Life is like a grindstone," declared the speaker at my recent college graduation. "Whether it wears you down or polishes you up depends on what you're made of."
Does weighing more than my new 25-cubic-foot refrigerator wear me down, or polish me up? I wondered silently, envisioning a very large kitchen appliance striding across the stage to receive its diploma, a graduation cap tipped to one side, the tassel dangling over the left edge. Would the chancellor think twice as he shook my hand? Would even one person in the audience realize what I went through to get that piece of paper?
Graduating from college has been a stellar achievement in my life. From the very first day (right out of high school), my biggest obstacle hasn't been the course work, it's been getting my 64 inch waistline wedged into a seat. For three years I spent my classes stuffed into a desk, with much of the left half of my body hanging off the edge of a too-small seat. Sitting in that predicament for 90 minutes, with my left foot falling asleep from the strain of balancing my body, took as much effort for me as it might have taken a fledgling gymnast to stay on the balance beam.
Then one day, years later, I had an epiphany. I became a woman on a mission! "Know thine enemy" was my battle cry as I returned to school, going from classroom to classroom armed with a tape measure, a friend, and a note pad. On one cold, wet day, we measured every different type of seating offered on campus. We scurried from room to room, finding ourselves in basement classrooms (the largest seats were 17 1/2 inches across), and sneaking in through the stage entrance of a theater--in the dark! (16 3/4 inches with only 11 1/2 inches of room between rows of seats). The most dismal measure of all was the newly acquired plastic seats with attached desks. I'd like for you all to try something for me. Look around for a sheet of legal paper. Yep, the 14-inch long stuff. Found it? That's exactly how narrow these seats are. Now get a second piece of paper and lie it end-to-end with the first one. Twenty-eight inches. The width of my derriere. Do we notice some disparity here?
It wasn't all bad. I found that armed with a little knowledge, I could be comfortable in some classrooms without making any special arrangements. I learned to gauge variable seat width by the way theater-style seating is bolted to the floor, so that I'd easily be able to pick out the widest seat. I also discovered that many upper-level seminar classes were taught in rooms furnished with tables and armless chairs.
"Hello, I need to make special seating arrangements for some of my classes," I said to the voice at the other end of the line. "What's your disability?" she asked. I hesitated. "I don't have a disability the seats do." Silence. "W..what?" This clearly wasn't the answer she was accustomed to hearing, but she did make an appointment to "see" me (university policy, you understand) and she got me what I needed in order to be comfortable. An armless chair and a small table were provided for me in any classroom, at my request. Victory! I took back my power, and the seats just, well, SAT there and took it.
My college experience wasn't all as easy as a phone call. In addition to seating, when planning my course schedule I had to consider parking, walking distance, time allowed between classes, and obstacles like stairs. I also needed an extra half hour before each class, so I could locate the special seating provided for me (it had occasionally been moved out of the classroom), drag it back, and get it set up.
Even graduation day did not come without advance planning. I specially ordered my cap (size 8) and gown (size 509), and requested seating sturdier than the lightweight folding chairs provided for the other graduates. I also had to call ahead to the restaurant where we celebrated, and be sure there was an armless chair at my table.
Now that I've gone through the pomp and circumstance, I find myself faced with yet another challenge--finding a j-o-b. My impulsive side is telling me to rent a billboard and get it over with. "Attention all fat-admiring businesses: Recent graduate, three times the size of most women, but willing to work for the salary of one!" What a bargain! I guess I should put something on there, too, about my wide range of interests, from the humanities and social sciences to computer and information technology, and my management and computer graphics experience. I'm really not as concerned about finding a job, though, as I am about finding one in a positive atmosphere, where creativity and intelligence are rewarded, and where people are striving to create something they can be proud of. Hey, it never hurts to think positive!
Am I richer for having had the experience of being a fat college student? Undeniably. I have learned excellent skills for getting around barriers in life. I've learned that it's okay to take up whatever space I need in order to be comfortable. And I've learned that the race really doesn't always go to the swift. Persistence pays off, even if it comes at the speed of a brightly polished tortoise. Graduate school, here I come! ß