When John Foster graduated last May, the Art History department handed him a prop--"a fake diploma," he told me. "I was about to take that picture with my mom where it's like, 'Look! Me and my diploma and my mom! Will the circle remain unbroken?!' But before my uncle could take the picture, some department chick came over and was like, 'GIMME THAT!' and took the diploma away."
Foster's diploma was snatched because of his academic bad behavior. In short, he had failed too many classes. Brown diplomas are printed only once a year, and only for those who have met the University's minimum course requirement of 30 classes. Foster had finished with 29. "I was trying, or at least expected, to graduate in four years," he said. "But I was a serial course-dropper, and when I could no longer feasibly drop a course I threw some D's on that bitch instead. I definitely failed Melville in the fall, which locked me in for summer school."
This month, about 100 seniors--including me--will find ourselves in Foster's position. We will wear caps and gowns and participate in Commencement weekend with the rest of our class--but not whole-heartedly. If there is a line that separates college from 'real life,' we will not be among those crossing it. When I walk through the Van Wickle Gates, that symbolically-loaded boundary between Brown and the outside world, I will do so knowing this: college is not really over. There is more work to be done. The rest of my class is moving forward--toward the promise of new jobs, new cities and new apartments. All I am "commencing" is more of the same.
For those of us who are short of 30 credits, Brown's summer session is the most expedient option. Foster opted for a class in the VA department. "I decided to take photography so I could watch TV and surf the Internet and still do my homework," he said. "My photos were frequently criticized as being either over-derivative of Richard Prince or 'meaningless.' I got an A." Though he is scheduled to receive his real diploma in the mail this month, he still worries. "I have substantial fines due to the library," he confessed.
Another option is to return for the fall semester. This is what I'll have to do, since none of Brown's summer classes fulfill my remaining concentration requirements. This second option is the more expensive one. While summer courses average $3,000 each, a fall class will cost $4,756--one-eighth of next year's tuition. In other words, I will pay a price for having failed EL1511: The Victorian Novel and/as the History of Sexuality.
Aside from cost, there is a significant difference between finishing in the summer and finishing in the fall. The latter turns you into a "point five," and you are invited to a small mid-year completion ceremony in December. The mid-year ceremony is, in many ways, an answer to the confusion that near-graduates might feel during the May festivities. As the Dean of the College's website puts it, "The celebration provides students an opportunity to celebrate their achievements with family and friends in an intimate, relaxed setting." If May's Commencement celebrations feel hollow or premature, the smaller ceremony in December may act as a corrective. Your parents return to campus, and this time their pride is based on your actual accomplishments, not your projected ones.
Beyond summer classes and fall classes, there is a third option: indefinite prolonging. According to Karen Krahulik, Dean of Upperclass Studies, some students are "not sure when they're going to finish." Years can pass between the ceremonial Commencement and actual completion. The University does not encourage this kind of delay, but it happens nonetheless (for a variety of reasons: financial, personal, etc). I know at least one person who's been working on his B.A. since the mid-90s.
Sometimes I wonder if this is my future too. I tend to prolong things--especially unpleasant ones. College involves a range of pains, but at least they are familiar: sleep deprivation, hangovers, finals period. The fact that I am 23 years old and still haven't graduated makes sense to me. It is possible "to compromise with Fate: to escape occasional great agonies by submitting to a whole life of privation and small pains." (That's from Charlotte Bronte's Villette. I read the whole book--all 496 pages--and still failed my Victorian Novel class.) Moving forward, to a point beyond college, implies great agony as well as great joy. Compared to these extremes, the consistent "small pains" which Brown inflicts seem hugely preferable.
Throw some D's on ALEXANDRA DE JESUS B'09.5.