this is the end
This is a picture from my first day of school in the autumn of 1983. Since that day, I've finished thirteen years of public school, four years of undergrad, two years in a master's program, and seven years of Ph.D. work. I also studied abroad in Kenya, did extensive fieldwork in central Africa, and completed a whole mess of internships in Nairobi, Washington, and Yaounde. (I did stop carrying the Strawberry Shortcake tote at some point in there. :)
For those of you who are counting, that makes 26 consecutive years of education.
Today was, for all practical purposes, my last day of school. I defended my dissertation, spent a couple of nervous minutes in the hallway with very good friends, and then heard those three magic words every graduate student waits to hear:
"Congratulations, Dr. [your name here]."
It was a good day. In a fantastic twist of fate, my friend Kirstin defended her dissertation an hour and a half earlier. We've gone through most of this process together and it was so good to spend a couple of minutes celebrating together (and meeting her beautiful baby girl!).
Ph.D. work is interesting in that it's a very solitary pursuit, but it also takes a community to bring the work to completion. Conducting original research, constructing a logical argument, and writing the text are lonely tasks. They involve painful hours obsessing over the right wording and long nights with dry library books and horrors like Newt Gingrich's dissertation. In my case, it involved fieldwork in a conflict zone where there are earthquakes and angry mobs and corrupt border guards and a myriad of other hindrances to finishing the data collection. (After the defense, my advisor asked what the best and worst parts of the program had been for me. It was clearly the fieldwork.)
These things are made do-able by the support of your colleagues and advisors, whose feedback and suggestions are often invaluable. And they are made survivable by the presence of friends and family who may or may not understand all the academic jargon, but who are there to love, encourage, and support you through it all.
I am very lucky to have had all of these people in my life. And I'm lucky to have all of you who read this blog and throw in your thoughts on African politics and all these other issues.