Some Stones Unturned

Knitting, Biking and Some Sober Second Thoughts

Graduation: Second Time’s the Charm

Friday was the convocation ceremony for my PhD. I had initially though I wouldn’t go because I’ve done it before for undergrad and I celebrated after my defense and there would be so many people. But then someone else from my program who graduated last year recommended going and I thought “Well my parents will be excited to see it and get some pictures,” but actually it was really nice and I’m so glad I went.

It was a beautiful day to start with. And then a friend who actually started a post-doc in the UK last September and defended in December flew back in for it so I got to see her. My Dad had already joked that it was like Harry Potter because I took them to the bathrooms in Med Sci and I never noticed but the sign for the men’s bathroom directs you through the wall, like platform 9 ¾. Then you show up and there are robes and the marshalling room where you check in is this great hall-esque room with high ceilings and two guys in robes at a big table with a stained glass window behind them.

I have to say that I don’t have the greatest record when it comes to uplifting speeches by the honourary graduand. This one was Michael Kirby on the poor state of mental health care. And my undergrad was Gwynne Dyer talking about global warming and how like 80% of the world could end up underwater. However, the pre-convocation organizational speech to get everyone in order and into the hall was very entertaining:

“Frequently asked questions, in order of importance. #1-Where is the bathroom? Through this door. Don’t go until I’m done with the rest of the info. #2-How do I put on this stupid hood?” Then he climbed on the table and proceed to describe the process, finishing with “You might try to pull it up, but you’ll notice it’s weighted to the back. This is because it’s designed to look good from one angle and one angle only. That is the back, which is what people will spend most of the time staring at when you shake the chancellor or President’s hand. If it feels like you’re being strangled by a very weak person, you’ve got it on right.”
U of T also graduates people in 2s – a handshake from the Chancellor or the President-for maximum efficiency. Pictures at the side of the stage by the mace. Through the hall to sign for and pick up your diploma, grad picture with the fake diploma. Grad picture without the diploma. Say your name into the recorder please. Bam Bam Bam Bam. You’re done. This was also part of the organizational speech.
“Everyone should have a white card with their name and a number on it and I apologize for this but to us, for the next hour or so, you are that number. Hey, it’s U of T. You knew what you were getting when you signed up.”
Anyway, we got in line in the marshalling room and the super-efficient marshaller who did the seating made a very sweet little speech about today is about you, but it’s not just about you. For many of you, you might be the first person in your family to graduate with a Masters or a PhD or from University at all. And that was possible because your parents maybe went to University and then worked hard. And that was possible for them because their parents worked hard. And so this is really all the culmination of the work of a few generations of people, together, and maybe reflect on that as we walk across the grass to convocation hall. I don’t usually go in for the whole American dream thing, but I got a little choked up.
Afterward, outside for a zillion pictures, get your diploma frame and cram onto the subway with your flowers at 5 pm on a Friday. Wheeee.
Grad flowers

They made it home through the rush hour crush intact. Thanks Mom and Dad.

Anyway, I just want to add a bit about Michael Kirby’s speech. He is the chair of the Mental Health Commission of Canada and his speech included some staggering statistics about mental health, particularly in Universities (over half of students are stressed and overwhelmed; 7% have contemplated suicide). This is actually the fourth time that mental illness and suicide have come up in a short period for me, including a friend who was shocked when a friend of hers committed suicide recently.

So I just want to say, because the numbers indicate that it really doesn’t get said often enough: if you know some one who is depressed, please take it seriously. I don’t think it is really possible to extrapolate from our own experience of being down for a few weeks to the kind of experience where you contemplate ending your own life. So the things that work to cheer you up aren’t going to work for someone who is depressed and you might need to encourage that person to seek more help than you can give.

And if you are depressed, please know that you’re not alone, not by a long shot  these numbers would suggest, and that although I can’t really understand what you’re going through, there is no reason to be ashamed or to think that you shouldn’t get help, that you will be a bother to people by asking or that you don’t deserve help. And if no one in your life understands what you’re saying or knows what to do, well I’m not sure exactly what to do as it probably depends on location, but your doctor or a hospital should have resources or links to the mental health community. Kirby was focusing on notmyselftoday.ca, which is a way for Canadians to support this cause, including by changing the way mental health is viewed and spreading the word. I know raising awareness has developed something of a bad rap for some causes, but in this case it really is a big part of a solution because the stigma attached to mental illness, not just depression but psychoses and substance abuse as well, is making people afraid to seek help or even admit they have a problem. Please let’s all try to be more aware and sympathetic when someone comes to us for an ear.

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One thought on “Graduation: Second Time’s the Charm

  1. Congrats! This is such a great achievement for you! You can now call yourself Dr. ___, and possibly even get an actual job (at least in my area of study a BS is not enough to get a job)! This is the start of something amazing!

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