With only four hours' uneasy sleep, I did not perform as brilliantly as I had hoped. My exhaustion, as much psychical as it was physical, made of each question an unfathomable enigma. My mind reached out for, but could not grasp, the meaning of the words being spoken to me. Perhaps, I thought to myself, this is how my mother feels (she has Alzheimer's Disease).
And now, sitting on the toilet in contemplation of the seventeen years of struggle I'd had to get to complete my doctoral thesis, I am in despair. Should my tired defence of a highly original thesis result in its not being accepted, I think I can come to terms with the committee's decision. I am not so sure how I will handle the anger I shall indubitably feel towards my daughter. I consider flight. But I have left both my briefcase and my copy of the thesis in the examining room. I can hardly ask the secretary to fetch them for me. I must learn to face my failure and then I must learn to forgive my daughter.
As I exit from the women's room, the door to the examining room opens. The chairman comes out. Despair transmutes to hope. There is protocol determining who of the examining committee informs the candidate of the committee's decision. If the thesis is accepted with no more than one abstention or negative vote, the chairman does the honours. If the examination is adjourned, then both the chairman and the thesis supervisor inform the candidate. I look beside and behind the chairman for my supervisor. She is not there. "Congratulations, Doctor Monteath," says the chairman.
And now hope transmutes into disbelieving joy. As I enter the room, the committee stands and applauds. I have dreamed of this moment for years and years. One by one, my committee members and the other examiners, with the exception of the chairman, come to hug me. "It was unanimous," whispers my thesis supervisor. "It was hell," I think to myself.
It took me all the rest of that day and evening to realize that at last my dream of a Ph.D. had really, really, come true. When I did, I said to myself "Yes! Yes! Yes!" And I am still saying it.
We like to think that the life of thought can and should be a thing apart from our everyday experiences. It's not always possible. Unless we conduct our studies with determined detachment, isolating and insulating ourselves from everydayness, life will interfere, even in the third-floor examining room in the School of Graduate Studies. That's what I found, anyway.
Sandra Monteath has a Master's degree in Environment Studies from York University and a Ph.D. in Education from the University of Toronto. The title of her Ph.D. thesis is "Splits, Silences, and Stories: An Inquiry into Women's Experience, Knowledge and Education."