I am finishing the last question of the last exam of the semester, and I place value and meaning in the fact that the very last word I write on my test paper is “future.” Unlike the euphoric naiveté of my Bachelor’s graduation, my joy and relief of having completed this Graduate program is tempered by a cool understanding of this degree’s potential. I realize that it’s success or failure–my success or failure–will be determined by me. The document is acknowledged proof of my accomplishment, but the effectiveness of the document will only be as good as my efforts to apply the lessons learned.
Still, I take this last moment of my last exam to stop and smell the roses; to take it all in. I have just completed 2 and some years of education that is incomprehensible and/or inaccessible to most of the people in the world. I have completed one of the items on my personal list of the BIG goals. Hike the Grand Canyon. Train across Siberia. Ski the Swiss Alps. Complete Graduate school.
This is a big one, and not unlike the undergraduate experience, it is natural to consider the support group around me and their contribution to my personal triumph. Before I slip into a cynic’s nightmare of the nostalgic verse that is the typical communication at such moments, I look at the time of day. There, on my watch, is the time of day, and there, on my wrist, is my late Grandfather’s watch.
Banded by the inexpensive faux-alligator or lizard skin that was purchased at Wal-Mart is the time piece of my mother’s father. It’s the perfect circle of a worn gold finish, with a linen-white face and black letters that must be bold enough for someone with cataracts to see. It has a small indicator that shows the day of the month, and that partially eclipses the “3.” This day feature doesn’t perform an auto-update with the National Institute of Standards Atomic Clock at scheduled times, like the clock on my home computer. I have to set the day myself, but I could tell you if this is a leapyear.
I remove the watch from my wrist and just stare at it for a moment. What could this watch say if it could talk! From the historical events that challenged, shaped and defined America in the 20th century, to my wrist and the classroom of my last exam. Surely this watch would reveal Western history’s grand and epic scale in the most personal and intimate ways, all from the perspective of one man.
I turn the watch over and see the engraving. Crudely written by a hand that’s labored and drank for too many years are the 4 letters of the last name of a man who learned to mark his few belongings from others who survived the Great Depression. Maybe it’s from my exhaustion or stress but I believe that I can actually see my Grandfather’s concentration in the engraving–the intense focus in the 4 letters G-a-r-r, which is a much shortened version of the true Polish name. Easier to engrave.
As I hold the watch in my hands, the silence in the room is enough for me to hear my Grandfather’s accent. I see his bow-legged walk and feel his suffocating hugs. I can smell his vinegar and alcohol baths beneath his clothes. The second hand is steady like a heartbeat and I feel somehow more than reminiscent, I feel connected. Storyteller but no fortune teller, this watch could not have predicted that it would be worn by the grandson of a man who knew nothing about Graduate school. This watch knew nothing about 6 years of higher education. This watch didn’t know high school graduation. It hadn’t a clue about an MBA and it never heard the spoken Chinese language.
It does now.
And as I come to a realization that is significant to no one else but me, right here at this time, I see the reward for my academic studies is much greater than I have hoped. It is enduring. It is timeless. The success of this degree–the effectiveness of the document as measured by my efforts to apply the lessons learned–is in the ticking of a watch. I will go out into the world, and I may enjoy money and power, but I will never enjoy greater success than is known to me at this time. The time on my Grandfather’s watch.