It came by UPS last week.  A thin cardboard box, no more than 1/2 an inch tall, and about 11X14.  I heard the big brown truck pull up outside my house and ran to the front door, standing there until the delivery guy put his hand on my door knob.  Then I whipped the door open and scared the living daylights out of the man.  But I was too excited, I couldn’t wait for him to ring the doorbell.  He handed it to me, and I smiled at him, a little shaky, and as he gave me the electronic tablet to sign, I told him, “This is my degree!!!”  He gave me kind of a half-grin, and said, “Yeah, I’ve been delivering a lot of those today.”  I thanked him, and walked back inside.  What for him was a routine, and a repetitive one at that, was the most momentous day in my intellectual life.  It was the arrival of legitimacy.  He didn’t know it, and perhaps couldn’t know it, but he had just delivered back to me a piece of my soul.

I sat down at the dining room table, pushed aside my laptop, stacks of papers waiting to be graded, and my toddler’s breakfast dishes.  I pulled the ez-open cardboard tab, and slid out a large white folder.  Inside it was a thick piece of paper, although it wasn’t as thick as I thought it would be.  It felt oddly insubstantial.  The page had my school’s name on it in large, gothic letters at the top, and then my name underneath it.  Then it had a paragraph about how I was now to be admitted into the privileges and rights that all holders of my degree have, and finally there was a shiny seal and some signatures.  That was it.

I sat there holding that piece of paper in my lap and I wept out a giddy little laugh.  It was suddenly real.  Apparently in the months since August, nobody had called the graduate school and told them it was all a big mistake and that I should never have been admitted after all and all that coursework I did was of course inadequate and I my defense wasn’t good enough and all of those errors that still remain in the submitted text clearly disqualify me for this thing oh and by the way you didn’t pay a fee back in 1999 so it’s all over now.  Apparently none of those things happened because here it was, in my lap.

My Ph.D.

It was real. And it was mine.  My name was right there on it.  Printed in black ink.

Right after I had submitted my dissertation, Spousal Unit said that for him the stress of the whole experience fell away slowly over time, kind of like a shedding.  I’ve been shedding bits and pieces for the last few months.  But it’s not natural yet — and I’m still stressed.  It took 15 years to create the stressed out energy that pushed me through the process, and that’s not going away overnight.  Every now and then I’ll be cooking or eating or reading or walking with the Gadlet and I’ll think, “Oh shit! Stop what you’re doing RIGHT NOW and get back to work on your dissertation!”  But then I remember I don’t have a dissertation to work on any more.  It’s done.  And then I take a deep breath and shed some stress, feeling a bit of my anger, my pain, my fear, my armor, my sadness fall away.

But I still wasn’t sure it was real.  Until last Tuesday when a nonchalant UPS guy in doofy brown shorts who had clearly talked to 150 other overjoyed overwrought dissertators that day brought vindication in a small, white cardboard box.


11 responses to “PHD via UPS

  1. haphazardmusings

    Congrats! I look forward to that day myself. 🙂

  2. Beautiful happy day and future days!

  3. Super big congrats!

    However, if I may share my own experience, it was a bit different. I vaguely remember tossing the thick cardboard envelope from my grad school into a big pile of junk mail to be sorted for recycling. Many months later when I got to the recycling task, I think I shoved the envelope into a cramped desk drawer that I open maybe once every two years looking for something long lost.

    I wonder whether the same illusory things that made it (presumably misleadingly)hard for you to finish the PhD and made you (presumably unjustifiably) question whether your various drafts were good enough for submission are the same things that lead you to do with this thing (the PhD paper/document) the things that you do/did with it, such as sitting with it, holding it while pondering and so on.

    You earned that degree a long time ago. Presumably, bureaucratic and other obstacles most of us would be much better off without delayed the delivery of this thing. It’s merely a symbol for something you already have, already earned, already represent, already accomplished. You don’t need (if I may venture to suggest) any piece of mail to feel good about yourself. It’s clear from the history of this blog how talented and how good of a person you are that you should rightly feel super great about yourself. That piece of paper – a symbol that is all too often confused with what it is supposed to symbolize, if I may gently conjecture.

    Many of the obstacles that delay receiving this thing serve negative social functions, like training people to submit to authority, training people to obey order or societal norms without much deliberation, training people to accept what they need to do in the corporate work force (which unfortunately and crucially includes academia), and so on.

    I think this is the third time I have asked you if you have read and that I have recommended that you read) the piece I once emailed you titled, “The Function of the Schools”.

    Can you or anyone else relate to these sentiments?

    In any case, I sincerely congratulate you.


  4. Congratulations!

    I think you should frame it while you are living in the happy glow of receiving the tangible acknowledgement. I never did, thinking it’s just a piece of paper, but I still carry it around unable to frame it or toss it entirely.

    Extra credit question: Why are the Ph.D. diplomas smaller than the M.A. / M.S. diplomas?

  5. Congratulation, Stewgad!

    You don’t post often, but when you do, they sure are good. Keep it up!

  6. Wonderful!

    And what an interesting story about shedding your stress and student-hood little by little. It’s a process on the way up, and a process on the way down.

  7. My – oh – my. I have a tear in my eye.
    Congrats, Stewgad, ’cause they can’t take that away from you! You did it!!!!
    Wishing you and the family unit all the best.

  8. Lovely! Congratulations. (And I’m glad that I’m not the only one who found numerous errors in the submitted copy. It haunts me even now).

  9. Congrats too, although I’m ashamed I am so late in saying so. But I’m staying tuned for updates as y0u suggested. I think I can keep up with you now at this rate. 🙂

    Stewgad, Spousal Unit, etc… How creative. It’s been fun but with all your creativity and sense of humor, you should have had your “paper” long ago. But it was entertaining for us for a long time. Thanks.

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