Friday, October 11, 2013

Matriculation Day

by Lyndsey Graves

I’ve been repeatedly exhorted to come to chapel in order to hear my name called. About eight-five of us, new students all, stand one by one as our names are read and we are officially recognized as members of the Boston University School of Theology.

New faculty and Distinguished Alumni are also recognized today. We are told that graduates of the school are currently serving as Ivy League professors, renowned writers, bishops, and inner city pastors. Patron saint and Ultimate Alumnus Martin Luther King, Jr. is invoked. And now my name has been listed alongside these illustrious people; I am supposed to feel inspired.

I am terrified.

Barely six months ago, I finished my nerve-wracking applications for school and financial aid. In a year, I’ll start them all over again, this time for Ph.D. programs. Then there will be a job search, a quest for tenure, for endowed professorships, conference invitations, Distinguished Alumni awards. I will never run out of things to compete for - gold stars to earn.

I like to talk about how I just want to live in community and bake people biscuits. But really, I also want my name in lights; my name on a book; accomplishments stacked on a CV like fishing trophies. I want other people to tell me that my life’s work mattered. I had forgotten, but I’m officially back on A Career Path after my Year Off, looking up at people on a stage with their credentials and achievements in a program on heavy cream-colored paper. I remember now the part of myself that will always want to be the best, that feels compelled by my very privilege to make the most of opportunity. But I’m also suffocated by self-doubt and anxiety, wondering if I can make it, wondering if it’s even worth it. Is there such a thing as “making it”? Is anything ever enough? Is there a career ladder, or just a career treadmill?

Talk of “vocation” seems to be out of fashion, but I can’t shake my belief that God is calling me to an academic career (alongside the biscuit thing), and I am meant to follow. But what does that look like? Am I going to get caught up in the trappings of Theology and Academia and forget about God and prayer? As much as I want to say the solution is just to step off the treadmill, I don’t plan to stop aiming for excellence and working hard. I have to learn to work with the system.

I’m pretty sure there’s not really a “solution” as much as there will be a constant struggle for perspective in all this. To be content to let obscurity shape me, without resigning myself to mediocrity in something that is, for me, a form of worship. To seek joy and purpose in each stage of life, rather than expecting them to come in the next. To learn to win and lose gracefully. To give what I can to my work, without seeking all my validation from it. 

It’s a lesson I’ve resigned myself to learning and re-learning forever: that there will be enough. Scarcity is an illusion; what I do not have, I do not need - money, professional fulfillment, others’ admiration. Each day has enough trouble and happiness of its own. Especially this day. I’ve got 400 pages to read. 

Lyndsey lives in Boston, MA where she is pursuing her Master's in Theological Studies at Boston University. She enjoys Community, Mad Men and Beauty and the Beast and her spirit animal is a sloth. She would like to know if this is some kind of interactive theater art piece. You can follow her on Twitter @lyndseygraves and you can find more of her writing at her blog To Be Honest.

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