On the Privilege of Pursuing Higher Education

By Courtney Sexton

February 21, 2018

Courtney Sexton holding her camera on the field

As a 32 year-old first-year Master’s degree student hopefully en-route to a PhD program, I have done a lot of soul-searching in the past few months.

Wait a minute; let me walk that back. Soul-searching may actually be my default condition (after all, I self-identify as a writer). I’ll amend:

As a 32 year-old first-year Master’s degree student hopefully en-route to a PhD program, I have asked myself at least once daily for the past six months, “are you f***ing insane?!”.

While I’d best leave determinations of my mental soundness to my colleagues over in the Psych department, there is one thing I do know for certain: Life and I, we’ve had our disagreements, but at the end of the day, I am beyond privileged to be where I am.

As an adolescent, I never knew “what I wanted to be when I grew up”. I didn’t have a burning passion to go to medical school; the thought of running a business didn’t really cross my mind; I wasn’t going to write the next great American novel (well, maybe not…)—yet none of those things seemed out of the realm of possibility.

What I really wanted was to know and try everything—which, as it turns out, actually is impossible. Nevertheless, and thanks in no small part to family support and some incredible mentors who have stuck with me, I have been encouraged time and again on this quest to “figure it all out.” In one life, that meant spending nights at a museum; in another, two years writing my way to an MFA; a brief stint trying to be an urban farmer; tracking wolves and documenting sage-grouse dances… But in all of these iterations, it has also meant waiting tables, tutoring, gigs and hustles on the side. In all of these iterations, it has also meant remembering to be grateful for the foundation of knowledge I was able to gain in high school and college.

And now, these experiences, woven together, have brought me back to the halls of academia.

It feels right.

It is exciting.

It is still hard.

I am a single woman living in an expensive city. I have a health condition that requires high quality medical care and costly insurance. I work multiple jobs to pay rent, bills and loans. And there are the less tangible costs to attending a program in the city where I’ve spent the majority of the past ten years building a life—prior commitments, engagements and friends have gotten short-changed; “where have you been” seems a constant refrain, even from my dog.

But where I’ve been is here, at GW, where I get to take advantage of the resources of a top-tier institution and a network of intelligent, passionate people who support the work that I want to do. There is a beautiful shiny desk with my name on it in said institution. It’s my job to learn. (LEARNING IS A JOB?!).

These, I know, are not luxuries afforded to many. So I am working my ass off to stay afloat and to absorb. it. all., and to be worthy of the life that allows me, at 32, to start again, anew.