Saturday, March 11, 2017

Thesis = Defended!

I have made it! After almost two years of course work, research, and writing, I have finally defended my thesis for my graduate program. It feels amazing, joyful, surreal, and almost (almost) sad because it's suddenly over.

This semester at BYU (and my last) has been hectic beyond belief. I had a lot of deadlines to meet, and revisions for my thesis were frustrating. After my first revision meeting in January in which my graduate committee critiqued my work, I sat in the girls' bathroom thinking (bathrooms are good for thinking) that my writing was garbage, revision was impossible, and my life was over. (Did I mention that I have a gift for hysterics?)

But my committee gave me perfect feedback, and after working with me for over a year, they knew that I appreciated lots of support and encouragement. They were more than just teachers. They treated me like a scholar who had interesting ideas to contribute, and they gave me life advice as if I was one of their own children. I am so glad that I "proposed" to these professors to aid me in my research.

Revisions went well, actually. At first, the task was daunting. I understood exactly what they wanted me to change in my paper, but I had no idea how to actually fix it. I'm so glad that my dad was able to give me good advice, since he's been through this process many times. To be sure, this was the most stressed I've ever felt during my college career, and I was getting used to going to bed at midnight and waking up at 4:30am to get cracking on my work. But thanks to the grace of God, I still looked remarkably attractive when I went to school, I was relatively cheerful, and I didn't fail any of my students in spite.

The defense was cause for stress (and not the healthy kind). After setting up a date, I worried about the defense incessantly, and I definitely over prepared. I had been studying since January! I had a hard time sleeping, and I seriously dreamed about disaster situations during the exam. Everyone told me that I had nothing to worry about (and they were right, of course). I wish there was a "Don't-Worry-On-Off" switch in my brain.

The two-hour defense was surprisingly delightful. I don't think I ever settled down because I was always anticipating the next question. My palms were constantly sweaty, and I felt my face flushing. One of my committee members tends to pontificate (but not at all in a pompous way), and I think I half understood his questions. My professors' questions were challenging, but I still learned so much from their inquiries and the connections they were trying to help me recognize in my research.

My AWESOME committee! Loving Ed's hand-on-hip action.
One of my professors asked me a question that I haven't been able to stop thinking about... he asked about the genesis of my project. This question meant a lot to me, and I hesitated to answer a bit. I wrote my thesis on "The Yellow Wallpaper," a short story about a woman who is mentally ill and is ruined by her husband's inadequate medical diagnosis. When I first read this story in college, I jumped on the feminist bandwagon and praised the feminist heroine of the story who rebelled against the patriarchy.  But I read the story again in my last year of college... when I was experiencing a severe mental crisis of my own. From this perspective, I read "The Yellow Wallpaper" as a story of mental illness and wondered why many feminist scholars projected able-bodied characteristics onto a depressed woman.

This question made me reflect about where I was two years ago and where I am now. I feel confident and strong. Even though 2017 has been fraught with anxieties about my thesis, I have been happy. And I'm amazed that my experience with disability has given me an edge in research and writing. I was so flattered to hear that my committee loved the originality of my argument and that they gave me plenty of feedback to get the piece published.

After the defense, my family celebrated. I am proud that my parents could come and witness (thus far) the two most important hours of my life. We got curry, and we ordered a cake from Coldstone. When I looked at the cake, I busted out laughing and showed my parents the cake:

"Congraluations" — What a fitting inscription for the girl who passed an MA defense in ENGLISH. Anyway, the journey has been incredible, and it feels strange that I'm suddenly done the most significant part of my program. Everything has led up to this moment, and now... poof! It's over. But in case I haven't made it clear, I am beyond thankful for friends, colleagues, professors, and my family for helping me during school. I know that I've grown so much, and now I face the looming question mark that symbolizes my future!

Love, "Master" Bekki

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