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the infamous Graduation Contract

(and Ye Olde Johnston Process in general)
(shouldn’t there be a copyright on that or something?)

Okay, so the whole idea of the graduation contract is that you pretty much show off how you made your degree and what classes you took to get there. It’s also a record of how you had the time between these classes to narrate exactly why you have the stuff you have. I know, it sounds like a bunch of liberal arts hogwash, but it makes more sense when the process is explained, a whole lot more sense when you’re in the process, and it’s fufilling in a very non-New Age way when you actually see the title on your degree. Trust me. It’s not as hard as it looks. Frustrating, possibly, but not hard. If you’re the multi-tasking type like myself, it’s actually fun sometimes. God, did I really say that?


It all starts with an idea. The idea you have in your head for what major is, or what we call your Emphasis. For the sake of clarity (and just because it’s my page dammit, so I’m the Gestapo here), let’s just use my contract as the example. When I started out as a freshman and had absolutely no idea what emphasis meant other than yelling at somebody, all I knew was that I wanted to write. So, in layman’s terms (that is, according to the rest of the U of R campus), I was a Creative Writing major. I also knew that I kinda had an interest in Religious Studies, but I wasn’t too sure about that. So with my advisor’s help (a.k.a. Bill), I set out making my own course schedule. And, being a freshman, that meant the chances of getting into the classes I really wanted was going to be between slim and none. The bottom of the barrel just plain sucks.

In comes the concept of breadth and depth. When it comes down to it, Johnstonians don’t really have requirements. This is a good thing. However, in order not to look like a total slacker at your Graduation Committee at the end of your run, you should take classes that showed you were interested in more than one thing, and more than likely they should be sorta-kinda upper division classes so it shows that you challenged yourself. Not that you should jump into a 400 Sociology course your first semester; but the idea here is to take something you wouldn’t normally take, something that interests you in some way. I took a Religious Studies class, along with Spanish, Race and Ethnic Studies, and my already assigned freshman seminar which was about writing my Autobiography.


With all of the scheduling out of the way, I set about going to class and being somewhat normal. Then, of course, Bill suggests that I think about writing my narrative for my contract. Huh? Basically I have to write a little explanation of why I’m a writer, and why I went to Johnston to get my Creative Writing degree, other than the usual “living and learning” dealies that go along with it. It can be as long or as short as you want, and you have to have a title. The idea here is to figure out how your degree is individual. Shouldn’t be all that difficult, right? Not really. But if you aren’t good with deadlines… (luckily, I tend to write better under pressure… heh.)
Bill suggests I try and write my narrative over the summer after my freshman year, after I’ve had a little perspective on college and have a little bit better of an idea about what’s going on in my head academically. So after sitting at a computer off and on, writing a sentence here and there then deleting them, writing “the” and then deleting it, keeping a few things, doing some reading and writing other things… voila, the first draft of my narrative.


I finish my narrative as Bill so subtly suggests, and when I turn it in all is right with the world again. Nope. Where’s my course listing? Course listing? What the hell do I need that for? For one thing, you map out what classes you’re going to take, which can make scheduling a lot easier, it shows what classes went where as far as subject, and you can go through and pick out which classes you are interested in that look good on your contract. One little problem though: I forgot about curriculum building. You know, when Johnston goes though and makes classes for the next semester, classes that the rest of the University wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole? Yeah, the really cool classes. I had one semester of just Johnston classes, and I didn’t even plan it that way. It happens– classes come up that you know won’t come again. Take them, if they make sense with your contract. Just plan things the way you want, and keep track of what you did and didn’t take, because you need that information later when you’re scrambling for your Grad Committee at the end.


I make my class listing, picking out classes that should be challenging and classes that are in my emphasis. But I don’t officially have a contract because it needs to be approved by a Graduation Contract Committee (not picked by me but is totally Johnston faculty and students) in order for it to be… well, official. And stuff. Everybody’s nervous at these meetings, but it goes by quicker than you think if you have a good idea of what you’re doing. Plus they’re your editors too, telling you what typos you made, which helps because you know how spellchecks are fickle sometimes. Once they approve it, the Johnston presence in the Registrar’s office (in my case, Teresa, who is the Bomb Diggity) sends you a nice little summary of stipulations (things you have to do) and suggestions (things you should do) in order for you, in essence, to graduate. With that summary, it also means you get to go abroad a wreak havoc in a different country! Woo hoo!


Your contract was approved. You’re on cloud nine. Right as rain. Bill suggests I find out where I want to go abroad. I figure out that mess, go abroad to England for about 5 months during the spring of my junior year, and come back, a senior, a little more versed in the world and ready to graduate and call it a day. Er, four years. That means I have to go back and re-read my narrative again, just to make sure I want to make it public record. Ech, what is this crap?!? Did I really write this? Okay, do-over. I re-wrote my narrative. You don’t have to do this (in fact, some people add more to their original, which is fine if you still feel like the same person after a couple of years), but I felt as if I needed to. I wasn’t the person who wrote that original narrative. I mean, I am, but… you know what I’m talking about. I had an emotional re-hawl those years, so my contract should reflect that.


Ah, so senior year is here. It’s time to kick back and wait for the graduation to begin. Nope. All of a sudden I was in Interim, trying to plan my senior project and classes for the spring, meanwhile totally re-writing my narrative. On top of this I had to go back and figure out what classes I didn’t take and which ones I did. See, all the classes that I’d planned waaay back in my sophomore year were permanent in my contract. I couldn’t change what I’d thought I was going to take. However, what I could do was attach an addendum to my contract showing what classes I substituted for what, and the reasons why. (The copy you see here is clean; Bill subsequently wrote a bunch of arrows pointing to what classes lined up with what. Looked like a playbook for a football team.)


All of a sudden, spring’s here. It’s time to boogie down and get the shit done. Luckily, because I was so good with the deadlines, I schedule my grad check early. Teresa loves me. Grad check is where the registrar sits down with your contract, goes through it word by word, checking for errors, and points out whatever little mistakes you made so that you can go get them corrected and your contract looks so perdy. Without even realizing it, I’d made Teresa’s job that much easier because I’d done things early when I thought I was behind. It’s like I was anal without even realizing it. But it made the other work I was doing easier because I didn’t have to worry about anything except picking my committee for my final review. She sent me a summary of all the stuff I had to correct.


Picking the committee was probably the most difficult part of the process, merely because it’s during the spring and even though your friends can schedule it fine, the faculty that you want have real lives. Somehow, it works out, Bill writes a Precis praising my accomplishments during my four years, and I’m ready to go.


The next thing I know, I get a FedEx package in the mail. It’s my degree, and it says that I have a Bachelor of Arts in The Poetry of Belief: Writing and Religion, the original title that I’d made up a couple of years earlier. In other words, I’d gotten a degree with a Creative Writing major and Religious Studies minor. Nice. Now the University can start asking me for money.

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