Back when the last company I worked for first hired me, they required a copy of my graduate diploma. I laughed hysterically at my boss when he told me. I was working with my dad at the time, so when I told him what HR needed from me, he quipped that I’d better find somewhere else to work, one that didn’t require such things.
Neither of us had any idea where that diploma was. We called my mom, who was in Scottsdale at the time, who told us a few options for where it would be. No dice, couldn’t find it, though I did find a lovely mousepad with a picture of a former horse of mine. What you have to understand is that my parents’ house is a wholly uncurated exhibit of the last 35 years. Not that they’re hoarders, it’s a sanitary and clean place, but it’s a little like a discovery expedition to find specific things.
The other thing was, that diploma was kind of a joke anyway. When I received it in the mail, after two years of a very expensive, if not entirely rigorous, education, I laughed out loud. It had been printed on regular old printer paper, with a literal gold sticker for the seal of the university. My perfect attendance certificates from high school were nicer. So even if we could find it, I didn’t necessarily think HR would believe that it was my actual diploma.
A few weeks ago I rearranged my basement so that I could have an “office” of sorts. My undergrad diploma is super nice, and in a gorgeous frame with a picture of the university’s recognizable-anywhere bell tower. So I sucked it up and ordered a new graduate diploma to complete the display, with the understanding that if it looked anything like the first rendition, I would pitch a fit.
I got the call last week that it was ready to pick up, so on my way back from errands, I stopped on campus to grab it. It was a gorgeous day, right before we were supposed to get hammered with a late spring snow. The amazing thing about this school is that it sits on right by two of the busiest streets in the area, but once you’re on campus, it’s this quiet, lovely place. Now I went to undergrad at Furman University, which is consistently ranked as one of the most beautiful campuses in the world, so there’s no competition, but DU isn’t half bad.
Walking around campus last week, I had a tiny twinge of regret.
I had come to this place out of undergrad not because it was my first choice, but because of other factors. I had also gotten in to NYU, and American, and it was a bit of a wrenching decision to come home. At the time I painted it with terms of “it will be good for the horses,” “it’s close to family.” But let’s be real here in the harshest of terms: I ended up choosing DU because the dude I was dating at the time pitched a fit about being in a big city like New York or DC, and it was the easiest option; the path of least resistance from all angles.
If you know me, you’d know that “simple” is not really the tach I take. Everything, from analyzing why my round in competition didn’t turn out to plan, to my senior honors thesis in undergrad, to my thesis for my security concentration in grad school, has to be complicated. That’s just simply how I roll. (haha, see what I did there?) “Well, it’s complicated” is my favorite answer. Side note: this is also why I adore Hillary Clinton.
So to choose a graduate education based on throwing my hands up, and picking the option that will make everyone happy, that will be the most convenient, went against my natural inclinations to forge through complicated situations. That’s part of why I can’t really look back on my time at DU with epic fondness. Well, that, and I was going through a major depressive episode that was tied to all this, but let’s not get into that now.
I also didn’t feel challenged. I had some amazing professors, especially in my global health studies, who kicked my ass and made me a better student, and thinker about the world. There were also some really special experiences, like getting to tour Cheyenne Mountain and the NORAD station in Colorado Springs. Coming from Furman though, with such an incredible Political Science department, it was going to take a lot more than what DU offered at that time to really engage me.
Walking around the campus last week though, I really wished I had been in a better place when I attended. Being at any educational institution is so stimulating and exciting for me, I really wanted it to have been a fantastic experience. It was kind of like, spoiler alert, (500) Days of Summer – or I guess Annie Hall, which I have not seen, and hesitate to reference given Woody Allen’s implication in child sexual assault, but will include simply for those who haven’t seen the former. The whole movie you’re rooting for them even though something feels off about the relationship, and in the end when they meet again after separating, you feel that… sad acceptance. That’s how I felt on campus. Like, we really tried to make it work, DU, and we had some great times, but it just wasn’t a great match.
I’m trying to keep this lesson in mind as I continue on my job hunt: not trying to fit a round peg in a square hole, making something work just for the sake of it, or basing decisions on things that should be secondary or tertiary factors, if they should be factors at all. It’s actually a really great lesson for life, too, as it turns out, and it’s one of my litmus tests for major decisions. Or, at least the decision making process. If that part’s flawed, then I know the rest of it will likely follow suit, and something should be altered. It’s just a good way to check in with myself… “What is the major factor at play here? Does this fit with what I really want to do and where I want to go?”
They let me stay at that company for a while. After searching for that diploma, I just printed a copy of my transcripts from grad school and gave them to HR. Not only did it prove that I actually attended, and they actually graduated me, but the company also got to see that I did pretty well. And my new diploma is awaiting a frame, on fancy paper and everything.