Here’s a comforting thought as we ready ourselves for cap and gown season — as young minds, indebted to the nines, go forth to get that diploma and embrace the brave new world that teachers have been warning us about for the past 16 years, and wonder if we’re up to it — Great minds also exhibit great quirks. The young Isaac Newton didn’t have the good sense to come in out of a thunderstorm. Einstein flunked math and was a wreck unless he got 12 hours of sleep per night. Winston Churchill couldn’t get any shuteye unless he was wearing silk undergarments.
Public knowledge of these quirks would probably be mortifying to these great, private men, but it is soothing at those times when one’s own eccentricities sprout up like dandelions. As a last resort, I tell myself, I can always fall back on the possibility that I could be brilliant. Alternatively, I could just be losing my mind.
Case in point: I recently graduated from college without knowing it.
As my bio line has announced for the past few months, I attended Redeemer Pacific College in British Columbia. What it did not mention is that Redeemer is the Catholic adjunct college to the evangelical Trinity Western University (about this unique relationship, more in a future column). It also neglected to mention that I was technically a senior at both institutions.
Through a variety of circumstances — finances; I transferred in; I switched majors — I came into the winter semester now past certain that I would be close to graduating but not quite there yet. I didn’t plan on graduating, telling everybody who asked that I was a class or two short. Relatives and close friends were advised to keep that champagne on ice and not to purchase gifts until the following spring. I secured employment for the summer only (as an intern at Reason Magazine in Los Angeles) and registered for the appropriate fall classes.
And then some of the oddest things began to happen. Though I sure didn’t think I’d signed up for graduation, I got a call from Trinity asking me if I would be attending and how many tickets I would need for visitors. I told the counselor that this must be some clerical error: I had three or four classes outstanding, so graduation wasn’t a possibility. Then I began receiving official Trinity documents directly, rather than in my school mailbox. Finally, I started running into several fellow now-graduated classmates who wondered why I wasn’t at the ceremony, as my name had been printed on the official grad list. It was a good question that finally worked itself out over a lunch with a friend at a local restaurant: Could I have… graduated without knowing it?
It seemed preposterous at first. And yet, the more I thought about it, the more sense the possibility made. I’m not innumerate but Trinity’s system of grad requirements appears so complicated to me that it could have been designed by Soviet central planners. One administrator, who I’m sure would rather remain nameless, explained that he didn’t create this stupidity, he just enforces it.
Like most universities, Trinity requires a certain mix of upper and lower level credits, general credits and credits in one’s major. The religious studies department is further segmented so that only certain classes count toward a Biblical Studies degree and others count only toward a degree in Christianity and Culture (I am, of course, a BS major). To muddy the waters even further, there is a distinction made between “graduating” — that is, being eligible to walk in the commencement ceremony — and receiving a diploma. If someone is within six credits (two classes) of the latter, then they qualify as “graduates.”
The thing that had filled me with not a little bit of dread until a couple of weeks ago was the intuition that the opportunity to graduate at TWU swings around only once: You either hail that taxi or you’re stranded. If that had been accurate and if I had accidentally managed to graduate, my entire extended family threatened to disown me for having robbed them of the chance to observe the first nephew/cousin/grandson’s college graduation; and for being such a blithering idiot.
So I put in a call to the registrar’s office, demanding a full assessment of my credits and an explanation for how this could have happened. The assistant suppressed laughter and promised to get that information to me as soon as possible. It came about a week later as I learned that my supposed graduation was not the result of a clerical error, that I should have walked in the ceremony, and I had more than the required number of credits to graduate and in the right categories to boot. However, they allowed that I will be allowed to walk in next year’s grad ceremony.
When some classmates ask why it took so long for me to graduate, I will summon every bit of my of BS training and explain that I was too busy freelancing and Thinking Great Thoughts to keep a laser sharp eye on all those incidental little grad details. I don’t expect it will be convincing but if Newton can be forgiven for staying out in the rain then maybe the rest of us head cases should be given a break.
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