Almost a year and a half after I passed my viva, I finally graduated with my PhD. I drove up to Dublin and collected my tuxedo, my gown and hat and then my parents, who had come up for the day on the train.
It was a grey and drizzly day, like most of my favourite days are, and there was a lot of hanging around beforehand. Once my parents and the other guests had been ushered into their places in the theatre, I was directed, along with all the other graduates, down a long corridor and into a posh room with blue leather tables and old portraits on the walls that just screamed “elite”. We speculated about whether we were going to be killed, or inducted into a secret society. What we didn’t know was that there were lots more people outside our room being readied for the ceremony, so we were all taken by surprise when a lady came into our room and shouted at us for not knowing that our names were being called.
We shuffled back out and were lined up along the corridor in alphabetical order. I had thought there might be a few PhDs graduating, and lots of Masters students, but no. There were like a million PhDs. Having a doctorate would appear to be nothing special any more. When my brother got his PhD, he was the only one graduating, and he got a special starring moment in his ceremony. Not me.
As we waited in alphabetical order and chatted, I heard a conversation behind me.
“What did you get your PhD in?”
“I gave malaria to lots of mice.”
We were eventually allowed out of our corridor and into the outside where we all had to walk around in a semi-circle before being allowed into the theatre. It gave people a chance to clap for us, which is always nice. I will never say no to applause.
The ceremony itself is farcical, as it’s all in Latin and neither the speakers nor the graduates have any idea what’s being said, so we’re all like toddlers at Mass, with no idea why we’re standing up and sitting down and why that man is wearing funny clothes. But that’s OK. Trinity is allowed to be Trinity. And speeches in English aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. When I graduated from UCC, Eoghan Harris came to tell us that if one of your friends is in the IRA then you shouldn’t hold a bomb for them because innocent people’s lives are more important than friendship, which, well, OK.
The square outside was exciting afterwards. So many people. And strangers congratulating me! And people who’d come out especially to see me too. And there were three of us from my class graduating and another one of the assistant wardens, and there was just so much well-wishing and hugs and memories and it was lovely. Even though UCC will always be where I went to university, I was in Trinity for 6 years, between my Masters and my PhD, and it was an important part of my life. And the people I met there were important to me.
We couldn’t stay for the official reception because there was nowhere for my dad to sit and so we went to a restaurant. The three of us had lunch and it all felt very celebratory. I then drove them to the train station. My car was parked in my favourite place in Dublin, the rooftop-level carpark in Trinity Street. I didn’t tell my mother it was my favourite place, which is lucky, because she immediately said she thought it felt creepy – mine was the only car there, there’s a lot of grey and concrete around it and the wind blows hard up there. I don’t think I could have persuaded her of the innate romance of it, so I didn’t try.
As I dropped them off at the train station, my dad turned to me again, and congratulated me on my PhD and said “Don’t waste it!” He said it lightheartedly. I hope.
I was working in Galway early the next morning, so I started driving there then. I stopped at a service station. I had posted a graduation selfie on Facebook, and I my wall and my inbox by congratulations, by likes and by messages.
(I did pause for a minute when I saw that my graduation photo was now my most liked Facebook post ever. Exactly four years ago yesterday, I came out as gay to my parents and brothers and sister. The Facebook post I made that night had been my most-liked post up until that point. I mourned those likes. Coming out was a million times harder than getting a PhD and it still pains me and pains my parents every single day four years later and I kind of felt it deserved more likes, but that’s not how the internet works.)
Anyway, I was sitting in a carpark in the Enfield M4 service station, reading congratulatory messages, reading too much into the fact that some people had “loved” the graduation photo, rather than “liked” it, and I suddenly found myself just washed in happiness. I hadn’t expected to be happy about my graduation. I was completely surprised by joy.
I shouldn’t have a PhD. I shouldn’t. For so many reasons. I dropped out of secondary school the November before my Leaving Cert. I had a genuine debate with my parents as to whether I should bother filling in a CAO form to apply for university that February. But I filled it in and sat my Leaving Cert, having missed seven months of school and I managed to get into university. And then at the end of my bachelor’s degree, I couldn’t hack it and ended up in mental hospital. When I eventually repeated, I slept through one of my final exams. I got a 2:2. People with 2:2 degrees don’t do doctorates. I applied for a Masters and was told by one of my lecturers in UCC that my degree results didn’t suggest that I was someone who was suitable for postgraduate study. After teaching for four years, I applied for another Masters and got through that (well), though I did sleep through the deadline for handing in my thesis, and ended up handing it in four days late. I applied for a PhD in Cardiff and got turned down. I shouldn’t have a PhD. I applied for one in Trinity, and got accepted for the course, but turned down for funding and my supervisor got another student to replace me, thinking I’d dropped out. But I did it anyway. And did very little work. From July 2012 to January 2014, I famously didn’t do a single thing for my PhD. I froze, haunted by transcribing that I had to pretend I was doing. My supervisor wanted me to go “off-books” and stop putting us both through the charade of my PhD. One of the college doctors said I probably wasn’t going to finish the PhD. When I did get everything done, the day before I submitted my thesis, my supervisor wrote to me and told me not to submit it, that my thesis wasn’t ready. I made two hours of changes and submitted anyway, because I was going to Italy for work, so I had to. I shouldn’t have a PhD. For so many bloody reasons. But fuck the world, I have one. I’m Doctor Connor. I’m just as much of a Doctor as Doctor Phil or as Albert Einstein. So there.
There’s no reason for anyone to believe that I will ever write my novel. I remember telling a guy from my class in secondary school in 2003 that I was going to Poland to write my novel. I still have the first twenty pages of that novel. I’ve been promising to write my novel for a long long time.
There’s no reason for anyone to believe that I’ll ever actually lose weight. If you read the last six years of blogposts, your only choice would be to believe that I will continue to overeat and gain weight until I die from an internal explosion sometime in 2019.
There’s no reason to believe that I’ll do the Camino. I committed to the Dublin Marathon. And failed. And to that 10K in the North and didn’t go.
There are lots of reasons not to believe in me. And I don’t believe in me. But then I look at this PhD that I shouldn’t have, and I believe. I can do whatever I want. I believe.