You Can't Take This Away

Amanda Mather

Amanda Mather

I was a bloody terrible student my entire life — from elementary right through to college, and high school ... don’t even get me started.

So, when I began to dip my toe every so delicately back into higher education, it was frightening to say the least. A staggering lack of self-discipline, combined with some learning disabilities and a well-earned sense that I totally sucked at this, all combined to make the whole idea seem terrifying.     

But, after a particularly ruthless breakup, my mother and sister (to whom, if you ever get the chance, I recommend listening, 'cause they’re always right) encouraged me to just go ahead and take a class for fun at the community college here in Santa Fe. Anthropology of food. Loved it! Thrived! Got an A-plus, a freaking A-plus! Me, of all people! Took another anthropology class. Then another. Did well. Confidence grew. Decided to apply to UNM (the University of New Mexico). Got in! Finished my bachelor’s degree, then, like a raging loon, decided grad school and applying to the graduate program in Archaeology at Highlands University here in New Mexico seemed like a good idea. GOT IN.

Had a full-blown panic attack, when I opened the acceptance letter. Although the confidence level was higher, it sure wasn’t all the way there ... clearly. But here I was, in graduate school; the world’s worst student had managed to crawl herself out of a self-created hole of fear and self-deprecation. Now I’m thinking about my Ph.D. Doctor Mather has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

Looking back on this process, I can’t say I was particularly inspired by anything other than my mother and sister’s insistence that I was capable of more than I believed I was. The women most important to me insisted I needed to get off my keister and do what they knew I could. I needed permission to believe in myself.

Today, my favorite line is, “You don’t look like an archaeologist!?!?

Oh yeah, and what in the hell are we supposed to look like? Were you expecting Indiana Jones?

It is easy, as a woman in the world we live in, to have your self-image be pretty well messed up before you even hit puberty. And I can certainly say I fell into that category. I never took myself very seriously, which is easy to do when the world doesn't really take you seriously — as is so often the case when you happen to have a vagina. The lack of confidence and inability to see my own self-worth was internal as well as external, and it was in there real deep. If my education has given me anything, it is the knowledge that I am indeed capable and that I can indeed take myself seriously. I can read excruciatingly long, boring academic papers, and, hell, even write them to torture other people! Going to school was my ticket out of feeling incapable as a woman, and as a person. It was, in short, the greatest gift I ever (beat myself over the head with, wanted to punch with a thousand fists, made me question my own existence, like over and over and over again) gave myself. And I know, I know, it’s just a piece of paper, of the very expensive kind I am well aware. But there is so little in life that no one can take from you, and education is one of those things. No one can take this away from me, and I revel in that fact every single day. 

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Amanda graduated from the University of New Mexico with a degree in Anthropology and is now working on a master's in Archaeology at New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas, New Mexico. When she is not studying, surveying in the field, or working in the lab, she can be found playing with her two dogs, Flan and Wilson.

Words: Amanda Mather