Okay, so I ripped the title off of the last episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which in turn was ripped off of numerous sources dating all the way back to Geoffrey Chaucer. It's apropos.
As I sit here in the computer lab in Pitt's IS building awaiting my final class ever, I find myself looking back on the last two years. There were times when I thought I could not do this. There were times when I thought the end would never come. There were times when I leaned far too much upon my fellow cohorts, and there were times when I could not stand to be leaned upon by them anymore. The work was long and difficult and grueling. It's true what they say: graduate school is a marathon, and it's a marathon you cannot run if you don't have a passion for what you're doing. Some people have that passion going in. Others discover it along the way.
I was the latter. I have worked in libraries before, back in the stone ages of the 1990's--two here at Pitt in the mid-late 90's, and as a library assistant at Pennsylvania Culinary back in 94. I always enjoyed being amongst the books, but it wasn't until I started looking for a career change several years ago (way too many years as an administrative assistant will do that to a person) that I decided to apply for a job at a local library. I wasn't even called for an interview, because I did not have the requisite degree.
"Hm," I thought, "Perhaps this might be something interesting to explore."
I got into the program on a wing and a prayer. My undergraduate records overall were not great--capricious youth had caused me to nearly fail out of school. Twice. But eventually I got myself together and carried straight-A's my last two years (part time) at Pitt, and I graduated with a BA in English writing and religious studies, and even with honors from the religious studies program, due to those aforementioned straight-A's. Only two of the three faculty who had promised to submit letters of recommendation for my application to the MLIS program did so. How Mary Kay looked at my records and transcripts and decided there was something worthwhile there is something I may never know. But I got in, albeit on probational status.
Since then I have achieved an A+, A, or A- in every class I have taken, save one. In that one I got a B+ and still think I deserved an A. As my parents and wife pointed out a couple weeks ago, I have also worried every semester whether or not I was even going to pass my classes.
In any case, I began my graduate life in the school librarian track, determined to get a job teaching in a middle- or high-school library. I still would love to do that, incidentally. I very quickly fell in love with the program. My first two classes were online. At the age of 35 (as I was then), having never taken a course online before, it was certainly a daunting task! If you think one needs to keep up with themselves when doing college ordinarily, try doing it when you don't even have to attend class at a set time every week!
Pitt does what they call "Fast Track Weekend" every semester in the MLIS program. During this weekend, all of the online students come from all over the world (and I mean all over the world--one woman I got to know comes all the way from Trinidad!) to spend one weekend taking classes on campus and interacting in person with the faculty and each other. Some of the on campus students hate Fast Track Weekend because they are forced to come to class on the weekend as well (though not all professors enforce this), but when I became blended (I'll get to that in a minute) I found I didn't mind. And for the online-only students, Fast Track Weekend is not only a godsend for the educational experience, it's so much fun you can't believe it. There's something really neat about putting faces to the names and words you see on the screen every week.
I was really lucky--my first two classes I had four of my favorite faculty for the entire program--all of whom I had for at least one more class. To Mary Kay Biagini, Rebecca Morris, Sue Alman, and Chris Tomer: I salute all four of you. You made me really want to do this. You made me fall in love with the idea of being an information professional. It was also at that first on-campus weekend that I learned that just because one is in the fast-track program, that doesn't mean you are required to take classes online, and the program not only allows, but encourages blending online with on-campus classes for those who can do it. Since I'm local, I jumped right on that in my second semester.
They say, "It's never too late." Unfortunately, as one gets older, this becomes less true. Doors do close based on the life situations that come along with getting older, and I quickly realized that there was no way I could afford, with a mortgage and bills, to be unemployed for a semester in order to student teach. It kind of broke my heart, but I had to switch tracks. So I moved from school librarian to children and youth services--a very similar field that didn't carry with it the requirement of student teaching and fulfilling a PA teaching certification, being more geared towards public librarianship.
So it was I entered my second semester, taking one class on campus and one online. In Resources for Young Adults I had one of the greatest course experiences of my life, and I made a lot of new acquaintences that I consider to be friends (and I hope they consider me the same). That course got me even more driven and excited to pursue this career.
I won't go through all of my courses, but there were highlights. That summer I took Storytelling, which is probably my favorite course in the program. Unfortunately, a lot of the friends I made were full-time students and said goodbye that semester. I'm on facebook with many of them, but that was the last I saw of them (and may well be the last we ever see each other in person--most of them are no longer in PA). So that was bittersweet.
After that the program became tougher. I didn't have any more classes with friends, so it felt like starting all over again. Unfortunately, the "starting over" didn't include many new friends as the new group was mostly in a different cohort than me and already had formed their bonds. There were highlights, mind you. This past spring I got a chance to participate actively in the planning, design, and opening of the brand new Carnegie Library LYNCS project service point at the Pittsburgh Public Market. Our Marketing for Libraries class designed the entire project from the ground up--we handled the conceptualizing, marketing, design, and final assembly of the project. It opened with pretty large fanfare in April--if you're in Pittsburgh you probably saw it on the news and in the papers--and to my knowledge is still a success. I'm quite proud of that and as frustrating as it was a times, it was in retrospect an awesome experience.
I was also asked to come explore the doctoral program this past spring, as one of the program's "outstanding students," and bumped into Rebecca. She told me that she really felt for me because she had a very similar situation when she did her MLIS program. That actually gave me a lot of steam to keep going.
So the fall and spring semesters were tough. I wasn't particularly into the classes I was taking, but I still made it through because I felt it was so worthwhile. This summer, my last semester, I've had one of the hardest classes I've ever taken (Resources in the Humanities), but also two of the most rewarding and interesting (the aforementioned Resources, and Copyright in the Digital Age).
Which brings me to today. Here I am, sitting in the LIS computer lab possibly for the last time, though that remains to be seen as I think I may well apply for that doctoral program. In any case, certainly for the last time until at least Fall of 2012. And like that last summer semester, it's really bittersweet. I am so excited to be getting my Master's degree. But damn, I am going to miss this place. My faith in the University and in higher education in general had dwindled somewhat over my years as a staff member--one can see too much "behind the scenes" of any business, and if you know where the roaches nest in a restaurant you tend not to want to eat there, even though you rationally know that almost every restaurant in the world's got them. It becomes easy to get spoiled on the bad while ceasing to be able to see the many, many good things that go on. Great things do happen here at Pitt, but after too long behind the scenes, I really needed a shot in the arm to regain my faith.
The MLIS program at Pitt really restored that faith in a huge way. My experiences here have been 99% overwhelmingly positive, and that remaining 1%? Who cares? Nothing ever comes up all aces and I can honestly say I never had a truly bad experience in this program. I am, at last, very proud to be a Pitt Alumni.
I still want to change careers, but now it's because I desperately want to be an information professional. I'm looking for any and every way I can to make myself more marketable. Thus far the job hunt has been wildly fruitless, but that's a new chapter in my life that I'm going to have to plunge into, headlong. Something will come up eventually. It has to. Things will fall into place as they should, and, dear readers, I will be chronicling the journey. Until then, let me take a moment to feel what I think is a well-deserved swell of pride, to take a whole bunch of long, deep breaths, and to enjoy this accomplishment.
Thanks to everyone--friends, family, fellow cohorts, and faculty--who were patient, understanding, concerned, and helpful in getting me here. Now let's see what the future brings.
Oh, and Mom: we're still doing that bowling league.