Friday, May 16, 2014

Why Grad School, Why Now?

"Oh, you're going to grad school? Why?"

I can't tell you how many people have asked me this question, and I suppose it's a valid one. People aren't necessarily being nosy or rude, this is a perfectly polite question to ask when people are getting to know me. But the answer is still always kind of complicated, and more than I can really explain in a short conversation with passing acquaintances.

Usually, people have two reactions when they find out I'm going to grad school:

Some people assume I'm doing this to get back into teaching, or go on for a doctorate, or jump start my career in some way. And the answer is, no. Probably not. With young kids at home, I have no plans to go back to teaching (yet) or get a doctorate (yet) or work on maintaining any kind of career, but that's difficult to explain because otherwise, what's the point of paying for grad school?

Other people, the ones familiar with Mormon culture and the expectation for women to stay home with the kids (especially when their husbands have very suitable jobs that provide very well for a young family), are just confused. Raised eyebrows. Question marks. Because why on earth would I waste the money we could be using to save for a house to pay tuition? Why would I shuffle my child around to various babysitters and disrupt our family life like this? What's the point?

The short answer I usually give both groups of people is that a maser's degree is just on my life's bucket list of goals. Something I want to do. That answer tends to satisfy most people, even if they are still a little confused about my timing.

And while that short answer is completely true in every way, the long answer is a bit more complicated. The long answer is that I'm not really sure why I needed to go to grad school right now other than it felt like a very right decision, and that every step of the way has been guided by what I can only describe as God's hand. I still don't know why God wants this experience for me right now. I'm not sure if he's just interested in my personal growth, or if there's a larger plan in play here, but I have definitely felt divine guidance in this whole process.

As I sit back and reflect on my first semester, I can already see ways I've personally grown. I grew up in Utah, I never went on a mission, and I attended BYU for undergrad, so most of my life, and the development of my faith and intellect, happened in a fairly sheltered environment where people totally accepted that religious faith and intellectual advancement could coexist peacefully in one person. Now, going to a graduate school outside of Utah, I've experienced the complete opposite. In my various classes, I saw a range of opinions expressed, from my non-religious professor who specializes in Bible studies and holds a very deep respect for believers even though he isn't one of them, to the very liberal professor who vehemently and caustically attacked religious belief in any form. I found myself in the very new-to-me situation of defending spiritual belief in an academic setting, and I can't say that I always had the words or the courage to defend myself. In fact, for being a literature program at a state university, I'm seriously surprised in general how much class time was devoted to the discussion of religion and belief. I've been stretched and pushed to think about my belief in new ways, and to find the language to defend it academically. It's an interesting challenge.

But it wasn't all testing and defending faith. I also had some deeply uplifting experiences with some of the things I read and some of our class discussions, especially as I learned about other religions and philosophies. For example, my experience reading The Faerie Queene opened up a whole new way for me to conceive of the virtue of chastity, and it is quite beautiful. Honestly, I wish that epic poem were a little more accessible to modern readers, because if I'm ever called to be in the Young Women's program, I'm totally going to teach my girls about Britomart. Spenser created one of the most brilliant allegories on chastity I've ever encountered in that text. I know the teenage girls will think I'm weird, but I'm not kidding. It's beautiful stuff, once you wade through the archaic language and strange narrative structure.

So it's definitely been a growing experience, but one I am deeply grateful to be in the middle of. I feel there is so much more for me to learn and discover and think about, and I'm still feeling excited that this opportunity is mine right now (despite what a grueling semester it was). It's hard and stressful, but still such a blessing.

Anyway, I've probably rambled enough for one post. So I should stop now. But thanks for giving me some space to think through all of my experiences with grad school. There's more to come, for sure.

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