I see it…do you?
It’s just within reach and I’m almost there…the proverbial finish line to my Ph.D.
That’s right folks, I’m graduating.
To say that this has been an easy journey, one that many of you have read about and witnessed, would be an understatement. For many of us, that finish line is far away or getting there seems more like a hope and dream rather than a reality. Whether or not it is because of economic hardships, life in general, or the regular types of “isms” that so many of us face while trying to better ourselves via academic enrichment, the struggle is real.
I’ve seen many of my friends come and go through this process and many of them are still there, running right along beside, behind, or ahead of me and we’ve all been pulling for each other to get to this spot for so long. I wrote a piece a year or so ago on this blog called: “I’m Failing” because I wanted to talk about how life or the internalized struggle we all face oftentimes gets in the way of us achieving the tasks that we have on our long to-do lists. I realized that in my failure, came multiple opportunities for personal, professional and spiritual growth that I would not have achieved had I not failed at maintaining a regimented schedule of completing my Ph.D. I wouldn’t be where I am today without failure and that is something that I want each of you to realize here today: to succeed is to fail and to fail is to succeed. The mystery that each presents us with is in and of itself the definition of the adage: “the beauty is in the details.”
So, now for the mushy part: whenever I thought I would not finish my Ph.D. or that it became too hard I remember my going away party in Oshkosh, WI and specifically my grandmother, Gladys Hritsko, who although she wanted me to achieve my dreams, did not want me to move to California. My grandmother was and will always be my true best friend. She was my friend before I ever knew what friends where and she is the impetus for why I will continue to be a women’s rights advocate until the day I die. She picked me up from school every day (yes, even when I had my driver’s license, she would still sometimes pick me up) and we would go on our adventures. Whether that was to a meeting of the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars), Harmonica Rascals practice (she was an avid harmonica player and even taught me), or just simply driving through the countryside to experience the gentle beauties that are Wisconsin, my whole life was defined by a woman who always told me: “you can do and become whatever you want in life and if you need me, I’ll always be right here.”
My grandmother was not afraid to share her opinions but during my party, she was unusually quiet (very unlike her). It wasn’t until we were all talking about my trip and it came time for her to talk she burst into tears and said: “I don’t want you to go.” Although I know she knew I had to go (and that she was proud of me), that moment has always stuck in the back of my head whenever I thought I could not do or accomplish something mainly because moving to California took me away from spending the last year with my grandmother (she died approximately one year after I started at Claremont Graduate University) and ultimately, led to my not being able to be with my best friend, because I was setting out on an adventure to find myself and discover my true path in this crazy world.
I’ve never been much of a religious person. However, if there is one thing that I do believe it is this: it’s taken me a while to get here and I’ve experienced things and met people that have changed my life in so many ways. And now, as I am right before the finish line and sprinting towards the finish (and writing a blog entry when I should be editing), I know that when I cross that line in May, Gladys will be there to welcome me to the other side of what will now be my life as Dr. John Erickson.
So, my advice to all of you out there still struggling or working hard to get to and past that finish line: find your Gladys.
John Erickson is a Ph.D. Candidate in American Religious History and holds two MA’s from Claremont Graduate University. John serves as a commissioner on the California Commission on the Status of Women. He is President of the Hollywood Chapter for the National Organization for Women, a boardmember for the City of West Hollywood’s Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board, a board member for the ACLU of Southern California, the Legislative Action Chair for Stonewall Democratic Club, and a board member for the National Organization for Women.