A bachelor’s postscript

by Matthew Litchfield, Contributing Writer

I guess it’s time to say goodbye, though it hardly feels real. I’m graduating a semester early—while I’m certainly not alone, the seeming lack of precedent is numbing.

It’s sad, really, that my situation is as unique as people think it is. I know people who have graduated from this school up to a year early—and yet I still hear shock and awe each time I announce my impending graduation.

Last I checked, our six-year graduation rate was about 50 percent. From where I sit I can see that my friends and classmates face pervasive, systemic problems at every level of this school, from ENL 101 to the upper echelons of Foster, that stymie progress towards their degrees.

Pinpointing the causes of low retention and student failure on so large a scale is difficult because there are literally hundreds of stakeholders—and as most students (and most professors) will admit, institutional communication is not our strong suit.

Whether it’s the admission of unqualified students to fill quotas, weak curriculums, inconsistent advising, or an administration that values students less than research, profit, and reputation, there is clearly a wave of forces working against us.

Maybe the issues students face is more intrinsic. The students I’ve met in these past three years have faced challenges unknown by my friends at private schools.

Here at UMass Dartmouth I’ve met single mothers, veterans, people with learning differences and disabled students. I never would have had the chance to meet these types of students at a “traditional” four-year college.

My high school was nearly 100 percent white. Now, I’m proud to study at a school whose population is made up of 30 percent people of color.

These people have helped teach me to see difference and multiculturalism as foundations for democracy and progress.

We need these people and their voices more than ever right now, and I hope they continue to inspire empathy and activism in future generations of students.

But some students face worse situations. Homeless-ness, hunger, poverty: such are the conditions of our most disadvantaged peers.

My heart bleeds for those who’ve been forced to give up on their education because they lack the support—financial, familial, or otherwise—to continue.

Focusing on school is rather difficult when you have to wonder how you’ll survive.

Adjuncts might understand such precarious positions, but sometimes I think tenured professors hallucinate that they exist in their own ivory towers on our otherwise concrete campus. I’ve loved the majority of my professors, but a handful have soured academia for me.

And as one professor recently reminded me, it doesn’t really matter what we write on our course evaluations: if they are tenured, they are more or less immune. Great system, that is.

If I’ve learned anything here, it’s to never accept the status quo—and to choose my battles carefully. You have to advocate for yourself to get what you want in the world. You’ve gotta hustle. And if you are not willing to put in the effort, shaking up the status quo will only shake you up.

To be fair, UMass Dartmouth has afforded me some excellent opportunities. I came in as a freshman with eighteen credits from my high school AP classes, and then I did an intensive summer program at another university last summer. I even got to study abroad in France for a semester.

That matters little, though, when you have no idea of what you want to do when you graduate. For three and a half years my advisors assumed I had everything figured out—just because I know my degree requirements and got outstanding grades.

Not that they’re worried now, which I guess is a compliment.

In reality, I have no idea what I want to do with my life. In a few short weeks I will be out of school and unemployed. The void is already staring me in the face.

Of all the things I’m passionate about, I can see no one way to fill that void. The options are dizzying—there is no yellow brick road.

People tell me that things will be alright, that I’ll land on my feet. I try to trust them, but I’m dubious. Maybe I’m afraid of committing to a single path; I certainly wonder what my degree will actually be worth on the job market.

Until those questions start getting answered by the professional world, I’m going to sit here and be nostalgic. I have changed more than I expected to since 2013, and there are people and places I will miss long after I’ve gone.

Jocund afternoons in the Writing Center, quiet mornings in the pool, lonely evenings in the library, and chance encounters across campus; through sweaty late-summer days to the dead of winter, the shadows of time will hardly eclipse my fond memories of the people that inhabit this place.

If you’ve been a part of my time here, thank you: friend or faculty, or staff, you’ve had a hand in shaping not just my experience, but who I have become. Please expect a cold call from me someday down the line—I have a hard time letting go.

And if you’ll still be here when I’m gone: keep fighting. There’s still a hell of a lot of good to be done.


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