Written by Katie Steedly Curling, PhD, writer, and guest blogger for the Turner Syndrome Foundation. Katie writes monthly about her experiences living with Turner Syndrome. In this article, she reflects on her educational journey and the things she celebrates in life.
I completed my Ph.D. at the University of Texas at Austin in fall of 2003. It seems like both yesterday and a lifetime ago, simultaneously. That makes sense to me in the way that minutes creep and years fly. My family was there to see me walk across the stage at graduation. My parents, who instilled in me a love of learning, social conscience, and deep-seated curiosity. My brother, sister-in-law, and niece, Emma, who was not even three years old then and is in college now. My grandparents, who have since passed, took what would be their last plane flights to be there with me. Celebrating milestones is important.
Every fall since 2003 I have celebrated successfully defending Living Wide-Awakeness: High School Drama Teachers Creating Powerful Encounters With the Arts – my dissertation – the culmination of my doctoral work. Celebration is meaningful both in the moment and beyond. Celebrating reminds me to keep doing the work that began long ago, in the way that a research agenda is a living breathing commitment to carrying on the work in the world. Celebrating reminds me I did hard things, then, and I can do hard things, now. Celebrating brings me back to center.
I celebrate the desire to be scared and do it anyway.
I felt profoundly excellent and simultaneously fraudulent on graduation day. I felt like everyone else was much smarter, more hard working, and just more with it, all around, that day. That paradox is fear based. I was both confident and insecure. To feel in over your head and still show up for the exam. To turn in the next draft even after receiving harsh comments. To study the artistry of teachers who thrive where you could not survive. To defend your ideas in front of the smartest people you know. I learned that if you are able to take the exam, learn through/from failure, write multiple drafts, and soundly defend your ideas, positive results happen. It is about showing up.
I celebrate the passion that sets goals and achieves them.
There is a true connection between knowing our passion, living passionately, and achieving our goals. Passion connects our work with our mission, and we all have a mission. It is passion that keeps us going in the face of doubt, anger, frustration, and lack. When the goal comes from passion, achievement is definite, visceral, and real. The ugly truth about passion is that it requires vulnerability. Vulnerability, in the case of my dissertation, meant returning to the high school drama classroom – the place I had always dreamt of being, but could not find success once I arrived – in the hope of building our knowledge of wide-awakeness. My dissertation was an autopsy of my greatest failure. Studying, and learning from, our failures is the definition of growth.
I celebrate the people who make the journey possible.
None of us do anything in our lives, especially the big ticket things, alone. I certainly felt that during my doctoral journey. From the support system of family, friends, my dissertation chair, the teachers in my study, and my committee, to the foundation provided by my teachers and professors, my colleagues, the authors of the books from which I learned, and the women who made academia possible for women who would follow, I did not do it alone. The list could go on and on. The doctoral experience made me keenly aware that I stand on the shoulders of the past and present.
I celebrate the knowing that lives in the body.
The fact that we learn things in/through our bodies became absolutely evident during my dissertation research. It is important to point this out in this world where students’ bodies are often expected to remain still while their minds are expected to learn. The arts bring our bodies into the learning equation. Learning, and ultimately knowing, requires that the body be engaged. I knew it inside from the first time I took a dance class or a fiddle lesson as a child, but I got to study this truth in action. Completing a marathon during the writing of my dissertation convinced me that strength and knowledge are found in our muscles and bones. The marathon confirmed the evidence is found in the high school drama classroom. Studying it while living it made the message clear. Our bodies are powerful. Wide-awakeness lives in our bodies.
I celebrate the capacity to create.
Though it has been many years, I still celebrate completing my PhD. Celebrating reminds me to continue to pay it forward. We pay it forward by creating and building. Creating and building feels important. When so much is uncertain and fearful, creating and building makes sense. I sought to create and build our understanding of wide-awakeness in my doctoral work. I got to study the classrooms of theatre teachers. Creating and building happened everywhere – from characters to community. I keep writing and studying and living wide-awakeness in an effort to pay it forward. Our capacity to create – to shine light – is the most powerful response we can have to darkness.
Do you have an accomplishment you’d like to share to inspire others? Tell us your story!