Answering the Call & Living Your Passion: Lessons Learned in Grad School

Dear Sista Friend,

I never could have imagined that I would be twenty-three with a Master’s degree. I certainly was not seeking out an opportunity to stay in school longer or postpone starting my career. As God would have it though, this prospect just happened to show up at my door step (I am a believer that he makes no mistakes…he knows what is in store for me even if I have no clue). Having taken twenty plus hours in the Simmons School for my Secondary Education minor as an undergraduate student, my professors, advisor, and mentor saw that I would benefit from a new program that they were piloting. It would be a one-year intensive Master’s program that would result in not only a Master of Education but my teaching certificate as well. Only students who graduated with an education minor AND their Bachelor’s from SMU were eligible to apply. Given that I had so many people in my corner and all of the qualifications, I decided to go for it. It turned out to be one of the best decisions that I have ever made!Resized_20160513_181853

So what did I learn in Grad school? What was it like being a graduate student? Is there anything that I wish I would have done differently? Do I recommend it to others? Is it worth it?

I could go on a tangent and answer these questions with philosophical jargon and picture perfect responses, but I find that sharing my personal journey would be far more relatable and relevant than prescribing my opinion to the masses. I can only speak on what I have experienced with the hopes that someone reading this will find even an ounce of wisdom that they can use to transform their own life. So here we go…

Grad school is nowhere near as “difficult” as undergrad.

It could be because you’ve usually matured a little by the time you go on to get an advanced degree. It could be that you generally know how to manage your time effectively or have become better at prioritizing your commitments. Perhaps it’s because you are only taking courses that are of high interest to you. Being around like minded people probably adds excitement to the discourse. It may have to do with the fact that classes are almost always a lot smaller than what you’re used to and that there’s more discussion and application rather than homework (don’t get it twisted…there’s A LOT of reading). I’m sure that it’s a combination of factors that makes grad school more academically appealing, so for anyone who may be contemplating whether or not they should go back, push yourself to do it because it only gets better! Especially if you’re going back for something you love, I can (almost) guarantee that you’ll find it to be manageable and rewarding.

Adulting stops for no one. 

Many people go back to school once they have families and are well into their careers, so of course they can’t just push aside their responsibilities in order to continue their studies; but oh how I wish that was the case! Thankfully, I was blessed enough to embark on this journey without having a career or children to worry about, but it was a double edged sword because I had to teach high school all day under my mentor teacher and then go to class at SMU during the week. I even had teaching assignments that needed to be turned in and I was observed by my student teaching evaluator four times a semester. On top of that, I was reaching my first year of marriage when I started the program and that came with its challenges as well. I don’t know if all of this sounds like much, but it was a huge adjustment to get used to. I’ve heard stories from classmates about what they had to sacrifice, and I often wondered why all of us subjected ourselves to extra studying and effort. Simply put, we all realized that perfecting our craft would benefit more than just us and that eventually our sacrifices would pay off. So for those who desperately want to go back but feel that you’re too busy, at this point you’ll probably only get busier. Therefore, encourage yourself by understanding that adulting will never cease, so the time is now!FB_IMG_1467215643674

Stretching your intellect has other unexpected benefits.

I remember taking a positive psychology class that focused on the mental health of the teacher and how a teacher who is more in tune with themselves is more prepared and better equipped emotionally to interact with students. That class taught me so much about my personal habits and about being mindful of the world around me that I ended up learning strategies that I could implement in my own life daily and even in my marriage! For instance, we meditated in class, kept a journal of three good things that happened to us every day, had to share five different things every day that we were grateful for, took personal assessments to see how much of a perfectionist we were, learned about the different types of love, etc. Needless to say, by furthering my education and opening myself up to a specific focus of study, I ended up inadvertently participating in personal reflection and growth.

You start to actually believe that you can accomplish more.

Now that I have my Master’s, I have supreme confidence that I can attain my Doctorate. I understand that such a next step is not for everyone and I don’t even plan to go down that road until five years from now, but accomplishing this endeavor has only motivated me to do more. I am assured that I can continue to improve personally and professionally. Just imagine what next big thing you can do and then actually doing it. Sista friends, it is a wonderful feeling.

 Career goals become clearer and more attainable.

It wasn’t until a month or two before graduation that I finally settled on my end goal. Of course I’ll teach for years to come, but now I see myself running my own school one day and teaching at the collegiate level. I now see the exact path I need to take in order to make those aspirations a reality.

Some food for thought…

Not everyone likes school or voluntarily signing up for more student loans, but grad school cannot merely be defined by these two aspects. It is much more than that, and I’ll prove it.FB_IMG_1467215618139

At this year’s graduation I was honored to be one of the commencement speakers, and while writing my speech I kept thinking about how all of my schooling has finally led up to this and how now I could be seen as a credible source of the latest educational techniques, etc. But when it came down to it, my speech was not as materialistic. I reminisced on what it took to get to where I am and the people who changed my life in more ways than they will ever know. While giving my speech it occurred to me that my Master’s degree is not for me but for those around the world who are denied an education. It is for all of the Black women who have ever been looked over for a well-deserved promotion or who were not offered a job because they didn’t have the “necessary” academic background. It is for everyone who fought for civil rights so that I could even go to such a premier institution as SMU. It is for my single mother who bore me as a teenager, missed her senior graduation, and only has a high school diploma. It is for the little girls who look up to me and want to one day go to college. It is for my students who will receive the best possible education that I can give them because of everything that I have retained from my classes.

So I don’t write this post to brag or boast, but to inspire and encourage. If you want to go to grad school, if you want to go to college period, if you want to step out in a new career…as Nike would proclaim, just do it. There will always be what if’s and doubts, but you never know who else you may motivate, by motivating yourself. And the journey there may yield unfathomable results! I answered the call and started living out my passion in grad school. Where and when will you live out yours?

Click here to view my full graduation speech. I must warn you, prepare yourself for awesomeness 🙂

Your Sista Friend,

Bri Smocks

BriBri Smocks just finished her Master of Education at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX where she also received her B.A. of English in 2014. In addition, she is a full-time high school English teacher in Cedar Hill Independent School District. She enjoys reading Jodi Picoult novels, binge watching shows on Netflix and Hulu, and spending time with her husband whom she wed in August 2014.

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