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Drew Shannon/The Globe and Mail

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As I got closer to finishing my master’s thesis, I was surprised by how difficult it was to write my acknowledgments page. This is an opportunity to thank all the people who made your project possible. The problem was I wasn’t feeling very thankful. Pursuing a graduate degree involved many highs and lows. At the depths of those lows, I was a tired and slightly bitter graduate student distracting myself by writing an acknowledgment letter that I could never use. With the help of time and perspective, I’ve realized I did learn a lot and produce a project I am mostly proud of. But sometimes a rewarding experience doesn’t feel like one right away. This is how it went:

I would like to begin by thanking my supervisor. I cannot overstate how rarely I agreed with your opinion. Each of our interactions was a unique roller coaster of emotions, similar to the five stages of grief. Every time I received a new round of notes I experienced denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. Beyond the emotional cost, your extremely specific and wildly subjective feedback was also fundamental to the delay in finishing the paper. Your contribution that I switch the word “sunrise” for “dawn” was particularly valuable to my work.

Next, I’d like to thank my second reader. Thank you for always doing the bare minimum. I sincerely appreciated when you told me exactly which framework and authors I needed to read, rather than make me find them on my own. Our minimal contact throughout the year and especially leading up to the deadline were the only respite in this otherwise exhausting experience.

Thank you to all of the professors I had the opportunity to work with at the university. I’m so grateful that you could each provide directly contradicting opinions on research methods and thesis requirements. It made the process of designing my own paper that much more convoluted and therefore rewarding. Additionally, I wait eagerly to see where my deep, nearly spiritual understanding of Marshall McLuhan and Michel Foucault will lead in my career. The medium is the message! We’re living in the panopticon!

Next, I’d like to address my classmates. I was thoroughly impressed by everyone’s ability to turn 15-minute presentations into hour-long ordeals. Furthermore, I was always floored by the open-ended questions you liked to ask just as a lecture was winding down. Truly, the myriad of ways that class time was wasted never ceased to amaze me. Outside of class, most of our interactions were one-sided conversations where we each screamed frustrations about our own projects. Nonetheless, it was always therapeutic. I know almost nothing about your lives nor do you know anything about mine, yet we’re bonded in a unique way. Thank you.

Thank you to my boyfriend. Time and again you offered thoughtful feedback, despite knowing it would be met with indignation, possibly outrage. I tested the limits of your patience with each new draft, a true learning experience. I understand that you did not register nor did you ever express interest in pursuing a graduate degree. How fortunate that you experienced all of the stress and frustration first hand anyway. This extends to my roommate, who had the added privilege of literally not being able to escape my complaining. Furthermore, thank you for entertaining all 43,093 conversations in which I claimed to seriously consider dropping out. Your efforts did not go unnoticed. It was especially impressive when you pretended that there were real pros to withdrawing one month before graduation.

Thank you to every other person I knew or came into contact with while working on the degree. This includes friends, friends of friends and distant acquaintances. Whether you asked or not, I provided you with a detailed account of my project status and current frustrations. Thank you for willingly, or unwillingly, donating your time to my work. It wouldn’t have been possible without you.

Finally, I’d like to thank my family. To my brothers: When I was overwhelmed, you never failed to remind me that what I was doing was neither difficult nor all that important. I don’t know how to begin thanking my parents. You were the first and most ardent supports of my writing, despite the fact that I wouldn’t let you read it because you wouldn’t “get it.” Thank you for funding this expensive endeavour and then for patiently listening as I repeatedly described it as worthless and a total waste of my time.

To future students in the program, I advise you to start your acknowledgments at the beginning of the work when you are still full of inspiration. Alternatively, you could try constantly reminding yourself that school is much better than real life. I made several promises to myself and my loved ones that I would never go back to school if I could just get through this degree. But I’ll admit that having my thoughts heard and challenged in the interest of learning is a privilege that I’ll miss, one that’s much harder to find after graduation.

The program was only 12 months, but emotionally it felt closer to five or 10 years of my life. Thus, it is difficult to remember everyone involved and I apologize to those I have forgotten.

Victoria Wiley, MA, lives in Toronto.

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