The 3565-Day-Long Degree

I started my university career a long time ago.

I mean a REALLY long time ago. 3565 days, to be exact. If you’re playing along at home, that’s almost 10 years.

And today, I am finally graduating.

When I started off in my very first class (an introduction to Canadian politics, of which I remember almost nothing), I was certain that my university experience wasn’t going to be any different than anyone else’s. The plan was to start out in general studies and do one year undeclared, then transfer into a program that I loved and that would lead to a great career. Do my four years, study hard, get good grades, maybe grad school, and then off I would go into the big wide world.

Needless to say, it didn’t work out that way.

In the middle of my second year, I realized that I needed to be in a different department in order to pursue the career I wanted. And I didn’t have any of the prerequisites for that department. Ok, no big deal, I’ll just take an extra year to do my degree. Five years instead of four. Lots of people do that. I’m still on track.

But then in the middle of my fourth year, I got sick. Sick enough to have to stop going to classes altogether.

I ended up having to take more than two-and-a-half years away from university in order to recover.

Not so on track anymore.

It was incredibly frustrating for me. I felt like I was stuck on the sidelines, watching my high-school friends finish their degrees, graduate, and move on to jobs or graduate degrees. Having to take the time to recover from my illness was arduous, and required all my focus; but all I wanted was to jump back into my education.

In 2014, two whole years after I should have finished my degree according to my initial plan, I was finally back at it, in the program I needed to be in, studying something I love. Since I already had some credits from before my illness, I figured that I could do two, maybe three years, and then graduate. But then things changed again. I decided to pursue a minor. Now with a goal to go to grad school, I challenged myself with extra classes. I volunteered. I worked. I did my own research. I assisted professors with their research. I basically started my degree over from scratch.

And now it’s finally over.

Six years after most of my high school classmates finished their undergraduate degrees, I am finally catching up. I’m finally graduating.

I finally get to cross that stage, move the tassel on my mortarboard from right to left, and hold my diploma parchment in both my hands. I can finally, finally say that I’m done my degree.

Why am I telling you this long, somewhat convoluted story? Not just because I (kind of) want to brag about finally finishing. Not because I want you to congratulate me (although I won’t say no!). I’m telling you this story because I want you all to know that sometimes things don’t go according to plan. Sometimes you end up having to do things a little differently. Sometimes, a four year degree ends up taking five, or six, or ten.

And that’s ok.

In some ways, getting sick derailed my life completely. I needed to start over completely, and rethink how I was going to approach my life and my future. But in some ways, it was a blessing. I needed to re-think life, and how to approach my education, but that meant learning to problem-solve. I needed to re-start my degree, but that gave me a chance to be a better student.

Everyone is different. Some people take some time to figure out what they want to study. Some people need to earn money, or fulfill family commitments before graduating. Some people travel, or do co-op terms. Some people get sick. There is no “right way” to do your degree, no “proper path”. I’m living proof of that. Never be ashamed or frustrated with your path. After all, that path is as unique as you are, and is to be celebrated, no matter how it looks!

Congratulations to all UVic grads! Whether your path was straight through or long and winding, long or short, backwards or forwards, you did an amazing job! Best of luck in the future.

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2 Responses

  1. Joanne Helm says:

    Yeah for you
    What an incredible lady you have grown into

    • Isabel says:

      Thanks for being an amazing teacher! And thank you for always letting us play with your puppies.