29 May 2009


Today: College commencement. Some of the graduates were students of mine, whether during the semester that just ended or in earlier ones. After the ceremony and the reception that followed, I went to my office to take care of a few things. To tell you the truth, I didn't want to leave: Somehow this day's events were some of the clearest signals that this part of my life will soon end. What I always wanted is near enough that I can practically taste it, but I think that today I realized, at least to some degree, what I've learned and what I've gained (besides weight) during the nearly six years that I've been living as Justine.

Two students--one whom I hadn't seen in more than a year--gave me two of the warmest embraces I've ever received from people who were not relatives or intimate friends. They both said they've read entries on this blog. I didn't ask--but now I'd love to know--how they found out about it.

Sharon took three classes with me. Before that, she took a workshop I taught on the test everyone in the college has to pass in order to continue into her or his junior year. She recommended me to quite a few of the students who've taken my classes since I first met her. I don't think I've ever seen a more committed student: She managed to keep up with her studies even as she was working, raising two kids and giving birth to another. And she moved during the middle of the second course she took with me.

Actually, she graduated last year. But she came to today's ceremony because friends of hers were receiving their degrees. I don't think those friends could do anything but go to school and graduate as long as Sharon is in their lives: I've seen very few people who can motivate people the way she does. I know I was a better teacher when she was in the classroom.

I probably will see her again after the surgery, and I may see her before it. However, I saw many other students--and a few faculty and staff members--whom I won't see again , at least before my surgery and the Fall semester. They all seemed to know about my impending surgery and were offering me words of encouragement. A few even said I've "inspired" them. To what, they didn't say, mainly because I didn't ask. I never knew I could have such an efffect on anybody!

Another of those students is Tiffany. She took my hip-hop class; before that, she took Writing for Business with me. Talk about two different kinds of courses! Two of her friends, whom I'd never met before, accompanied her. "We've heard all about you!," they both exclaimed.

"Whatever Tiffany says..."

"Is the truth," she replied to me.

Tiffany, like Sharon, is a student I anticipate seeing, or hearing from, again. At least, I hope so. Another similarity between them, as you may have guessed, is their commitment to their studies.

And there is another similarity...aside from being African-American women of roughly the same age: They inspired me. There were days I simply did not want to go to the college; once I was in the classroom, however, I remembered why I was there.

It has at least partly to do with the satisfaction I get from helping people like Sharon and Tiffany to achieve their goals and to think beyond whatever boundaries they may not have even known they had. (I think most, if not all, people have such boundaries. Sometimes I think my life has been a process of discovering them, and at least sometimes, breaking them.) The funny thing is that they were helping me to learn the same thing for myself. That may be reason why, in teaching that hip-hop class, I was--at least for the time I was in that class--not conscious of any of the labels anyone may have affixed to me: "white," "transgendered," (or other, less polite, terms), "middle-aged," or even "professor." Sure, I made jokes about them, but I feel that it is a way of working beyond those boundaries.

In other words, I feel that, thanks to people like Sharon and Tiffany, I've learned that I can actually live and work by my spirit, my essence, rather than by mere expectations.

Is that what my real change--my "graduation," if you will--is?

After seeing them, I got to spend the evening with Dominick. Talk about change for the better!

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