Tuesday, May 28, 2013

DAH 301 to Washington-Grizzly Stadium: two years of graduate life start to finish.

I was 22 when I walked those six blocks to get to the Don Anderson Hall, room 301. School wasn't in session yet. It was that orientation week for new students and boy, did we need it. Fresh out of mother India, I was prepared to take this head on. Even so, not once did it strike me that on the very first day of orientation, we would have to venture out on a strange campus, find and interview strange people for our very first assignment. No rose petals, no bushes to beat around. They had come straight to the point. My life as a journalism graduate student had begun the moment I walked into that building.

For the two years that followed, "that" building took multiple forms - home, hideout, rescue center and therapy clinic among others. It was four floors of absolute madness. A madness that I now think was too short-lived.

In these last two years, I have probably learned more than I ever did before and not just in academic terms. I have never lived alone even though my personality isn't one to press the panic button, it was quite an experience. I had never lived in a place with less than a million people - for starters. Pune, my hometown, caters to about eight million people. Missoula, has about 60,000 people - a statistic I don't believe but I have to give state's census figures some credit. I'd believe someone if they said Missoula has like 2000 people. For perspective, the entire state of Montana crossed the one million population mark only last year. So Pune has about eight times the number of people in all of Montana. Yup, exactly.

I had never lived in a place where it snows for six months (modest). I'll admit I thoroughly enjoyed the snow - until it got to my bones and froze the life out of me. I didn't go skiing or snow-boarding or snow-shoeing because I'm not very fond of making a complete fool out of myself. And if I must, I can do that on flat land. There's something that is so beautiful about snow that it makes you want to just stand in it, knee-deep, with your snow boots and parka on, and stare at it till your eyes dry out from the cold. I remember waking up one weekend last year, looking out the door. I felt my eyes widen and my jaw drop before I turned back, ran to get my camera and started clicking like mad as if it was all a dream that was going to go *poof* any second. That is the magic of snow. It makes a 22-year-old feel like a child inside.

The first year of graduate school was like military boot camp. Tough as hell. Long nights that spilled over into the next morning so often that I had lost the ability to keep track of day, date and time. There were no weekdays, no Mondays or Thursdays or even Saturdays. It was all just one big mass, a continual time loop where everyday was a working day and there were no holidays. Oh, holidays! The ones we did have, like winter break or spring break, were more frustrating than regular days. Three times the usual work load with at least two final papers or mid-terms due at the end. I have never felt so fluctuated in my life. Yes, that's actually a physical state of being - you'll know when you're here.

Of all the classes I took, there is only one that I wish I could somehow crumple up like waste paper and throw it out of sight. Ok, I hated it. You would too if you put an obscene amount of work into something that wasn't even your major and should have been way easier than the other PhD level course you had to get through. Oh, and if after all that jazz, you got a big dull dud of a D on it. Yuck.

I will say though, that my other classes were absolutely fantastic. To be very honest, this is the first time since being in school that I have enjoyed putting myself through physical, emotional and mental conditions that were never probably never meant for human beings. Ok, I am exaggerating it - only a tad. It has been a sweet pain. I hated papers and assignments when they would actually be due but it would be weird if I didn't. The learning experience, the opportunities to have healthy group discussions, the intellectual challenges and moreover, the people - have surpassed every expectation I could have had.

This second year has been more diverse and cooler than boot camp year. Fewer credits sure helped. Having the thesis to do did not. That's balance for you. But I had a lot more going on this year. Diversity groups, international student groups, activities, lectures, presentations, interviews, dinners, festivals, the whole shebang. A lot more spice and flavor to life this year - embedded in memory for years to come.

I'd say we have all come a long way - all of us journalism grads. - since day 1. From 2am huddles to piece a story together to walking up to a stage dressed in black gowns and caps to get our awesome (did you see the others?!) hoods from our committee chairs. All of us, with our different personalities, our different 'zing' elements, are going to go out there and make those four floors proud.

First semester Master's project proposals saw scores of transformations this year and we all came into our own. Heading out to report with all the gear, finding sources, interviews, more interviews, hours and hours of tape, piecing the story, writing up a rough outline and then - close to ten drafts of a final project that we stood up and publicly defended - successfully defended.

What a process this has been! Moreover, what a month this has been. I don't care very much for birthdays but I will say this one has been spectacular.

Thesis defense, graduation, turning 24 on a snow-covered lake-front surrounded with Montana's marvelous wilderness in the company of family. Perfect? I'd love to say yes but we all know that would be untrue.

And now, with two whole years of memories and learning behind me, I stare at a "Stop" sign on the corner of a street as the background changes from bright blue sunny skies to thick grey rain clouds within minutes.
Cars go by in either direction. Birds go about their usual business. The sun tries to peep through the clouds creating an aura of heavenly light. And me? I sit and draw out plans for my future, periodically glancing sideways at the "Stop" sign.

A sign to literally stop, look left and right, wait for traffic to pass and then enter your lane of choice carefully. Pretty much what I have to do from here on. No more school. No more classes or deadline assignments or thesis drafts or dangerously high doses of coffee.

Given current market situations and general circumstances - finding a decent job is going to be nothing short of a Himalayan expedition with limited oxygen supplies and deathly cliffs and crevices that one must avoid falling off/into.

I embarked on this expedition almost exactly 10 days ago when my identity changed from being a "Master's STUDENT in environmental journalism" to a 'Journalist'. The moment when all candidates for Master's degrees stood up as the President of the University of Montana verbally conferred our degrees on us has gone down in my history. The history of who I am. And as Jim Messina so efficiently put it that rainy morning in the Washington-Grizzly Stadium, it's always about moving "on to the next".

On to the next it is. The 'student' bids adieu as the 'journalist' emerges to stretch her wings and take flight.

Thank you to the unforgettable people who have made these two years the most memorable years of my life - you know who you are and you know you have a loyal friend, student, community member and peer in me all because you have been so darned awesome. Big shout out to y'all. My credentials may have changed but I'm still me. And we will always be 'we'.

Go Griz! (We know tributes are incomplete without serious acknowledgment of the school mascot, especially because I'm sitting in bobcat country as I write this!) ;)