I’ll warn all readers now this month’s column contains nothing erotic and has only a tenuous link to writing. I’m not saying that to be deliberately cryptic or intriguing. I’m just offering an honest warning that I’ve gone off-topic with my diary this month in a moment’s pure self-indulgence.

Yesterday I graduated. By the time you’re reading this, yesterday will have been last month (or earlier) so the official date of my graduation was July 8th 2009. I’m now Ashley Lister BA(Hons). [Bachelor of Arts with Honours]

This is the paragraph where I expect you and I, dear reader, are now alone. The other readers will have dismissed this month’s diary and it’s just you and me alone here. Good.

I was studying for a combined honours degree in English Language, Literature and Writing. I got a decent first. And a letter from the university congratulating for me scoring a first in every module. Apparently that’s not a common occurrence. I already have a big head so a letter telling me I’m a rare occurrence has made me nothing short of unbearable.

(It occurs to me now that some of you may already be aware of this through reading the wonderful Donna George Storey’s column. Donna got the online scoop on my graduation and posted a blog [Honoring Ashley Lister] that I have printed and framed. After the achievement of graduating I was absolutely bowled over by the accolade of being the focus of Donna’s blog).

ClipsThe graduation ceremony took place at a fairly prestigious location. We were in the Empress Ballroom at Blackpool’s Winter Gardens. I got to wear the cap, hood and cape of an academic and I have photographs where my head looks like some strangely shaped sex toy. I’m thinking of contacting a manufacturer of sex toys to ask if they can model a new butt-plug on the shape of my head in a mortarboard and market it with the byline: take your pleasure to the next degree. Not only could it prove profitable but it would make a nice memento of the day.

The course had been absorbing, satisfying and fulfilling.

Even though I’m a writer by profession I’ve never been a language maven. Ask me whether a sentence works or not, and I can point out its problems. But, if you’d asked me where the adjectives were, I would have made an excuse and left the room. Now I can discuss stylistic analysis, deviant orthography and the balance of the dysphemistic against the euphemistic. However, I still struggle a little with identifying adjectives.

The literature was even more absorbing. Approaching literary theory for the first time in my life was a life-changing experience. I’d previously thought feminist criticism was nothing more than women saying they didn’t like most books. After three years of studying I now know it’s about women saying why they don’t like most books. And it turns out they have a damned good reason.

I’ve oversimplified matters in that last paragraph for the sake of comic effect. In truth, I’ve been absorbed by the ways books can be interpreted and my respect for feminist authors has grown exponentially.

And I’ve been writing too. I’ve written academic articles and poetry: subjects that are normally outside my safety zone as a writer. Not only have I written these pieces but I’ve seen many of them published – although I blame that on my natural drive as a writer to always work toward publication.

And so, yesterday, after three years’ of challenges and learning, I graduated.

I don’t come from a university background. The ‘School of Life’ and the ‘University of Hard Knocks’ were highly revered by my elders when I was growing up. Consequently, I was one of the more mature members of the class when I finally graduated and this was the first time I’d been to a graduation ceremony. Obviously I’ve seen such events in movies and on TV shows but I’d never attended one. I have to admit, walking out of the ceremony beneath a haze of red, green and blue lights, I felt as though I was in the final scenes of the horror movie Carrie and half expected John Travolta to pour a bucket of pig’s blood over my head.

Fortunately, he wasn’t there and that didn’t happen.

ClipsTo add to the pressure of the day, I’d been asked to read the ceremony’s closing speech to an audience of more than 2,000 tutors, lecturers, professors, fellow graduates and their families. Fortunately the day was incredibly hot. This meant, when I was perspiring freely inside my hood, gown and cap, I could blame my excessive sweating on the sweltering weather conditions. (I managed to blame the nervous flatulence on passing strangers).

The whole day was an enormous success. The speech reading went as well as can be expected. And I graduated with my first class honours degree.

I know I’m bragging a little bit, but I feel justified. And the reason why I mention my graduation here is because I wanted to bring the spotlight briefly on one of the most important things I’ve learnt over the past three years: something that’s important to all writers.

In the closing speech I described my fellow students as ‘a class of great and innovative thinkers whom I shall always treasure as friends.’ This was only partly true. Some of them are great and innovative thinkers but there were also others in the class who couldn’t be trusted to safely hold a pencil. For every individual who had a genius insight into the flaw of a particular theory, there would be someone else trying to tell me that D H Lawrence was a woman.

However, the friendship and support offered by everyone from the class has been inspirational. Working alongside intelligent people; studying toward a common goal of success; and ultimately achieving that ambition, has shown me how important it is to have a network of friends and colleagues who can sympathise with your ideals.

I could conclude this article with a tenuous link to writing and explain how important a network of peer-support is to any solipsistic author. However, I’ve made that point in previous columns and that’s not exactly what I’m trying to say here. As I stated at the start of this article: this month’s column is pure self-indulgence and I just wanted to take a moment to bask in my own accomplishment and make mention of the triumph of my fellow graduates.

Kudos to the class of ’09 – and good luck with all you future endeavours. It’s been an absolute pleasure earning your friendship.

Ashley Lister
August 2009

“Ashley Lister Submits” © 2008 Ashley Lister. All rights reserved.

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