I think the funniest thing I noticed in my time off is that some people still talked to me as though I was a mod; either wanting my help with stuff via PM or getting blamed for some heinous injustice. Even asked at one point to put my $.02 in a thread in the mod boards; they'd forgotten that I couldn't at the time. :P In any case, I'm back now; I started back right when a lot was suddenly changing, and I still don't know what the heck is going on really. I'm just kinda learning as I go for most of this, as are the rest of the mods it seems... I half-expect Staff to make an "example" of me at some point on a whim. >_>
So why did I step down for a few months and basically vanish from GS? Several of you know that I've been pursuing my Master of Arts in Biblical Studies for a few years now, but last November I re-took my area exams - the written and oral portions, and they looked me right in the eye as I sat at that table and they told me I passed. The exams serve as a sort of capstone; you take them or you write a thesis, and passing the exams or successfully defending your thesis is the last thing you take/do before getting the degree Happy day, yes it was, but it wouldn't last. A few days later I get a call saying that I was missing a class on my transcript, which had already been addressed by a previous head of the dept. After they got my message, another problem rose up - going through my transcript, they found two classes showing up as F's. Shame on them for not finding this after clearing me to take the exams twice; shame on me for not checking my grades myself to make sure that the professors had changed those two incompletes. >_>
So a few weeks after that gets taken care of, a few other problems rose up, eventually leading to them telling me that the office of Academic Affairs was putting a hold on my graduation due to GPA still not being high enough with the grade changes, but the head of the department and dean appealed on my behalf, saying that I shouldn't be punished for problems on their end (basically, 4 heads of the department, two of them interim, over the course of 4 years, with me getting cleared twice to take the exams, but there were two years that this could have been brought up, and they felt like it wouldn't be fair to me to have the rug yanked from under me b/c of their mistake). Unfortunately, the higher ups didn't agree, so I get a call a week and a half before all of this telling me that they're not letting me graduate and I should be prepared to take more classes. What do I learn from this? Verify what someone tells you, even if they're an authority figure that you should be able to take at their word. I'm not bitter toward the people that fought for me, but it tells me that I need to stay on top of things.
By the week of graduation I'm reading to make a formal appeal myself directly to the VP of Academic Affairs, but I got an e-mail later saying that they'd reviewed my situation and decided to let me graduate... this was 4 days before graduation day. Won't lie, it was one of the most emotionally trying times I've ever dealt with, to be at such a high at finally finishing only to be told that it wasn't good enough, then having a month of hell and not knowing before being told no, then suddenly told yes. I walked on Saturday the 17th of December 2011, getting a scarlet Master's hood and my degree, the whole time wondering if they were going to either pull me aside and tell me to go home or find some excuse later to say that the degree is invalid, but I've been assured by everyone that once they give you that paper, it's final. :P Such are the times that try men's souls... I think I'd be here now completely broken if I hadn't chosen to let myself feel everything that I'd been holding back these last few months.
On top of all of that, my grandfather, who was helping me study by discussing my exam material with me, suddenly died of a heart attack after an ulcer sent him to the hospital just days before. He was a brilliant man who was in med school by the age of 18 and was a medical doctor in his 20's. He practiced medicine for over 60 years, up to the week before God took him home at the age of 85. He wanted to see me graduate so badly; I'm the first of his grandchildren to pursue post-graduate education, and though I may not be a doctor like him, I still plan to pursue a Ph. D someday, which he was also highly encouraging about. I learned so much from him in these last 5 years, like my family history that traces its origins back to the age of the Norman Invasion in England (I even have a family crest that I never knew about) and the early Virginia settlers in the days of the American colonies. Even after his passing, looking through this Korean War vet's old pictures revealed that his father, my great-grandfather, was a WWI doughboy, when before all I knew was that he was the head of the school board in my hometown back in the day (fun fact re. Korean War - my cousin's husband is from South Korea, and when they were still dating and she introduced him to our grandfather, he mentioned that he'd fought in the war, and the reply was "thank you." As you can imagine, the air changed tremendously after that :P).
Losing a family member/loved one never comes at an ok time, but I never had the chance to fully grieve the way I needed do. Only one friend offered to stand beside me during the graveside and let me cry, and between work and studying for the exams, I didn't really get to have any down time (I only found out afterward that I could have used up to 3 days of bereavement time...). I knew for days leading up to graduation that with all that's happened over the last few years, the success of getting the degree could either cause me to become extremely bitter or broken, and if emotions popped up at any point during this, I needed to just let it happen. So after church the night of my graduation (lets me sleep in on Sundays ;)), the manliest tears flowed forth - all the mourning that didn't get finished, the emotions that had been building over the last few years of the grad school ordeal, the month of hellish unknown, being told that the last 4 years of your life had been wasted, then being told that it was all going forward anyway - the battle was over, and at least for a time, I'd be allowed to let the guard down completely.
I can't remember the last time I've actually looked forward to my future without feeling like something was unfinished or that I had regrets. Even now, as I need to find a teaching job for the fall and a second job to supplement my income over the next few months, I feel more fulfilled, as though what I've had to deal with turned into a story of endurance and perseverance to show that the worst can happen but you can still come out of it successful. Even in humility, it's ok to reflect and accept success once in a while, though it should be a stepping stone for future successes rather than one to rest on, especially at the age of 28. For a time I looked at the paper thinking that it was illegitimate due to how I came to get it, but one thing overrides it all - when I wrote nearly 11 pages single spaced in the span of 6 hours to take those written exams, my three professors looked at them and told me I could take the oral follow-ups. After an hour and a half of being asked all kinds of questions by two men with Ph.Ds from The University of St. Andrews and Durham University, respectively, and one with a Th.D from Union Theological, and at the end of all that they conferred and told me that I demonstrated Master's-level proficiency. In the end, it's what you can do with what you learned, not just that you can say you learned stuff, which is the whole point of taking area exams or writing a thesis - it's a practical step that you don't take if you're just trying to get a grade in a classroom.
So what's next?
As I said earlier, I'm looking for a teaching job, preferrably at the college level, and since my hours at the bookstore are being cut a bit due to the Christmas season ending, I need to get something else to help make enough money to live and still pay bills. Maybe save a bit while I'm at it? Down the line I'm wanting to get a Ph.D, but first, work and earn some money, living a bit along the way. Continue to meet and get to know new people, while letting those I care about know how I feel that from time to time - never know when it might be the last; my sole remaining grandparent turned 85 last Wednesday, and we're celebrating her birthday this Sunday. With school out of the way, it's time to bring a lot of things together and get in shape like never before, and maybe refresh or learn a foreign language while I'm at it - I still want to see Europe, whether it be a long vacation, an internship, or maybe even future studies.
Oh yeah, I'm testing for my second degree black belt in Iaido next month. No sense stopping that just because some people on the internet think I have mental issues for studying the sword and learning how to train my body to do stuff. :o