My favorite professors at Boston College happened to be married to each other. This was not widely advertised—like many married couples, they had different last names; they had different research interests, their offices were in different wings of the building, they kept different hours on campus, and it generally didn’t occur to any of us to wonder about it until the day a masters student, who had heard from a Ph.D. student, who had found out from a senior Ph.D. student out on fellowship, asked in a tone of clandestine wonder if we knew that Tina and Carlo were married, and our eyes got big and we tittered about it for a few moments and then it didn’t come up in conversation again until we read one of Carlo’s books for Tina’s class. It was about boxing and the blues. Greg pointed out the acknowledgments page, which has absolutely the best dedication I’ve yet encountered: 

This book is dedicated to Tina Klein, possibly the finest natural flyweight ever to come out of Huron Village, because (1) she would get seriously bent out of shape if it were not; (2) I have been carried along on the surge of her inspirational thinking, editorial rigor, and encouragement; and (3) she taught me a secret about curiosity: exploring the world around you and taking an interest in what people do can be a form of gratitude.

Sometimes—often—when I am particularly aggravated about my wranglings with the Institutional Review Board, or when I am sending an NVivo tech support request, or when I am naming and renaming files to meet a fellowship program’s idiosyncratic and extremely specific expectations for application materials, or when I am just staring at the many tables and logs and lists I have created in a fruitless attempt to organize my way out of conceptual difficulties I am facing in my nascent research process, I imagine the acknowledgments page of my dissertation, which helps me to remember that I am not quite as isolated in this absurd process as I am often prone to feel. 

I don’t know if I can write one as taut and lovely as Carlo’s for Tina. It’s a significant challenge, I think: naming in about 400 double-spaced Times New Roman words each person who made this joyful or better or possible. Capturing, very specifically, how their mentorship or companionship or friendship contributed to the creation of this massive and precisely formatted document. I have read a few such pages in dissertations from previous cohorts of graduate students. I read them in academic books, too, especially a scholar’s first book. I like imagining an entire life from a list of names and watching this person come to life, spill off the page, suggesting weeks and weeks of research team meetings and emails and happy hours and dog walks and papers and one well-timed word or book loan or conference proposal that made all the difference in the world. Though, didn’t all of it? Doesn’t every piece of that life show up in some way in this tome, the dissertation?

I am looking forward to dedicating my dissertation to many people. I will express thanks for my cohort, in particular, and the unexpected joys of our mutual friendship. I will thank the students ahead of me who became friends, who served as mentors, who offered me time management advice and accountability and rides to conferences and showed me how to do it all, and how not to do it, and how to have a sense of humor about it, too. I will say something about what an impossible delight it was to share this town with Virginia and Brian for three years, and I will list the many friends and dinnermates who bore kindly my complaints about the hard parts or distracted me from them, and I will probably say something about the Campus Chapel and the ways it has become a home. I will thank my parents. I will point out that this big stupid document, which I have not even started writing because I still have to rename my files according to the conventions of the IRB so they can approve my stuff and I can launch the survey that eventually I will be able to write about, that and the interviews I do with the people who respond to it, and all their social media activity—this big stupid document would not be possible at all without the long evenings when Nathan interrupts my surly grading to take the dog out for a walk. 

So tonight we wrapped mittened hands around our mugs of tea and tried not to spill them on our pants when Stella bolted after squirrels and we ambled the streets of our little neighborhood, which we know very well now, even in the dark. 

Isn’t exploring the world a form of gratitude, after all?

1 Comment

  1. Laura Sheppard Song

    I love this, Katie, and I will read acknowledgement pages with a renewed interest now that you’ve shone a light on how lovely their purpose is.

    Reply

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