The Commencement of Freedom

I’ve just returned from commencement — the formal, public confirmation that I have, in fact, completed all of the necessary requirements for the title Doctor of Philosophy (although the diploma itself will not arrive, incredibly, for another three months or so).  It was, as usual, a silly affair; I was on the stage for less than thirty seconds out of the three hour ceremony, which is fine with me, but my family and friends who (foolishly, it must be said) might have found it frustrating, especially since the speeches at the beginning were really very poor.  But it’s done.  And, curiously enough, I do and did feel a little different after getting hooded.  It’s stupid, of course, since I technically finished the PhD a few weeks ago and since it changes absolutely nothing in my state of affairs (still working as a temp for next year!).  But there is a slight change in my disposition.  At first I thought it might be a feeling of confidence — that, yes, I am a historian, and yes, I do know what I’m talking about.  Except that I don’t know what I’m talking about; I possess no more knowledge now than this time last week.  A friend suggested that it was a feeling of competence, but that’s even further from the truth than confidence: I am neither competent nor confident (the lack of each quality reinforcing the lack of the other).  I’ve decided instead that this is a slight feeling of freedom.  Having walked the stage and received, in view of a lot people who don’t really care, a diploma placeholder, I officially have one less institution and one less set of rules and regulations to abide. No more of those particular hoops to jump through, no more of those particular administrators to please/beguile/deceive.  I welcome that, although there will be others.  There’s also a slight feeling, perhaps less welcome, of freedom from my advisers, who have so carefully watched and guided me over the last six years.  I have always welcomed their direction and hope they’ll continue to steer me right.  But they also no longer have a technical obligation to do so, although they have professional reasons — it’s good to get your students jobs — and, I dare say, personal reasons, as my friends.  But I’m more or less on my own now.  And there is some confidence that comes with that, and some realization of competence — perhaps I do know what I’m talking about, at least sometime — but mostly it’s just a feeling of space and opportunity, however terrifying.


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