I’m thrilled to be part of the class of 2019. A decade ago, I crossed a similar stage at University of Missouri for my undergrad. Circumstances were slightly different. I was unknowingly pregnant and, like many newly graduated, jobless. My baby’s father, who I quickly married, worked for Starbucks. It was 2009, there weren’t many jobs to be had.
I received an offer to teach English in South Korea, the only position I had applied for before graduation. I wanted to see the world, and this opportunity seemed like a good start. I turned the position down. My life had changed in the course of a hiring process.
My mom, who lived in the suburbs of Chicago at the time, took all of us in, giving up her bedroom. My sister was a senior in high school, trying to study with an increasingly larger older sister stretching out all of her favorite tops.
I received another job offer, working in downtown Chicago. The glamour stops there – I worked for a company who had contracts with various mutual funds. My job was to call investors and ask if they would like to vote with the board, against the board, or abstain in voting. I was only there to reach quorum.
Let me tell you something, I thought I was above this work. Waddling the three city blocks in snow and ice humungously pregnant to Ogilvie train station – one day, this will be the walked-10-miles-in-the-snow story I tell my son – ordering my daily Cinnabon with extra icing and angrily dipping while I waited for my train back to the suburbs, I thought I was too good for this.
What I was too short-sighted to see was that my mom probably hadn’t pictured supporting her daughter, new son-in-law and soon-to-be grandson while still trying to get her youngest out the door in one piece.
My mom never said I raised you better than this, but I was embarrassed. My vision was clouded with what I thought I was supposed to be doing. Part of it was the job, but part of it was the expectation I had that once I graduated college, I wasn’t supposed to receive any more help.
When Robby, my son, was about 6 months old, my then-husband took a job with his family and we moved to Missouri. I was a stay-at-home mom, and when Robby was napping, I was a telemarketer calling academic labs peddling assay kits. Again, I thought I was too good for the work.
Something happened while I was working all of these jobs I didn’t like – I carved out time to pursue what I cared about, writing. I used to think, just because a few teachers, family members and friends had told me I was good at writing, that I could just show up and people would let me write. Here I am! Give me a job!
How disappointing, it doesn’t work that way. On top of that, I wasn’t that good. For maybe the first time in my life, I sucked it up and confessed to myself I needed to either get better or give up.
Somewhere in this mix, I had a second child, Joe. It turned out to be a life-threatening pregnancy, and I asked myself what I would regret if I died. The answer was easy, I wanted my MFA. Despite quite a few scary days, Joe and I survived the pregnancy. Despite expecting I would be rejected, I received acceptances from a few programs. That’s how I ended up at Eastern.
Not long after I moved to Spokane, my marriage fell apart. I assumed I would have to drop out of school, but my dad and stepmom wouldn’t hear of it, and stepped up so I could stay in school. I would be lying if I said going through a divorce while in graduate school was easy, but I had invaluable emotional support from my friends and family.
Another thing that needs mentioning is I was supposed to graduate in 2017. I took a copy editing job at The Spokesman-Review a few months before I was supposed to defend my thesis, and when the time came, I panicked. I decided I would put it off a year, and then a year turned into two. Before my mom died in February, she asked me to finish my degree, so here I am. I owe her at least this, and I owe myself finishing as well.
You might feel like you’re supposed to be an adult now and out on your own. To some extent, this is true, but don’t think for a second the people who have helped you along the way don’t have interest in continuing to help you if they can. It’s OK to not having everything figured out at 22. I’m 33, and I’m still working on it.
The biggest thing I’ve learned so far is humility. Take the jobs you think you’re too good for, and while you’re working them, apply for the jobs you think are out of reach. Amazingly, you can be wrong about both of these things at once. If you need help, ask for it. You might not receive the help you need, but my guess is that you will be met with support.
My mother taught by example that it’s never too late to ask for help. Before she died, she asked my Aunt Sue to watch over my siblings and I. My aunt said she would be my mom’s eyes on land, go wherever she would have gone. If you know my mom, that’s a huge commitment.
As I’m writing this, the graduation hasn’t happened yet, so I can’t tell you for sure what it will be like to look into my Aunt Sue’s eyes. I want to believe I will see my mom, that something magic will happen. Regardless, when I walk across that stage I’ll be thinking, “We did it, Mom!”
Congratulations, Eagles, go soar!
Megan Rowe is a general assignment reporter for The Spokesman-Review. On Saturday, she will be issued a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing from EWU.
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