howard Community College, Tara’s literature class. She was teaching her first semester there, and when I finally realized that teaching was what I wanted to do, I knew I had my role model in her. Tara has advised me in every phase of my educational (and professional) life, and she’s kept me looking forward to what’s possible and what’s next. Everyone needs this kind of person in their lives. Thanks, Doc.
When I was really uncertain if I was gonna finish or not, my friend Llatetra picked me up. She was a constant source of guidance for the ins and outs of the program we both went through. She became my guide, helping me through the small details and helping me focus on the big picture as well. Llatetra never stopped encouraging me. She checked in on me and didn’t let me doubt that I would make it. Thanks, Dr. Esters.
Everyone needs a posse of ride or die friends and supporters. They are the ones you look up and see cheering you on. My friends Chris and Erin, thanks for all the laughter and encouragement over many, many bottles of wine. You guys always helped things feel lighter and more possible. Thanks, Besties!
Finally, and most importantly, the person I needed most was my amazing wife, Stephanie. The person that is closest to you is the one who has to do the most emotional work to keep you from losing your marbles – and believe me, those moments are frequent for doctoral students. Stephanie helped keep me from cratering in this long, long process, and there were several times, especially in the final weeks, when my toes were touching rock bottom, but she never let me sink fully into the morass. She poured over my data, my document, my presentation, and, good lord, the font changes! She kept a cool head and sense of humor about it all that helped me feel calmer and steadier too. She gave me room and permission to succeed or fail and made it clear that she would be there whatever the outcome. The day I defended my dissertation, I opened my notebook and found a note from her that just swelled my heart. This is why I dedicated my dissertation to her. She sees more in me and for me than I can see in and for myself, and that makes me try to be better. Thank you, Stephanie. I love you and I like you. You’re amazing.
It’s weird to think, after so many years, that the chapter of my student life is concluded. It’s a good feeling, but surprisingly abrupt as well. I can say something now that I don’t say a lot: I am pretty damn proud of what I’ve accomplished. Education is important to me, so much so that I’ve literally dedicated my whole life not only to my own education, but also to the education of others. I have seen how it lifts my students; I know how it has lifted me. My whole time in college, I have worked full-time. I didn’t have that bucolic experience where I went off to live in a dorm in some place with ivy covered walls. I have had to dig and scratch and balance work with school for the last two decades of my life while earning 4 college degrees. Because I work in higher ed, doctoral degrees seem pretty common, but the last census showed that only about 2% of Americans have earned a doctorate. That is a narrow path to walk, and no one can finish it alone – seems like something worth acknowledging.
© Ryna May 2019