My Facebook feed for the month of May has been dominated by one color. For every graduate of a collegiate music program nationwide, the departmental color for tassels, graduate hoods, or trim on a doctoral robe, is pink (not to be confused with Dentistry’s “Lilac” or Public Health’s “Salmon Pink”). This is a social-media seasons of selfies in which capes and gowns, friend and family, and diplomas signify personal and professional triumphs in the academic system.
Thus, I cannot be the only person who has been repeatedly asked “how does it feel to be done?” I find it difficult to answer because (1) I’m not “done” and (2) I’m never going to be “done”, at least, until I’m six feet under.
I don’t feel “done” because I know school starts again in only two short months. At the beginning of August I will move to the University of Oklahoma to begin work on my DMA, meaning, three more years of school.
Okay, so I understand what people are really asking is “how does it feel to be done at WMU, the masters degree, etc.” Honestly, I find this to also be a misnomer. What are the things I did in school? I practiced, performed, taught… Now that I’m “out of school”, I’m doing that all the time. With a string of church and wedding gigs this month and a number of teach-in days at seven different schools in three counties, I’ve kept myself occupied in and out of Kalamazoo.
I can’t forecast how I will feel in three years (I can hardly forecast what I’ll feel in an hour) but I assume that I won’t even feel done after the “terminal degree”. The reality of this profession, this lifestyle, is that there are always something. Will I ever be able to play a four octave scale perfectly in tune? Will I have ever mastered all the pieces in the repertoire? Will I know have the wisdom to address each student’s individual needs? I doubt it. When I first came to WMU I think that this sense of futility weighed on my mind. Like Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the mountain, I would strain and struggle for the rest of my pitiful existence.
I went for a run the other day with my housemate Noah who, if you don’t know him, is an avid marathon runner. We decided to go on a 5 mile run on a really muggy day around Kalamazoo. The first couple miles weren’t too bad but at about mile 3 he took us up a big hill. My thighs burned and my eyes burned with sweat. All I could think was “don’t stop, if you stop, you’re toast.” And as I was sucking air, drenched in sweat like an asthmatic middle-school-gym-class version of me, I had one of those delightful moments of mental clarity and enlightenment. That’s the trick, just don’t stop. I did finish the run and subsequently finished a couple Bell’s beers that night also.
There is a kind of mirage as I stand at the threshold of this last academic year and the beginning of the next. Off in the distance, the idea of someday “making it” shimmers with palm trees and aqua-blue pools of water. But when I ponder what it really means to “make it”, when I consider the mentors who I perceive to have “made it”, they don’t think they’ve “made it”. They “make it” every single day. They don’t stop. They endure.
That helps put things in perspective for me. Graduation, like any meaningful milestone, is a sort of gateway that one passes through. One moment you’re on one side as this person, and the next moment, you’re on the other side as something else. Ritual, pomp and circumstance, and celebration helps us make sense of the slow metamorphosis that happens hour by hour and day by day. I’m glad to have completed this leg of the journey. Best wishes to all you graduates out there.