Spring break 2018 is fast approaching. When we return, there will only be seven more weeks in the semester. When I walk out of my evening workshop on Thursday, May 10, I’ll be done with classes. It’s going to be a strange feeling.
We nonfiction students have a third year, of course, but that is devoted to our thesis. It will just be us and our thesis advisor. We will rarely be on campus. No more camaraderie or tea and sympathy from the other members of our cohort across the three writing disciplines. Far less opportunities to just stop by the office of a favorite faculty or staff member. Geographical proximity to one’s work and fellows is really helpful in developing one’s sense of belonging.
Starting next year, all three writing programs will be two years including thesis. Right now, poetry is the only two year program. I’ve had at least two classes with all of the poetry students in my year. It’s strange to have to say goodbye to a group of people who started along with me, but who will be gone before me. My friend and fellow ambassador Bethany wrote a moving blog entry about the completion of her Columbia College Chicago career.
I’ll also be saying goodbye to the cohort above me, the people currently in thesis year. During my first year, these were the students who helped mentor me and show me the ropes of graduate school. Although I was a stranger, they invited me into the fold because we all shared the label of nonfiction writer and that made us a team.
Every faculty member I’ve worked with during my time at Columbia has been wonderful. Many of whom I did not get the chance to work with have been equally wonderful, inviting me into their offices for a chat and in some cases even offering to review some of my writing in their discipline. You can’t go wrong with any faculty here. Still, there’s the bittersweet knowledge that sometimes professors move on too, sometimes before you do. There’s many reasons for this, though for the most part the inability to offer tenure or extended contracts has a lot to do with it.
The creative nonfiction program will be saying goodbye to at least one (and possibly two) faculty members at the end of this semester. I’ve been lucky enough to work with these people, and am thankful to Columbia for giving me the opportunity to do so. Even though you won’t get the same opportunity, you’ll have others. And the professors who make their lifelong careers at Columbia will always be your scaffolding and have your back.
New faces and new ideas come into a graduate program every year. You can carve your name on the bathroom wall or get published in one of the department’s literary magazines, but time keeps moving forward. Eventually people will have to pause a minute to remember you when your name comes up. But that’s as it should be. You’re in graduate school for a finite time to gain the knowledge and experience you need to go forth into the world. Go then, and be proud of your time at Columbia.