restricted access The Quiet Rites and Riotous Hopes of a Graduate Student
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The Quiet Rites and Riotous Hopes of a Graduate Student

The rites of passage that have most changed me as a graduate student have been the hallways, crevices, secret alleys, and long passages of texts that I have been asked to read and write. I have had the best conversations of my life in graduate school. Reading the noise and necessity of Emily Dickinson’s dashes, I have considered how one is able to communicate with silence. I have pondered the precarious relationship humanity has formed with our environment, amazed at Virginia Woolf’s ability to write a world where time passes without the intrusion of humans. I have thought about how democracy proceeds during an Indian election that is fraught with sectarian violence and whether or not the subaltern can ever speak. Is letterpress a more radical technology than eBooks on iPads? What is beauty and why is it valued? Can changing the point of view of a novel change the point of view of its reader? In graduate school my colleagues and I have asked these questions and so many more. My backpack has been full with the Exeter Riddles, Margaret Cavendish’s A Description of a New World Called the Blazing World, Plato’s Symposium, Slavoj Žižek’s Love Your Symptom! all tucked together at once. Yet, looking over the past seven years of my life and the $27,000 of debt incurred while pursuing graduate studies, one might ask what I have tangibly gained. Experience? Conversation? [End Page 3] Nothing more than what everyone is given in this life: intangible and fleeting passages of time. My graduate scholarship has encouraged me, however, to ask what I want to do with this time.

Images of mortarboards and gowns sprawled across Maclean’s reports of “Top Rated Universities” miss the academic rites of passage that are most elusive and transformative. Quite simply—and far less glamorously than what is depicted in any glossy magazine spread—a graduate education has gifted me with the means to think: a room in which to work, access to the greatest works of literature ever written in the history of civilization, and time to write. Oftentimes the rites of passage for a graduate student occur in the silent hours of late nights. They have been induced by the panic of a deadline (and uncountable cups of fairly traded locally roasted coffee) and have been accomplished with unreasonable dedication (at the cost, minimally, of missing a movie; maximally, of watching as my non-graduate-school friends begin to own homes, have babies, put away for their retirements, while I still qualify for a discount on my transit pass because, at the age of thirty-three, I am in the same category as high school students—a discount for which I am unbelievably grateful). My work as a scholar is quiet. It is slow. It is often done in sweat pants and without makeup. I assure you that the real work of a doctoral student is not the stuff of photographic montage taken by the marketing department of my university. Pursing graduate studies in the Humanities is the choice to spend a good percentage of my life engaged in asking questions about how to live a meaningful life, what the role of an individual is within society, and why humans create things that are beautiful. If I’m lucky this apprenticeship will give me the chance to be a professor with my own students, to continue asking difficult questions about what we want our civilizations and communities to look like. As an idealist and a novice (joyful positions I hope never to lose as an academic), to ask these sorts of questions is what I believe to be the role of scholarship in the Liberal Arts.

How my federal government defines the role of scholarship is the “transfer [of] knowledge into economic advantage” with a focus on “industry-academic partnerships” (Government of Canada np). To meet these federal demands for funding, a tangible, consumer-based model of education has been established in nearly all of the universities across Canada. Students are called “consumers.” A degree is referred to as a...