Yesterday morning, I graduated from Brooklyn College with a Master of Science in Media Studies. I've never felt so happy, gratified and, most importantly, relieved to finish school in my life. Graduating with a Master's degree is a tremendous accomplishment for me primarily due to the fact that for many years I loathed the idea of higher education.
It wasn't until my final semester of undergrad that I felt inspired enough to pursue my Master's. Due to unforeseen circumstances and inconveniences, it took me a while to graduate with my Bachelor's; this was the reason for my resentment towards higher education. I spent my college years transferring to another school merely to transfer back, never being able to register for classes I needed to graduate which thus resulted in switching majors. However, my final weeks in college helped me realize my potential, as well as helping me identify a passion I never formerly knew I had. It was then that I considered the idea of becoming a professor to motivate students who were once like me. Although at the moment, I am too mentally exhausted to pursue a doctorate, the possibility is still there.
So, why did I choose to tell this short story? I decided to write this post because I was not alone. I was not the only student who had nuances with the education system. However, my story isn't much of a story at all. My experience is one that is similar to many others. Fortunately for me, those circumstances never uprooted my life. Those problems can very much be termed as "first world problems." It is for that reason that I want to share the long essay of a caption I posted for a graduation photo on my social media accounts.
"I have mastered the science of media studies!
I don’t have a story. I don’t have a magical tale of how I rose to success or fought tooth and nail to get to where I am today. Yes, I’ve had multiple breakdowns, and I struggled towards the end but I never once had to worry about where my next plate of food was coming from or if I was even going to eat. I never had to worry about not having money to pay bills or rent. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been afforded the opportunities granted to me.
However, not everyone has the same privilege I have. Not everyone can afford to attend graduate school, let alone college (it sure helps that CUNY’s tuition doesn’t cost an arm and a leg). I want to take this opportunity to say that I’m proud of anyone who has taken life’s sourest lemons and made something resembling lemonade. Whether or not you hold a college degree or a high school diploma, know that your level of education does not define you. It’s unfortunate that we live in a time (and a country) where access to education is a privilege and not a right. Please recognize that not having a degree does not mean you’re less than anyone else. No one experience is the same. It’s important to acknowledge that everyone’s journey is different.
It’s also important to acknowledge that there are many factors at play that can hinder people from receiving higher education; this could be a result of systematic disadvantages or merely having come across challenging times. Whatever the case may be, I hope that no one feels inadequate during graduation season. I say this because all too often we are bombarded with images of success from the outside looking in. Seeing others commemorate their accomplishments can render feelings of anxiety and depression. I want to remind you and anyone else reading this essay that you shouldn’t belittle your achievements. Do not compare your life to mine or anyone else’s. Do not allow social media to discourage you. You are more than enough."
Graduations should be celebrated just as they are intended. Students work vigorously to obtain their degrees regardless of the level. This is their time to be recognized and commemorated for their accomplishments. However, I couldn't help but think of all the people who see photos and videos of other people's achievements and think of how they haven't done enough.
I felt it was necessary to recognize the various struggles that people endure without our acknowledgment. It isn't uncommon for people to look down on those who have not received higher education or do not hold a specific job title, and are ultimately judged as though they are beneath them. It is that assumption that causes many individuals to feel insecure and inadequate; thus leading to feelings of anxiety and depression.
Ignoring the issue of mental health would be easy. Still, I felt it was a personal responsibility to use the time and platform I have to express concern for those who may not want to speak for themselves. My intent is not to deter anyone from celebrating their achievements but to be cognizant of the people around them. Check on your friends, talk to them, encourage them and be supportive. Most importantly, do not minimize your efforts just because someone else is "living their best life." Everyone's path is different. Find yours.