That Time I Tried to Fake a Master’s Degree

I’m going to open with a secret. I’m a little high-strung when it comes to school.

Jump back and gasp!

Growing up, my dear ol’ dad used to look at my report card and sternly say “Now, why do you have a 92 in math? You need to quit talking in class and get that up.” I was in the second grade. This resulted in two extremes. There’s my brother, Bo, who is constantly talking about the waste of time that is college, because he’s a successful electrician with no formal degree and… me.

Last summer, I had the assignment to create an online resource guide for my library over a subject of my choice. I chose sewing and hand-picked every title listed in the Wiki, including color photos matching the cover art of the specific copy housed in the library and an explanation of difficulty level. I screen capped shots of the online public access catalog, explaining how to use it and described, in detail, system requirements for a library card. This wasn’t part of the assignment. I’m just insane. All of my classmates told me they hoped I’d leave it up for their future use and how they loved the name: ”SewResourceful”. The professor commented to say she thought it was wonderful, creative, and appreciated the obvious extra effort. Then she gave me a 98.5%. A fucking 98.5%!!!! I read and reread that Wiki 15 times and added elements that went above and beyond the requirements and she gave me a 98.5%?!?!? Why doesn’t she just come over and personally shit on my computer?!?!?!

biting laptop
After this…

I’m going to tell you another secret. Being a little high-strung when it comes to school, occasionally makes me an exhausting friend. Gail and Jay were both recruited to talk me down from the absolutely devastating loss of that 1.5%. I couldn’t discuss it without my bottom lip trembling. I am not embellishing even a little, here. So… fast forward one semester to last fall.

If you’ll recall from A Chronicle of My First Failure Since the Driver’s Test, back in November, I “did not pass” my graduate school End of Program Assessment portfolio for the Master of Library and Information Studies program. I don’t think I’d be exaggerating to claim that it was the greatest tragedy in the history of time. Had Nostradamus foreseen this, he’d have just destroyed the earth preemptively, himself. As it was, there was a mushroom cloud over the campus, when I delivered a completely off the mark presentation. You know that scene in Legally Blonde where Elle Woods dresses as a Playboy Bunny to attend a Halloween party, only to discover that it wasn’t, in fact, a costume party? That’s pretty much exactly what happened.

elle woods
Wait. This is conference room B, right?!?!

What actually happened was that I had a program advisor who was on her way out. She retired without telling her students and had never given me any clear constructive criticism on my portfolio progress, instead giving me a semesterly thumbs up. This woman was tough to pin down, particularly for a student who worked two jobs and took every class (save for one hybrid course) online, never really trying to meet up with her advisor. When I got a new advisor, didn’t take the opportunity to make sure I understood the portfolio requirements. Dr. Black’s gentle criticisms went ignored, because I didn’t have the time to change things that weren’t important enough to strongly emphasize. The same attitude was employed when she suggested I practice my presentation beforehand. I’ve always done well in school, pretty much without trying. I thought I could wing it on the End of Program Assessment. So, it was ultimately all my fault when I showed up to the party in a corset and plush ears.

I’ve exaggerated a lot here, for the sake of hilarity, but I truly think that the presentation I delivered in November had to have been one of the worst the committee members had ever seen. I wasn’t even completely sure what I was supposed to do. I actually told my Gramma that I was sure they wouldn’t fail me, since I’d completed all of the coursework. I somehow just missed the dire importance of the entire assessment. Approximately one minute into my presentation, however, Dr. Snyder’s expression gave away that this was not at all what was expected. I didn’t have a change of clothes, though, so I had no choice but to continue with the party in my cotton bunny tailed panties. I plowed through, becoming more and more flustered and by the time I got to the Q&A portion, I was just grateful I hadn’t thrown up.

Dr. Black: “Well, what was the reason for removing the reference section?”
Me: “I don’t know.”
Dr. Black: “What is reference?”
Me: “… I don’t know.”

“Books is neat, y’all. Give me a master’s degree.” I’m embarrassed just thinking about it. As the committee deliberated and scratched their heads over how in the fuck someone made it this far without being able to define reference, I texted Gail about how my life was over. She told me she was sure it would be fine and I didn’t respond, because I was certain it was not fine. Reference, by the way, makes up the books filled with specific tidbits of information that can be difficult to find without the help of a librarian. Included in this are almanacs, dictionaries, and encyclopedias. I knew that then, but when I tried to explain it, I fumbled and used the word “obscure” instead of “specific.” Hellz yeah. Tell the reference librarians that their position is pointless, because the information they’re finding is “obscure”. Maybe just jump to “murky”, “unintelligible”, “vague”, “ambiguous”, “doubtful.” When I walked back into the conference room, the first words spoken were “We’re disappointed.” My first thought was “No shit. Can you pass me anyway?”

elle woods eating chocolate
No. The answer was no.

I was so excited to graduate last semester, that I purchased a class ring and a t-shirt and sweatshirt that read “Alumni.” I even sent out graduation announcements. There are not a lot of things that are more embarrassing than sending out graduation announcements only to respond to the congratulations with “JK!” I think the only thing more humiliating would have been that time I married a crazy person and got divorced at 23. So, having failed my graduate portfolio, I packed away the ring and the shirts and told myself I could have them back when I deserved them. Just like when I burst into tears in the third grade over my first B on a midterm, I didn’t even need my dad to shame me. Only difference is, this time he didn’t. Regardless, I was absolutely inconsolable at dinner with Gail, but as always, emotions are icky and I coped by making exaggerative and somewhat offensive jokes.

“They kicked me out of college and made me ride the short bus home!”

“My dad’s going to hate me. I’m the slow child now.”
He, in fact, thought I was being completely unreasonable and told me he could never be disappointed in me. Today, he regularly tells me it doesn’t matter what the grade is, so long as I graduate. How fucking ironic.

I would sometimes start with a joke, only to convince myself that I was speaking the truth and end up in tears.
Me: “I’m going to have to buy World of Warcraft! I can’t afford World of Warcraft! It takes a monthly subscription and I don’t even pay for my gym membership!”
Gail: “What?”
Me: “My life in the real world is over. I’m never going to be amazing or impressive here, so I’m going to have to establish an influential presence in the virtual world. It’s either that or I have to join the military!”
Gail: “Why the military?”
Me: “Because I could be impressive and have a real career in the military, even though I can never be a librarian! I don’t want to join the military! I hate being yelled at and I’m an indoor girl!” :Legitimate tears:
Gail: “What the fuck are you even talking about?!”

To fully grasp how irrational I was being, it’s important to remember that this is a master’s degree. I have a bachelor’s degree. I could easily teach and just have no desire to do so. That’s hardly World of Warcraft status, y’all. Thank God, himself, for Gail’s patience and insight.

Gail: “You have a semester to fix this. It’s not over. So get out your laptop and fix it.”

elle woods moping
Advice I did not immediately take.

After Gail dropped me off at my apartment, with my promises not to harm myself, I cried myself to sleep. I hid in fiction for a couple of weeks and then I put on my big girl panties and got to work. In the MLIS program, at my University, you get two tries at the End of Program Assessment, regardless of whether you choose comps or portfolio. You just have to be enrolled in two hours to present, so I took a one-on-one course with Dr. Black… and went full-on Emily Dickinson hermit for six months. I deleted my online dating profiles, only to recreate them out of procrastination and boredom, but completely gave up any actual dating. I didn’t shoot my guns. I continued working out, because getting fat again isn’t going to make me a librarian. I worked both jobs… and I studied. I reread several textbooks, along with every assignment I ever completed. I wrote my required essays for my professor, read books on leadership, and rewrote my portfolio from the ground up. I practiced with Dr. Black twice before my actual presentation. I did not sleep for six months. That’s not true, because I’m not from Krypton, but the only way I have been able to crawl out of my own head in the last six months has been by reading for pleasure and even that was often interrupted with “homework breaks”. Sleep just allows for nightmares. I have had to talk myself down from numerous panic attacks, usually taking place sucking my thumb while fully clothed in an empty bathtub. They all went something along the lines of:

I guess I could be a mechanic. I don’t know anything about cars. I’m good with my hands, but that’s really technical. I don’t like grease or getting dirty. This is a terrible idea. I want to be a librarian!!!! I don’t want to join the Air Force!!!!!

sitting in empty bathtub
It looked just like that.

Even Dr. Black told me I was overdoing it, when I presented her with my course by course evaluations. In these, I found the syllabus to every course in the program, copied the description and objectives, wrote a paragraph of where I was before the course, a paragraph of where I was after the course, and one to two paragraphs about what I learned from the specific assignment I chose to reference.

Dr. Black: “It’s really not necessary to do that for every course. You’re overthinking it.”

Gail: “What’d your professor say?”
Me: “She called me a rabid pit bull and told me to calm the fuck down.”

My graduation photo…

Gail was the only one who knew that I was presenting my portfolio yesterday, just in case I failed, because as Donnie Darko taught all of us Mellenials: “Every living creature on Earth dies alone.” This time, however, I delivered my final graduate portfolio and the first word I heard after the committee deliberated was “Congratulations.” Dr. Snyder told me he enjoyed attending a presentation where he actually learned something. Dr. Black teared up and hugged me. The committee member from a public library gave me her card. I called my Gramma afterward.

Me: “Guess what.”
Gramma: “What?”
Me: “I just passed my graduate portfolio presentation!”
Gramma: “Really? So that’s why you’ve been so secretive! I thought it was closer to the end of the month.”
Secretive” to my Gramma means not talking to her three times a day, because that’s how close I am to her.
Me: “Yeah. I purposely led you to believe that, because I knew you’d stress out and then say shockingly unsupportive things to stress me out and I couldn’t deal with it.”
Gramma: “Well, you’re probably right. That was probably for the best.”

I wore her pearls to the presentation and I’ve been asking her to give them to me for graduation for months, but she’s said no every time. When I asked if she wanted them back, she just told me to keep them. See. My Gramma won’t even give me her prized pearls with any kind of ceremony, because emotions are inappropriate, y’all. That’s where I learned this shit.

old woman
This is her proud face.

Gail bought me a congratulatory dinner and a mall cookie. We both made fun of my initial presentation and the fact that I actually had a nightmare about the zombie apocalypse and failing my portfolio, only to wake up and hyperventilate over school. I did it and it was totally worth not sleeping for six months… which is awesome, because it has suddenly hit me how incredibly overwhelmed I’ve been and I am absolutely fucking exhausted from working two jobs and finishing graduate school while researching Air Force recruitment requirements. I keep reminding myself that substituting is almost over and in a month, I’ll be lounging by the pool, only working at the library in the evenings. I’m not even going to consider a PhD. I’m gonna go T. Swift on this and just say that college and I are never, ever, getting back together. This seven year adventure, complete with abusive marriage, miscarriage, divorce, Gail’s dead daughter, losing 90 pounds, dating, moving ten fucking times in four years, and accidentally creating a secret identity at work has just worn me the fuck out.

passed out studying
My other graduation photo. It’s all about the lighting.

17 thoughts on “That Time I Tried to Fake a Master’s Degree

      • Oh, you TOTALLY deserve to be!!!! What a huge accomplishment!!!! I’m so happy for you!!!! (and I’m going to use up all the exclamation points in my computer, proving it!!!) 😀

    • Yes, actually! I was disappointed that I’d only made one post in a week. I usually try for two to three and hoped people would realize that with this one. And thank you!!!

  1. Congratulations! And I am so excited that I came across your blog. You write in such a relatable and entertaining way. It seems like I actually felt your crushing disappointment along with your retelling. How awesome are you for learning from a mistake and crushing it upon your next opportunity. What an inspiration you are!

    • Aw, thank you so much! Few compliments mean as much to me as one about my writing! And thank you for the congrats. I’m really excited and intensely RELIEVED.

  2. Pingback: Blogiversary! | Belle of the Library

  3. Pingback: Growing Up Professional: Mistakes I Can’t Believe I’ve Actually Made in Job Interviews | Belle of the Library

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