Promises to Myself on the First Day of My PhD Program aka The First Day of the Rest of My Life

Today is the first day of the rest of my life. I know that sounds cliché and probably a bit dramatic, but it’s true. Today I begin doctoral studies at Emory University. It’s almost unreal to me that this day is here. I’ve prayed about this, put in the work, had a small community of family, friends, and colleagues helping me through the process and this moment has finally arrived. Yesterday evening as I was with some of my cohort at a picnic, one of the faculty members said, “Enjoy your last night of freedom.” I hated the sound of that but I recognize that in many ways I’m losing the freedom I’ve known for the last few years. I’ve taken a drastic cut in compensation to pursue this degree. I’ve moved out of my nice one-bedroom apartment to share a house with some good friends–which I must say is actually nicer than the apartment I left. I won’t be able to go out as freely, eat as lavishly, and spend as much money on any one thing as I’m accustomed to because of this journey that I’m embarking on. Yet for all of these sacrifices I’m still thinking a lot about promises I want to keep to myself for myself, my family, my friends and this city that I will call home for the next 5-6 years. I don’t want to be one of those people who makes graduation the target at the expense of livelihood, health, friends, and family–because there are apparently people who will sacrifice all of that in pursuit of this degree (see below).

I recently saw this posted on a groups for PhDs and was disturbed by the amount of people--most of the respondents--who thought this was a good thing.

I recently saw this posted on a groups for PhDs and I was shocked to find that most picked graduate over everything else. 

This can’t be life. It can’t be my life. I didn’t decide to doctoral work so that I could lose all sense of self and the world around me. I’m not interested in doing this work  in isolation–although I know the work can be isolating. Yesterday I sat through an orientation where one of the students said, “You will be destroyed, and you will have to rebuild yourself.” I have everyone else’s advice and cautionary tales but now it’s time for me reflect. I decided to create a list of promises to myself as I begin this journey and am sharing it in hopes that family and friends who’ll read this will hold me accountable over the years and that someone else starting a new chapter in life might be encouraged. So here goes:

  1. Put God First: When I first wrote this list I actually had something else first, but when I wrote it again I decided to put God first, even if only for semantic reasons. But really, I don’t just want God to be first on a technicality, I want God to be first on purpose. I believe that I didn’t get here on my own and I don’t think I will get through this without grounding myself in God. My goal is to recover my relationship with God and get God back to the number one spot by getting back to the spiritual disciplines and committing to worship every week.
  2. Do Your Best, Not Anyone Else’s: What great temptation there is to meet everyone else’s expectations or compare yourself to others. To meet the expectations of faculty, of the people who recommended you, of friends who believe you’ll do everything exceedingly well, of family who are rooting for you…But this is not for any of them, not totally. No, my job is to do my best and not anyone else’s. To not drown myself in everyone’s expectations nor to get pulled into the sin of comparison. My goal is to do my best every single time. I will read as much as I can every single time, ask the questions that are important to me, risk sounding stupid if I just don’t understand something, write with courage and present with confidence. And if I ever fail to do any of those things, I won’t beat myself up, I’ll just do my best the next time.
  3. Take Good Care of Yourself: I know myself. In my first graduate program I was notorious for keeping late hours. I drank a lot of caffeine–albeit healthy caffeine (Shot outs to Guayaki Yerba Mate!). I sometimes ate garbage foods. I didn’t make much time for exercise. I had a one-track mind. But this time around I don’t want to do that nor do I think I can afford to do that. My goal is to keep the same exercise routine I had before the program started which means I will exercise 2-3 times a week. I have to do this because I can’t afford to gain any weight–literally, because I don’t wear cheap clothes–but also because–and more importantly–I believe that a healthy, fit body leads to a healthy, fit mind.
  4. Eat Well: If you know me you know that I love to eat. My ex-boyfriend once said that I eat like it will be my last meal. This doesn’t mean I eat like the food is running off the plate but that my meals are sometimes too lavish and opulent. I’m like the Marie Antoinette of food. I have no problem spending a lot on a meal with friends–granted I won’t be able to do that often given my new graduate student status–because I love a great food experience and great company. But, in keeping with my new status, my goal is to still find ways to eat well by simplifying ingredients, buying fresh food, and treating myself dining experiences on occasion–maybe once a month. I want to get to a place where dining out becomes special, an incentive even, rather than just this part of life that I feel I’m obligated to because I can afford it. So eating to live will be my first priority and every now and then I’ll live to eat.
  5. Keep In Touch with Family & Friends: I sometimes drop off the face of the telecommunications earth and the only way I can be found is on social media. When I have a lot on my plate the last thing I want to do is pick up the phone. Maybe I’ll text you, maybe I won’t. Maybe you’ll call me and I won’t pick up or call back for days/weeks on in. I first hope that no one takes this personally and charges it to my head not my heart. But I also hope to just be better about keeping in touch with the people I love–and even those I just like, moderately. My goal is to communicate with family and friends regularly. I honestly can’t say what the frequency of this will be because I know it will vary, but If you don’t hear from me for more than two weeks, and we communicate regularly, reach out.
  6. Make Time for Love: When I first found out I got in to this program I joked that I was going to start a new blog entitled, “PhD or Mrs: Which Will Happen First?” Right now I’m almost willing to place my bets on finishing my dissertation first before I get married. The former seems so much easier to me. I’m also just happy being single and recognize that I can get a lot accomplished as such, but I don’t want to be single for much longer. There are so many amazing things happening in my life that I want to share with not just family and friends but also a partner who can sojourn with me and I with them. I want nothing less than someone who knows their purpose and is actively working to manifest it because that is what I’m doing. I want someone who’ll sit in a coffee shop and read with me when I’m reading–their own book of course, cook dinner when I’m on the verge of starving myself, whisk me away when I get too wrapped up in all of this, and generally be a confidant and co-conspirator in living on purpose. I say all of this not to sound completely self-interested in what someone can do for me in a relationship, but to be clear that I need a partner who will support me. I’ve never had a problem being a man’s cheerleader, support system, confidant, chef, Kleenex, but it’s time for Nicole to also receive the same. But none of this will happen if I’m always in the library, my room, or the corner of a coffee shop–well actually I guess he can find me in the library or coffee shop. My goal is to be intentional about making time to date truly interesting people and be open to the package the truly interesting people come in. I wouldn’t mind a neuroscientist or chemist, just putting that out there.
  7. Be Yourself and Grant That Self Grace: Truth is, I may fail to keep all of these promises. I may wake up with just enough time in the morning to shower and get out the door. I may compare myself to my colleagues. I might stop exercising for a stretch out of necessity or straight-up exhaustion. I may go back to eating BBQ rice because that might be all I can afford. I might go into an isolation so deep that only my housemates can pull me out–and that will only be because we live under the same roof. I may remain single for the next six years because, hell, it might really be easier to complete a dissertation rather than navigate these dating streets. A lot can happen, but in the midst of it all I want to remember two things, 1. I want to remember to be myself and be gracious to myself.

Just this past Sunday I had a friend jokingly greet me saying, “Hey doctoral student!” I replied, “Nicole is sufficient.” I’m not interested in being called “Doctor” or “Professor,” especially not before I’ve rightfully earned those titles. I want to be Nicole through all of this, the woman with a good sense of humor, a healthy appetite, a high-sartorial sense, a lover of God, cupcakes, and dresses. A good daughter, loyal friend, distant but lovingly consistent family member, a civically-engaged citizen, and a grounded child of God. I know I will change through the years, but don’t let me change too much.

So if you read this and we are friends, either in real life or just virtually, will you hold me accountable? Periodically ask me how I am doing–please don’t assume that because I look or sound like I have it together that I actually do. Ask me when last I prayed and encourage me to do so–maybe even pray with me if you are feeling inclined. Ask me about the last good meal I had; if I’ve exercised lately; if I’ve met any handsome, brilliant, wonderful men; ask me if I feel like myself. Ask me anything. I know that I am because of many of you who have nurtured me up to this point. I will continue to be because of that as well.

So off I go to begin this beautiful journey…

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Zack Anderson, the Statutory Rape Exception?

***TRIGGER WARNING**** The following may or may not trigger victims of sexual violence. The news story that follows is not meant to support sexual offenders as we know that, but to generate a conversation about the laws surrounding particular incidents involving sex.

zackandersonThis is Zack Anderson, a 19-year-old from Elkhart, Indiana who was recently placed on the Sex Offender Registry in Indiana and Michigan. Problem is, Anderson doesn’t belong on the sex offender list.

Anderson landed on this list after an encounter with a young woman he met on the dating app “Hot or Not.” The girl lived just across the state line in Michigan and posed as a 17-year-old. Anderson and the girl met and had consensual sex but afterwards it was discovered that the girl was 14-years-old which means that Anderson, unbeknownst to him in the moment, committed statutory rape. (Statutory rape laws in Michigan state that, “Third-degree criminal sexual conduct is sexual penetration with someone between age 13 and 16.” Statutory rape laws for Indiana state that, “Sexual misconduct with a minor if a person at least age 18 engages in sexual intercourse with a child between ages 14 and 16.”)

Now Anderson faces a 90-day jail sentence, five years probation and placed on both Indiana and Michigan’s sex offender registry for the next 25 years. The girl and her parents attended his court date and declared that he shouldn’t be punished for her wrongdoing but the law remains. To top it off, the judge expressed disdain for the fact that Anderson used the Internet to meet girls saying, “That seems to be part of our culture now. “Meet, have sex, hook up, sayonara. Totally inappropriate behavior. There is no excuse for this whatsoever.” Those of us who use the Internet to connect, platonic and romantically, know that there is more than an excuse, there is a reason for this method of communication and meeting, but that is neither here nor there at the moment and the judge probably could have withheld his opinion on that. The real issue at hand is what to do in a statutory rape case when your victim lies and she–or he–comes forward to confess that lie and there is evidence of that lie–in this case maybe there is evidence through archived webpages of her dating profile that show her misrepresenting herself and her age.

Lying about one’s age on a dating app is an occurrence as old as time. So what are the consequences for lying about one’s age in a situation that could do harm and damage to the other person’s life? (And really, though Anderson is the only one being explicitly punished, I’m willing to bet that the girl may endure another kind of punishment if only through guilt.)

Nevertheless, because of this young woman’s lie Anderson’s life will never be the same. He has the jail sentence, the probation, the sex offender registry, and he can’t live or go near his parent’s house because he has a 15-year-old brother all because of a lie. I’ve been wracking my brain to see how this might be justified but I just don’t see it. Even as I write this I’m thinking, “But what if this is all I setup? What if his parents paid hers to come forward and state that she lied?” On one hand I want to believe this young man’s account because I want to believe that not every young man is a factory of raging hormones looking for a release by any means necessary–a nod to a Camille Paglia. On the other hand I’m fully aware that with our culture, a culture where rape culture is persistent and men get away with all manner of evil while we either silence or shame the women involved, the alternative storyline that I’ve conjured in my mind could also be possible. But I want to look at this case considering the evidence we have before us which is, literally, the testimony of Anderson and the girl’s admission and apology.

Say we take Anderson’s account at face value as well as the confession of the girl.

Say all of it is true.

Should the statutory rape law be upheld? Why?

Should there be an exception to the law if the victim confesses to deceitful behavior?

Should the victim be punished? Why? How? 

I’m very curious to hear perspectives across the board.

In a few days I’d like to follow-up on a few other issues that I can’t yet cover in this post which will include results from the questions above as well as the poll attached and why I am actually against the sex offender list in general. Until then, I look forward to sharing dialogue with people on the present case.