Every academic semester ends in a rush–mad dashes off to final exam periods followed by grading marathons so grades can be posted in a timely manner.
I had one additional duty at the end of this semester. I had to clear out my campus office. I’d been doing a bit of it at a time throughout the semester. Pitching old, half-started research projects and unclaimed student papers. Giving away piles of books I’d accumulated over 25+ years of teaching. I saved my very favorite books for my students, bringing them to class to give away to anyone who wanted them.
I finally got down to a handful of books that I couldn’t part with. I’d acquired them while working on my dissertation, which launched my scholarly career. The dissertation that was never turned into a book. The first big failure of my academic life.
So on the last day I hauled stuff out of my office, I carried some things that reminded me of the highs and lows of my career. I carried a tote bag stuffed with copies of primary sources and books that document mid-twentieth century feminism. And I carried the briefcase my aunt and uncle presented me with when I earned my Ph.D. I used that briefcase every day I taught. It’s got a few worn spots now, and the locks have to be set to zeroes or they won’t open, but I still think it’s really spiffy.
If the books serve as a reminder of the disappointments, the briefcase represents the accomplishments. The things I carried out that day signified a balanced career.
And just to keep it light, I posted this next to my office door:
Thank you. Thank you very much.