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26 July 2005

Grandma Tired, Happy, a Little Sad

Sherry Kughn, graduate assistant in the JSU News Bureau, holds Connor Kughn, one of her two grandchildren born during her pursuit of a master’s degree. Connor, of Statesville, N.C., has a sibling due in early December.

By Sherry Kughn
JSU News Bureau

I asked my five-year-old grandson this week what happened to the rubber band I placed on his leg. His are-you-crazy expression made me stop and think.

“I meant to say where’s the bandage I put on your leg,” I told him. He and his older sister exchanged glances and giggled.

My mind is not thinking clearly these days—it is tired. I have pursued, with only a one-month break, my master’s degree beginning with the spring semester of 2004 and ending on July 29, 2005. I was not sure my mind and body were strong enough to finish the effort, but I was pleased to discover that both still worked fine, thank you very much. My health held out, thanks to the good Lord, and my mind stretched and grew in ways I never dreamed possible. I will graduate having made good grades, and more importantly, having passed my “orals.”

Orals at JSU, for those who have never taken them, is an oral exam required for the master’s level student. He/she sits before three professors and answers questions drawn from all 10 of the required courses. Orals last about an hour and a half, but preparation for me took about 40 hours of reviewing old tests and class notes. The effort felt like mental boulder-pushing, especially when considering that I, like the other students, was also preparing for finals in other courses, working at jobs, running a household, managing children (grands for me), and driving to school each day. Some of my classmates were driving up to two hours away from JSU. Somehow we passed orals and did all the other stuff, too.

Thinking back, I do not see how I did it. An encouraging soul told me the day before orals that most students manage to pass. This sounded like childbirth. I, as I did three times before delivering babies, braced myself for the pain and hung on. I flubbed orals a little at the end, forgetting the name of a novel I had just finished reading, but a kind professor prompted me through. How I appreciate that man. What remained during the days afterward – a presentation, a theme paper, and a final exam – felt like cooing at a baby.

My newly-born master’s degree will be in hand a few days from now. Everyone keeps asking me what I will do with it—just a piece of paper but so much more. “Nothing different” for now is my answer. I plan to continue working at my former job at The Anniston Star for awhile. I plan to tackle three writing projects that might take a year to complete. I plan to sleep more;  resume my daily exercises, which I only stopped four weeks leading up to the orals; and I plan to relieve my husband of the household duties he’s performed without complaint during the last 20 months.

My poor husband. His mind and body has been challenged during this effort, too. He has always helped a little with the housework but never on this scale. He has always joined me in babysitting with the grandchildren but never alone until this past year. Also, he has handled problems with elderly parents, has performed many social duties for me, and has driven on trips without conversation while I read, read, read.

My husband, like me, has almost stretched beyond his limit, though. He recently overheard me explaining the difference between "graduating magna cum laude or summa cum laude,” which is something we graduate students cannot do because we are required to make all A’s and B’s. The next day he made a comment even more mixed up than my comment to the grandson about the rubber band. His secretary overheard him tell someone on the telephone that he thought his wife was graduating “oh comma bin laden.” Our tired minds will recover soon.

I am happy about completing my degree but also a little sad. I have been saying for weeks how I will miss the staff where I have worked in the JSU News Bureau – Al Harris, Stacy Wood, Mary Smith, Carol Winsor, Dave Howell, and Randy Wilson. They have laughed with me—especially about the dirty socks I left on the floor the first day I came to work and about that day I  returned from a photo assignment with pictures of air. The staff has also encouraged me when I felt overwhelmed.

Working as a reporter has allowed me to visit and get to know many of the people throughout the campus. They are all so nice. I believe they must sign something when they are hired that they will uphold the motto that JSU is the “Friendliest Campus in the South.” I also appreciate Dr. Glen Browder, who helped me make my decision to return to JSU, and the professors who share so lavishly their knowledge about the infinite worlds of language and literature. Also, thanks to the Star for allowing me to work a few hours each morning before reporting to class.

Resuming my formal education has certainly fulfilled the dozen or so expectations I had for returning to school and more. I would do it again, except for now my mind needs a rest, my husband needs a wife, and my four—soon to be five—grandchildren need a grandmother who knows a rubber band from a bandage.

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