The first weekend in April, I had the opportunity to visit the Simmons campus while I was in Boston for the weekend. When I stumbled off the plane after a red-eyed night in the air and made my way to Palace Road, I wasn’t fully prepared to feel at once so out of place and so at home.
Before heading in to my first meeting, I spent some time walking up and down the hallway of the second floor of the Palace Road building, taking note of all the things I recognized but only knew from listserv announcements–Brown Bag talks! Student group meetings! The Tech Lab! The feeling of belonging was so strong I almost started trying to figure out which locker in the hallway was mine. At the same time, I felt like an intruder, worrying that at any moment I’d be spotted and asked for credentials. My makeshift “online student” ID card would surely give me away as a fraud.
In theater, when actors on stage acknowledge or interact with audience members, it is known as breaking down the “fourth wall.” Emerging from behind the online student’s virtual curtain was a similar disruption. It made my identity visible in a new way, and it made me more accountable–to my professors (now that they know who I am I can’t ever slack off!, I realized), to my fellow students (online and otherwise), to GSLIS, and to myself. This feeling is less about undue pressure and obligation to measure up, but rather more about experiencing the motivation to, as much as possible, take advantage of the school’s resources any way that I can, and continue reaching out to what I recognize as an extraordinary community.
While my graduation is still more than a year away, this visit sparked my thinking about life after Simmons and how graduates stay connected to each other, to faculty members, and to the program. Being an online student resembles this experience of negotiating community from afar. When I graduate, I will already know what this feels like. The challenge for me will lie in living out my Simmons experience–online as well as in-person and out-loud whenever possible–fully enough that when my last courses are completed, it will actually feel like some sort of conclusion and transition.
Residencies and campus visits are not a component of GSLIS’s online program, but I encourage anyone enrolled–either at Simmons or elsewhere–to make a visit if it is possible to do so. I hope that this past visit for me was just the first of several.