My First Real Graduate School Experience

The first A minus I ever received in an English course was in sixth grade. I remember the teacher … Mrs. H. She didn’t like me; at least, that’s what I thought at the time. She always used to tell me I needed to pay better attention, to stop reading under my desk, to start asking more questions. I wrote a story for her called “Searching for Becca Fischer.” It was 27 pages of pure creative joy that I submitted for a five page story assignment. The character of Becca was my favorite character ever. I worked hard to try and pull her throughout the entire story. My teacher wrote all over it that the character development was not up to par; I still have the original draft that she wrote on. I was crushed by the A minus on the top of something I had worked so hard on. I scribbled across the grade with my pencil. I was embarrassed and ashamed and proceeded to work on rewriting the story in her classroom during my lunch periods, wanting to get it just right. I took the perceived failure as an attack on myself, and I tend to do that same thing even now.

As I watch my friends beginning their graduate school experiences with tours and hours long orientations filled with all of the information, as I watch them making friends and becoming confident, knowing what they’re doing, I look at myself and I realize I know next to nothing. No one here is telling me what to do. It is just expected that I know. It is expected that I automatically bring my best self to the table every day. I always want to get everything just right, and I blame myself when it doesn’t work out. For instance, I didn’t have the greatest first graduate school experience today. I’ve been waiting ever since I found out my literature seminar got switched to find out what the books would be so that I can start reading them. I check the online site where the courses will be loaded several times a week, but there is never anything there. I doubled checked the course catalog, and it says TBA under the required books. So I assumed then that I would receive a booklist the first day of class, this coming Monday.

I went to an orientation/meet and greet event tonight; I got to meet a lot of the people in my cohort, as well as those from other programs. And several second year students. It was a glorious thing, though I still don’t feel like I know what I’m doing. The question kept coming up: “Who are your professors?” I met a really nice second year who is in the same literature seminar as I am, and she asked if I had done the reading yet. I was greatly confused, as I never received any required reading. That’s when I found out that I was supposed to email the professor to receive the booklist. Not only that, but there’s required reading for our first class this coming Monday. An entire book.

I freaked out. I don’t know how to be that person who flies by the seat of my pants. I had my first experience with graduate school tears, and for something that was not my fault. Even though there was nothing I could have done, I still blamed myself. I wasn’t quite right, wasn’t quite to where I was supposed to be. I was the A minus in my own life. I chatted with N the entire train and bus ride home about why I could/could not quit graduate school before I even began it. That I’m a good writer, even though I’m totally out of my element; that my skill does not change just because I’ve relocated.

That new is okay, and that this oversight was an honest mistake.

It was decided at the end of our conversation that Overwhelmed will replace August as the name for this month.

Becca is a character I have always wanted to come back to. I think that’s why I keep the draft around. I pull it out once in a while and read her comments again. I thought when I first got the draft back that she had something personal against me. But now that I’m grown up, and a much better writer, I can see that she only wanted me to be the best that I could be. The A minus wasn’t bad, per say, but rather, a lesson that I would not always be perfect the first time out of the gate. However, my best self will adjust, just like my writing adjusted and grew from what I learned from Becca and Mrs. H. And giving up would mean I would never learn; if I had never come back to “Searching for Becca Fischer,” never revised it, never seriously read the comments, I would have learned nothing. I would never have grown.

Brace yourselves. September is coming. 

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One thought on “My First Real Graduate School Experience

  1. I have started post-grad and believe me I feel completely lost. Something similar to what happened to you, happened to me, as well. Hang in there, please.

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