13 Apr The 36-Year Finish Line
This piece originally appeared in MUSE Issue XVIII. Check out the issue here.
By Dorothy Engelman
I am a mature Queen’s student. When I say “mature” though, I don’t mean this stopped me from staying out too late one Friday night at Ale, drinking tequila shots with my fourth-year daughter and her amazing housemates. What I really mean is, “mature” in chronological age.
I recently handed in my final assignment for ARTH250. This would complete the last credit I needed to graduate…36 years after I first left Queen’s. In 1982, a credit short, and a year earlier than planned, I headed to the big city, and what I hoped would be a big job. Before every interview, I’d have this sick feeling. I was terrified I’d be found out, branded a loser, a dropout.
When I was starting out, my resume read: 1982, Queen’s University, Film Studies. I didn’t lie, but I also didn’t clarify if people assumed I had graduated. Luckily, I landed one of those important jobs in an industry where most employers really only care about work experience. And there I was: with a dash of luck, the benefit of good timing, and a lot of hard work, I went on to become a success in my field.
Throughout my career I was frequently asked to speak with students interested in getting into the industry. Inevitably, the first question was usually, “Where did you go to school?” With a lot of false bravado, I’d say, “I didn’t graduate. It’s not a big deal. Tons of successful people like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were dropouts.” The degree didn’t really count, or did it? If I’m honest, this sense of “incomplete” dangled over my head.
The nail in the coffin came when my daughter and I were touring Queen’s. I pointed out a few landmarks, and someone asked how I knew the campus so well. My daughter jumped in with, “She went to Queen’s…” * big dramatic pause* “…but she didn’t graduate.” I was gutted. Destroyed. The one person I wanted to be the perfect mom for had touched on my insecurity. I was supposed to be her role model, her entrepreneur, her feminist figure, but it felt like all she saw was my failure to finish.
It was the tough love I needed. It took me a few years to sort out how exactly I would finish, but throughout the whole process, my biggest cheerleader was my daughter.
We all need support, for so many things. Know that people are there for you. Everyone wants you to succeed, and finish what you set out to complete. Don’t forget to ask for help when you hit the inevitable roadblocks you will face. While I don’t believe regret is a particularly healthy emotion, there’s a part of me that’s always regretted not completing that final credit, or that final year. Not because a B.A. is the most important thing, but because finishing what you start is…even if it takes a lifetime.
P.S. A month after I finished my B.A., I submitted my application for an MFA at King’s College. The lesson? You never know where finishing will land you!