The Transition: Sweet November
Finals, elections, my birthday, and Thanksgiving: that is what the month of November always signaled in undergrad. I remember feeling a sense of dread each time this part of the semester arrived. It is a completely different feeling in graduate school. For one, all of my classes occur once a week for two hours each. Initially I was excited about this. I figured I would have more time to study, work, volunteer, and have time for myself. Although this may be somewhat true, there are definitely negative aspects to this schedule. In undergrad, classes were typically twice a week or three times a week. If I had a major class assignment due or didn’t understand something, I knew I would see my professor again that week and could ask questions that would provide clarity or would be reminded about the assignment. In graduate school it is sink or swim. You are on your own to remember important class dates and your relationship with your professor is purely organic. You have to make the effort to speak to him or her on your own time.
I don’t know what I got myself into when I decided to stay in school. It is hard to force myself to focus on school with so many other distractions and responsibilities, but I know it is essential if I want to keep a grade point average that I can be proud of. The papers are intense, the subject matter complex, and the time for quality work is a lot higher in graduate school.
November has also come to represent the time of year that student leaders at Howard begin to deliberate about what they want to run for in the spring general elections. I have had a number of undergraduates ask my advice concerning how to run a low budget campaign, but I have noticed that the urge to run for office in graduate school is different. In undergrad people run because individuals feel they have to, in graduate school most people run because if they don’t no one else will. It is difficult to get students with families and full time jobs to want to run for positions in student government. Their concerns are more focused on professional development and less on how Howard can become a better university in the 21st century. Those who run for office in graduate school seem to genuinely care about advocating for the students in their respective schools and colleges; whereas, most people in undergrad ran for a title. Many of the president’s of graduate and professional student council’s have been extremely effective this year as advocates, but I wonder who will step up to replace them next year. In undergrad people run on slates to fulfill executive boards and plan for it years in advance, it is not done that way in graduate school so many of the positions remain open until special elections in the fall. There are people who care for Howard and the success of their peers, but the load in graduate and professional school can hinder your ability to be effective and to lead. It takes an extraordinary person to be able to handle the professional, familial, and academic work required in graduate school on top of being a student leader. I applaud my colleagues for their sacrifice because every hour that they advocate on our behalf is an hour that they are taking away from their own professional development.
As this is my last column, I pray that I have been able to give each of you a look into my “transition” from Howard undergrad to graduate school. It has been an awesome semester of reflection and I pray that you have learned something from at least one of my rants. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy Winter Break! I’ll see you on the Yard!