April Update: The Post-Defense Life

On Wednesday (April 24), I had my defense in the History Department Library. I had spent the day prior preparing, rereading parts of my thesis and outlining answers and points for possible questions Professor Corney said may come up. Honestly, there is no way to really prepare for your defense; after working on it for a year (or more), you know your work like the back of your hand.Now, I realize that reading and re-reading my thesis probably stressed me out more than it helped me. 

My defense was at 4 PM. Although it was a time most convenient for all the committee members, I dreaded it. Having it in the evening meant that I had to wait the whole day and mull over things that could have dragged my thesis down. Although I knew there was nothing I could do to change my thesis at this point, my brain still wanted to process every little detail. After my morning class and shift at the Wren Building, I got dressed at noon and then got to my defense an hour early. A few of my friends came by to talk and help me relax a bit before I went in the Library to start the defense. 

I am not going to lie and say I wasn’t terrified during the defense itself. My committee members asked some very difficult questions, some I anticipated and had information prepared for and others that took my by surprise. The hour flew by and before I knew it, I had to go wait out in the hall while the committee discussed my honors results. In that short five minute period, I paced Blair’s hallways and I dropped my phone four times because my hands were shaking so badly. When my advisor called me back in and told me my results, I felt as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. Looking around the room at my advisor and committee members and the genuine smiles on their faces, I realized I had had nothing to be afraid of. My committee consisted of professors that I truly admired and respected and they, in turn, only wanted me to succeed. These were professors that had each contributed to making my time at W&M a wonderful one and helped shape me into the person I am going into Commencement. 

Did I cry when I heard my results? I am not going to lie and say I didn’t. Hearing those words lifted the weight of two years of research, late nights writing, sleepless mornings fretting over whether I would complete it or whether it was worth turning in. And in that moment, I cried because I realized that these were people genuinely happy for my success. Thank you to my advisor, Professor Corney, and committee members Professor Brown, Professor Campbell, and Professor Limoncelli for all you contributed to this thesis and to my academic career here at the College. I cannot put my full gratitude into words.

The days since my defense have been weird. Although I am starting to prepare for final exams and final papers, I have to remind myself that I don’t have anything left to do on my thesis. For the past two years, that is what I worked on when I had free time or what I had to prioritize over other assignments. Now, I am in the process of preparing my work at the International Society for First World War Studies Conference in September and, in the future, possibly for publication in the Society’s journal. Although I am glad that my thesis is done, I definitely don’t want to step away from this topic for good. I am too invested in the people I wrote about and have so many other avenues I want to explore with the topic.