Now What?

So yesterday was the big day. Talk about Antique Antics!

Convocation. Cap ‘n gown. The ceremony. The walk. It was a day of pride and satisfaction, and reflection, and even as I was seated in the auditorium enjoying the speeches and the parade of talent crossing the dais, I was thinking about the journey. 

And what a journey! From orientation to classes, from research, methodology and the finer points of my assignments I cannot overstate the personal importance of this journey. My trip through the minefields of communications and culture has brought me to a far greater understanding of the benefits and pitfalls of modern technology. We all know what we like about it, but do we really understand the price that we pay for our freedoms? Anyway, that’s a subject for another time.

The ceremony went off without a hitch – I managed to get across the dais without tripping and falling flat on my face. It was nice. I was never nervous. I felt good in my cap and gown. I have to say that a strange sort of calm settled over me during the ceremony which I identify as pride, at being there, and getting it right. I missed distinction by a hair’s-breadth in my GPA, but that doesn’t really bother me. I still got it done, and with room to spare.

As I climbed up on the dais my favourite prof was there, giving students instructions. She smiled wide when she saw me, said “hey, look who’s here!” and actually gave me a hug. Later she told me there were only two students she hugged – me and a PhD student she’s also rather fond of. She hunted me down after the ceremony too, and just about the first thing she told me – in the presence of my loving friends and family – was that she really thinks I should carry on with my Masters and a PhD.

Well, let me tell you: when I went out the door yesterday morning I was not thinking about further education. I was trying to figure out my work future – how to get a job with my eminent but quirky combination of degrees and experience. I was thinking about what I would need to do to either negotiate with the system and find employment, or blow right past it and create something for myself. 

But now the idea of a Masters is oddly intriguing to me. Hearing that I can do it from a distance (technology makes this possible) means my family’s plans to move don’t have to change. Understanding how willing my Prof is to supervise me makes me feel really, really appreciated – frankly, more so than I’ve felt in years. Believe me, it’s a recognition far beyond what I expected to enjoy yesterday, and it is causing me to revisit some of my other, less positive relationships.

We’re going to have coffee sometime soon to discuss it a little more. Meantime I’m researching the cost and the availability of grants, and even without them I’m trying to figure out how it would look for me, financially and logistically.

So maybe this blog isn’t winding down after all. Perhaps there’s a whole new process about to unfold. Having secured the Bachelor’s, maybe there’s something a little more in-depth coming. If I do it, it will be thesis-based and I’ll start sooner rather than later – I don’t want to forget everything I learned chasing down the Bachelor’s. But there’s information to gather and I need a lot of answers before I make that commitment. 

Here’s the Old Fart on Convocation Day. Not too bad for forty-nine. I’m twice as old as the students I graduated with, but my mind is still young. 

Thanks for joining me on this exhilarating journey. If we all hold our tongues just right, there might just be more.

 

Silence

 

Broken Dreams, Broken Hearts

I never dreamed that I would be writing a post like this, just days after finishing my studies.

I never dreamed on Monday when I was driving through the university grounds and past the annual celebration of Bermuda Shorts Day that twelve hours later some of my fellow students would be gone.

I never dreamed when I drove from the university to a Brentwood drug store and looked into the grocery store beside it that in twelve short hours a young man would walk out of there and change the lives of hundreds of people forever.

I am still dumbfounded by yesterday’s events – the senseless murder of five young students who were only doing what I was doing – decompressing after a long semester. I was shocked when I heard about it, and I’m still shocked – at the loss as well as at the level of violence that was so unexpected.

There isn’t a lot I can say. I’ve been able to confirm that I did not personally know any of the students involved, but that doesn’t help much. The fact is, they were siblings in study, and they did not deserve for this to happen.

Senseless. Sad. Shocking.

Don’t ever doubt it. There is pressure in university life. Youngsters must live up to the standards of a lot of different people even as they try to establish who they are in the world. They work very hard to figure out what is needed, and the best way to get it done. At the same time they are working hard emotionally to finish their own personal foundations and launch themselves into a successful life. Pressures come from everywhere. There is nothing easy about the university experience. It is a purification by fire that no one can fully appreciate until they have gone through it.

I contacted the university as a mature student and offered to volunteer in any way needed. They thanked me, but they do of course have professionals handling it. “Reach out to your community,” they said, so I am.

Pray for the victims and their families, and for the perpetrator and his family. Then reach out to people you know who you feel might be dealing with stress. Make sure they know that you care, and that you can spare time to listen if they need it.

And you: if you need to talk, I’m here to listen. Contact me. I’ve felt and dealt with overwhelming stress in my time, and I can attest to the fact that simply talking about it – no matter what it is – exposes it to the air and makes it seem less important. Two heads are better than one. There’s strength in numbers.

Talk.

No one is completely alone.

You are welcome to re-blog this post if it strikes a chord with you.

* * * * *

Visit the University of Calgary website for further information.

Click here for a gallery of images honouring the victims of this tragedy.

The Last Paper

What can I say? It’s all done, now, but the crying. I always said I’d get it done, and I did. Here’s the final paper:

I actually had trouble whittling my way down to a thesis statement on this one. I had so much material on my desk and in my mind that I just couldn’t narrow it down sufficiently to the kind of paper it was supposed to be. So I spoke to Dr. L and in about fifteen minutes all my stuff was lined up in my mind and my ideas were focused. 

At least, I think they were. 

At that point it took shape quickly. Two solid days for extra reading, two for a rough first draft, then concerted hacking, slashing, groaning, picking, head-shaking, corner-rounding and tightening, until I thought it was fit for ink. 

I emailed the prof – huzzah! – and went in to the university to drop it off in the office – four days early – and ever since then I’ve been cleaning house.

Now I wait to find out my final grades, await my convocation details (June 10th, 930am) and go and do what I skipped out on the first time around – trip on my gown going up the stairs to the dais to accept my prize flat on my face.

Things have felt different since I handed the paper in. At first I thought that was the old “oh my gosh, I’m on holiday now” thing, but that’s not it. I’ve been pondering, and I think I know what it is now. 

Once I graduate, I won’t be young anymore. 

The kids I worked with were overwhelmingly good and patient and welcoming, and appreciative of the old fart back in school – they made me feel like I belonged. Sharing in the pressures of the work, it seldom occurred to me that I was nearly thirty years older than them. I was always just one of the kids. 

But now, with the completion of this paper, with this passage, I have to return to my own time of life. Sure, there’s hope in my outlook, and excitement, and ambition, but let’s face it: the world is not my oyster. The decisions I make are not setting the course for an entire life, only for what I have left. The stakes are lower for me, and yet because retirement looms they might actually be higher.

One thing is for sure: with graduation and convocation this little journey is winding down, and so is this blog. It’s never been the busiest of blogs, but I think it said what needed to be said – when it needed to be said. 

So what’s next? We’re moving. The idea was born about a year ago and has been growing ever since, and frankly I can’t think of a better way to celebrate a graduation than with a truly fresh start. The process and the result will be the subject of my next blog.

I do hope you’ll tag along. 

A few thoughts for improvement

When I filled out the survey recently I thought I was being given a chance to air some thoughts. Of course, I’m not labouring in any mistaken belief that my thoughts in particular will be considered – I know that surveys are taken as data en mass rather than individualistically. There is no single person – most of the time – poring over the carefully entered and edited loving comments and ideas submitted by survey participants. 

Knowing this, I’ve always intended that toward the end of my time in university I would leave a few salient thoughts for the university here. It seems as good a place as any. I’ve never seen an idea box on campus, so I guess this will have to do. 

So here we go:

  1. Clean clean clean! The University of Calgary is not a cleaned place. Read that carefully. It’s not cleaned – at all – as near as I can tell. There are stains on the floor in the brand new Taylor Family Digital Library that were there when I arrived in 2011! Oh, I know they empty garbages, but floors are not mopped, tables are not wiped, stains are not removed, and it’s all really rather unpleasant. Sad that this should be my first thought on completion of my degree program – such a small point, really – but important to the overall enjoyment of time spent on campus. 
  2. Reduce waste. U of C tells everyone it wants to be environmentally friendly, but there are things that they could do to reduce waste. For example, I can’t count the number of times I’ve written four-line answers in quizzes using a booklet of twenty pages! There just isn’t anything efficient about that! The booklets can’t be re-used and re-cycling is up to the student. I wrote an Email two years ago to the President, suggesting the Profs be given an option for single sheets of paper rather than a whole booklet. I never did hear back. 
  3. Weekend hours are strange. The library doesn’t open until 10am on weekends, and yet most students who want and need to get work done get up much earlier than that. 
  4. Renovations. Do I need to bitch about marble floors in the administration areas when students are always being asked to pay more?
  5. Quiet spaces. The top three floors of the library are designated quiet areas, but there are so many students in there rubbing shoulders that it really doesn’t work out that way. I would ask that students be provided with additional areas where they can work without having to enjoy their neighbours’ coughing and conversation. That would be on my Christmas wish list. How about the old Mackimmie Library? It’s closed right now, and has been since I arrived, but as near as I can tell it would be quite easy to gut most of the walls from it, put down carpet tile, throw in some chairs and desks and let people get to work. There aren’t any structural issues so I’m not sure why this wouldn’t be an option.
  6. Actual shelters at the bus loop would be nice. The way it is, people have to stand in the cold and wind and rain and snow to wait for a bus there. Bus shelters wouldn’t have to be heated, but they would at least keep folks out of the wind. Just because we’re young, doesn’t mean we won’t freeze when the bus is behind its time. 😛
  7. More choice in the Food Court. I know there are massive renovations coming, and I imagine that’s in the works, but – you know – Jeez!
  8. Smoking areas. I used to smoke, so I don’t ignore the need that some people have to tank up on nicotine in their breaks, but there are supposedly rules about smoking at entrances to buildings. Even so, if I wanted to start a ciggy-butt collection that is where I would go. Create sheltered places where the smokers can mill around away from the entrances and building air intakes, and thus keep everyone happy. No, really.
  9. Web system. Between My U of C and Blackboard, the whole set up is not intuitive. I was told every year that I could choose and book my courses online, but I didn’t because it’s too damn hard to figure out what you’re looking at. I always went in and sat down with the awesome, patient, understanding Maria in Student Services to make sure I got my courses booked without error. It’s true there way be an old fart element at work here, but I maintain it’s why I’m graduating soon – I’m on track because Maria kept me on track, all the way along. I spoke to at least three students who thought they were finishing but found out that courses they took didn’t count. So how does that make sense?
  10. More power outlets for devices. Honestly, the old lecture halls and even the newly renovated Social Science building are woefully deficient in this area. You have to get to class early just so you can sit near an outlet!
Other than these simple gripes my experience at U of C has been awesome. Almost completely awesome. Just the right amount of mind-blowing, head-numbing, eye-rubbing stress, and silliness in all the right proportions. The fact that I’m an old fart has been an issue in some areas, but has bought me some credibility in others. The fact is, even though the university guarantees they will get every student through it, there is nothing particularly easy about getting a degree. Oh sure, you figure out a method after a while, but you still have to do the work. It always comes down to the work. 
 
That’s what I’m dealing with now, working on my last ever paper. My feet are already in the exit doorway, but my mind keeps saying “hold on, I’m not done yet!” I still have work to put in to this final paper, and frankly, it’s being bloody difficult. As always, I’ll get it done, but a simple paper is being perhaps as big of a challenge as I have faced in my entire time at the University of Calgary. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The Experiment

Alright, the experiment is over.

I’m a disciplined, self-starting kind of guy, but this is ridiculous. So here’s what I’m going to do. 

Starting next week I’m going in to the campus a couple of days a week to work in the library. I’m doing my best at home, and I’m getting stuff done, but there are just too many distractions – a TV, a radio, a dog to walk, a meal to cook, and I feel really lazy and house-bound staying at home all the time. The temptation to wallow is just too great.  

To enable discipline I need structure. Discipline builds more easily in a focused environment where everyone has the same goal – one like the school library. I know the traveling is a pain in the apple, but there’s simply nothing else for it.

I’m just glad it has taken me only two weeks to figure this out.

 

Now, here’s a topical shout

Grammar is one of my buttons.

History

I just finished my history paper. It was only ten pages in length, but I think it was the most difficult paper I’ve ever had to write. Why is this, you ask? Let me tell you, I answer.

They scare the bejeebers out of you about plagiarism. I’ve never plagiarized or cheated in my life, and the thought wouldn’t even occur to me, but the literature basically says you have to reference every idea that is not your own, or face the wrath of the judiciary! Well, kick me and call me a cowboy, but is there any such thing as a unique idea in a history paper? Surely everything we learn came from someone else!

Sigh. 

Not. Allowed. To. Use. The. Textbooks. 

For some reason the $60 text books are not good enough to be used as sources for this paper. I have no objection to doing research, but the text book should at least be a starting point. The reason given is that they are not peer-reviewed and footnoted, but does that make them inaccurate?

Sigh. 

I had a really hard time organizing my thoughts on this one, and not repeating myself. This is a big deal. Usually I can set paragraphs and talk up a storm, but this time it was hard to organize. Even as I’m writing this I’m trying to figure out why this is and I think because it’s history, and the salient points are relevant in all different directions. Something like this… ‘The decree of 1832 was an influencing factor in the dictum of 1874, and caused Sir Bolt to react as a total loonie against the Foofar tribe of Borneo whose primary modus operandum was the feeding of their families and the pursuit of the Decree of 1832.” You get the picture – it works in all different directions and my poor brain had a hard time, this time, compartmentalizing it. Believe me, I can’t wait for the next paper – it’s a simple, supported opinion piece. 

Sigh.

Chicago style citations. Citations in general drive me crazy, although I do understand their purpose, but most of my degree program has required APA style, so to suddenly throw Chicago at me now I consider a definite hardship. I don’t mind using footnotes – in fact I think they’re pretty cool – but the other stuff is just meshuga. 

Sigh.

Oh, and I had a nasty cold.

Speaking of the next papers – there are two of them due next Tuesday. Each has its challenges, but I’m sure that neither one will vex me like the history paper did. 

It occurred to me today that it’s November the 13th. That means that as of tomorrow there are precisely three weeks left in this semester. Man, how the time flies!

Here’s a picture. Sorry, I couldn’t afford a proper frame. I’m just a struggling student. 

Quiet Study Area

 

 

Presentation

Tomorrow is presentation day. My cohort and I are planning to regale the audience with tales of Open Science and trust in scientific delivery, and digitization of scientific content for consumption by various audiences. It’s going to be soooooo cool (please forgive the italics).

Gratuitous library shot

I should be nervous, but I’m really not. My toastmasters experience has helped with that: “Just picture them naked,” they told me. “Just pretend that the audience is nervous too.” Of course, I do this, but more to the point is that after two years in school I’ve been through this enough times that I know it will pass, and that no matter what happens the world will not end. Knowing this actually (usually) helps me relax, with the happy result that I get through it well enough to…  Well, you get my drift. 

Anyway, I’ve spent the better part of the last two days, and more, plugging away at the whys and the whatnots and the wherefores, and with any luck twenty-four hours from now I’ll be relieved and content. 

That’s certainly the goal.

 

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