You Are More Than Your Degrees: A Love Letter To My Former Students
As I end the semester and a chapter in my life, I write this letter to the students I have worked with over the years. You all have blessed me in ways words cannot fully capture. I try my best below.
To My Former Students,
First — how ya’ll doin?!
Second — Thank you.
Thank you all for taking this journey we call learning together. Whether it was over the course of a semester in a classroom, over Zoom, or over the course of years in different programs, ya’ll took the ride with me as I figured out what teaching and learning really meant inside and outside the four walls of the classroom. And both you and I were learning who we are and what we wanted to do with our lives.
In that learning I was able to grow — as a teacher, educator, facilitator, and human. I learned how to better honor my own voice and say “no” to things that did not serve me by seeing how many of you refused those things, unapologetically.
So many of you refused to be disciplined by the disciplines you were entering into. You questioned the foundations and cannons that are revered in the academy, but left too much of a gap, and chasm, between your lived experiences and the theories you were told “better”, more “objectively”, explained your experiences.
And many of you all did not allow folks to talk to you any kind of way. Titles and the embedded hierarchy in academia did not hold the same weight for many of you, and you were clear to remind folks of that.
By teaching others how to treat you, you also taught me how I should (and could) treat myself.
I know academics love to theorize refusal. But many of ya’ll just did it — putting theory into practice without the need for peer reviews and external validation. Ya’ll taught me the praxis of refusal, and in doing so helped me understand what real freedom and liberation can LOOK like.
And it was not always by being loud and creating the next new multi-syllable word. Some of you taught me refusal by just saying no to offers and “acceptance” letters that did honor all of you, and then you went off to live your best lives. Other taught me refusal by entering into institutions with eyes wide open, setting your own agendas to ensure your goals were prioritized and not backing down from them.
You all gave me the courage to open up to my own teaching and practice, and expand my realm of possibilities.
So I speak back to you all the main lesson you taught me over these past years— you are more than your degrees.
You are more than the pieces of paper these spaces say define who you are and your next steps in life. They do not. These spaces instead are places of inquiry and discovery. Discovery of self and the world around you. Discovery of the illusions you were told (and told to yourself), that then reveals the vastness of what is beyond your own current imaginations. It is one (not the only) space to grow up and into yourself.
In this society we take college as a rite of passage. It signals a stage of “maturity” in our development as people. But, whose rite of passage and for what purpose?
Many of us were told by parents/teachers/tv/larger society from a young age that we should strive for college. “Success” would be found by going through the walls of these institutions, some older than the United States itself, that were not initially created for many of us.
This rite of passage is tricky though, as it is both rooted in assimilation to a status quo that is not favorable for many of us while at the same time is one of the most ripe times and places for folks to break out and learn a bit more about who they are and the world around them.
To be able to hold these contradictions and continue to show up for yourselves, one another, and me was more than anyone can ask for. So many of you were not afraid to speak your own truths, even as they contradicted the status quo. Basically, ya’ll knew the Emperor had no clothes, and you weren’t afraid to let the emperor and his followers know.
But the world is hard, and it is confusing, as you are thrown different slogans almost hourly of how to be.
Be “woke” enough, but marketable still.
You are to be the future! Change the system, but do it nicely and without hurting anyone’s feelings (except your own) or disrupting the norm.
Never stop fighting! But also practice “self-care” and don’t be too angry. REST! But you are only seen and valued by what you produced.
All these contracting messages do one thing — they teach you to keep busy so that it gives you little time to do the one thing that I wish for you all to remember from my teachings. Know yourself.
So I say again, please remember as you all go on and live your lives— you are more than your degrees.
You always have been and always will be.
Humor me with one last assignment that has no due date. Take the time to be. Sleep and allow your body to know rest as a right and not a luxury. Don’t be afraid to go deeper into yourself, and face your fears. Many times our fears are rooted in being unsure of who we are so we are afraid to be ourselves. It’s the way society infiltrates our subconscious — face that beast and let the fear know it can go now. You are ready to step into the beautiful person you always were.
May the benevolent and elevated ancestors continue to light your way forward. May your higher self start to break through the conditioning we are all put through so you can know and trust your own voice. May you all continue to grow and blossom in ways that honor your humanity and the humanity of those around you.
You are more than the degrees you have (and some will continue to) earned. Those degrees are just part of your journey in this thing we call life. Continue to live.