How Grad School is Like Advent by Lauren Christian
Advent is upon us with Christmas soon to follow, and as I fa-la-la-la-fall into finals, I grow ever more contemplative about the closing of another calendar year and the closing of my time in grad school. In all this contemplation, I’ve realized that Grad School is a lot like Advent—you know, if you tilt your head and squint a little.
Just indulge me in an exploration of the salient similarity: Advent and graduate school are both seasons of anticipation.
For those either unfamiliar with or who simply do not celebrate the Christian church calendar, Advent is the period in which the Christian church prepares to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Advent often gets overshadowed or outright forgotten in favor of its merry, merry neighbor (read: Christmas), which makes sense. The whole point of Advent is to prepare for the nativity. It’s a build-up, the opening act, the appetizer, etc. etc.
But may I suggest that the anticipation during Advent is precisely what makes Christmas quite so delicious? To us Christians, the gift of Christ incarnate is spectacular in its own right. But is a present ever so marvelous or enchanting as when it is still concealed in its wrappings?
The same wonder promised by an evergreen piled with presents is promised to Christians in Advent. Advent is the intentional return to marveling ignorance. We transport ourselves to before the incarnation, to before Christ, and we wonder how God will set the world to rights. And then: “Hark!” We awake on Christmas morning to discover the baby Jesus, fully God and fully man. What tidings of comfort and joy, indeed!
The point is: a season of anticipation is not something to be endured or merely gotten through; it is to be relished so that what follows may be more fully appreciated.
That is graduate school.
In the last three semesters, there has been much discussion about what comes next—what job I’ll get, what type of institution comes next, which student population I’m most interested in, etc. etc. After all, isn’t the point of all this quizzing, writing, reading, researching, to prepare me for the field of higher education and student affairs? We are not meant to linger in the student part but eventually to graduate into a profession.
To be honest, there have been times when that is all graduate school has been to me—a by-way to the job that will follow. But in those moments, when my sights were set beyond the spires of Garage-Mahal, I forgot about the power of anticipation. I forgot that looking forward does not mean ignoring the now. On the contrary, the power of anticipation is precisely this: that by embracing the now I will be better able to enjoy what comes next.
That is Advent—embracing these next few weeks, not wishing them away, so that the heralding of Christmas is a fresh wonder every year.
And yes, to a much lesser degree, that is also graduate school—embracing these four semesters, not suffering through them, so that I am the most equipped to serve my future students well.
So as I enter my final semester, I will try to remember Advent. I will try to remember that these months with these dear friends I call a cohort are a blessing. We get to wonder and marvel together at what will come next. And when it does? Hark! What a joyful day that too shall be.