As of this weekend, I am officially a Masters of Public Health graduate from the University of Pittsburgh!
This has been a LONG time coming – about six years, start to finish. My MPH actually got off to a rather rocky start, because I had to withdraw from my very first semester to have my feeding tube surgery, and take the next semester off after that to recover. So I guess, at that point, there was really nowhere to go but up for the rest of my time at grad school! And luckily, the rest of my time did go smoothly.
It wasn’t always easy, though. As a part-time student, grad school was a huge balancing act, with work, school, my personal life, and other commitments (usually, too many commitments). While it was made somewhat easier by the fact that I was taking classes in the same department that I worked for, that didn’t somehow magically make more time appear! Being a part-time student while still working full-time meant sacrificing evenings and weekends, and concerts and dinners with friends and so many fun things that I wanted to be doing, but knew that I shouldn’t. I didn’t always make the right choices, and I definitely complained at times when I did make the right choices but wasn’t happy about it (I’m still sad that I had to miss an Andrew McMahon concert to study for an exam!).
But of course – it was absolutely worth it, no question. I studied engineering as an undergrad, and I knew a little over halfway through my time that I didn’t really want to BE and engineer. But I wasn’t exactly sure what I did want to be, and I definitely wasn’t ready to go right into grad school, because I was really worn out from my bachelor’s. So when I happened into my job in public health, I felt so lucky. Because I realized that public health was what I wanted to do, in some way, shape, or form. So after I had sufficiently recuperated from my challenging time at CMU, I knew that I had to go back to school for my MPH.
My MPH program, and the professors that I’ve had the opportunity to study under, and the fellowships that I’ve taken part in – all of that has had such an immeasurable impact on where I am today, and what I’m working on. Had I not discovered public health, I’m not sure that I would be working in disability advocacy the way that I am now, because so much of my public health experience has shaped that. So yes, the time and work and effort have all paid off, many times over.
Because of the stay-at-home orders, my commencement ceremony was not exactly how I imagined it! But in some ways, it feels sort of fitting to be graduating with my MPH during a public health crisis. And thanks to Zoom, I was able to celebrate with friends and family, just like I would have done if the ceremony had been in-person. So, with that…
HEATHER TOMKO GRADUATES!
(Major bonus points to anyone who gets the reference!)