One last push and Ira will make it–the completion of her long era as a student. She’s defended her thesis, held her last individual show, and now, all she needs to do is write her short biographical statement for the MFA Graduates’ Show.
How can she sum up the essence of herself in under 60 words?
Ira Mahajan developed her eye for the out-of-place in her early career as a paparazzi photographer. She brings that sense of the strikingly absurd, mixed in with the everyday, to her work as a painter. Having been a student for over a decade, she’s not sure yet what else waits for her, but she is eager to find out.
She truly feels unsure about what she’ll do with her time when she doesn’t have a perpetual to-do list with impending deadlines, but she’s kind of eager to find out. One thing’s for sure, she’ll start by finally getting some sleep.
It’s a long morning of sleeping in that she daydreams of while waiting for the winter graduation ceremony to begin.
But when the other graduates show up, the daydream fades, and the excitement of reality jumps in.
“We really did it!” Ira exclaims.
“Bro! Dude! We’re here!”
None of them are sure what they’ll do after graduation–that is, the next day, or the day after that, or the month after that, and this realization casts a bit of somber cloud over their jubilations. But still. What an accomplishment. And in the quiet moments before filing in to the ceremonial hall, they each pause with their own reflections on hard work, perseverance, and privilege. They made it.
Graduation is held on Winter Fest, and after the morning event, the family joins in with their holiday traditions. Their house is still too small for an inside tree, and once again, as it did on the Winter Fest when they found out that Kiki’s adoption was going through, it snowed during the night.
But Kiki and Case love being outside best, especially in the snow, and Ira feels happiest when they are happiest.
“How is it to finally be an MFA?” Case asks Ira.
“I’m not sure,” Ira says. “What if I don’t do anything with my graduate degree?”
“Does it matter?” Case asks. “I mean, look at who you are. How wonderful you are, as an artist, a thinker, a person–a friend. And so much of that has been developed while you’ve been a student. Just as you are right now, I can’t imagine you need anything else.”
It’s the sweetest, most validating thing anyone could have said to her. She does feel pretty well perfectly complete.
They have a grand feast with tofu turkey, mashed potatoes made from potatoes they grew in their own garden, ginger-carrots (also home-grown), and cranberry sauce.
“Best feast ever, right?” Case says.
Kiki closes her eyes and realizes this might be her last holiday while still living in the house. They haven’t decided yet, but there’s a chance she might move onto campus, and if she does, she knows how one thing leads to the next, and she’s not sure the stone cairns that mark her path will lead her back home once she sets out on her way.
Father Winter comes at dusk.
“I hear you already have every heartfelt wish,” he says, “but I brought you some presents, anyway.”
A few days after Winter Fest, they hear from the university. Kiki’s been accepted for early admission in the Fine Arts Distinguished Degree program. She’s racked up a slew of scholarships–enough to pay tuition, books, and then some. She was even awarded an athletic scholarship. It seems a bit odd to her, since she’s never been on a team, but her P.E. teacher did write an amazing recommendation based on her fitness scores. When they dig deeper, they discover that it’s part of the Inclusion and Diversity Initiative. The athletic program is given an incentive by the university to include a certain number of students with disabilities–and Kiki’s autism diagnosis counts. If they meet their quota, the athletic department gets more money. Simple as that.
Kiki’s not sure how she feels about being accepted under those qualifications, especially as she’s never had team experience. They’d start her as a trainee, and she’d have to go to daily practice, every game, and discover her potential. If she did OK, she could stay on the team and continue to receive the athletic scholarship. One other thing: she’d have to live on campus. And she’d have to start soon, before winter break were even over.
She thinks it over during her run. She loves being physically active, more than almost anything, and the idea of being on a team excites her. She’s never really been part of a group, and here is a chance to do so. And she’d get to learn an actual sport. The other kids used to call her a spaz, back when before she got fit, and she was never chosen for sports at recess–not that she was the last to be chosen, she simply was not ever chosen. This could be a chance to turn that around.
When she gets home from her run, she gazes at Ira’s graduation photo. All during childhood and her teen years, Ira was there studying, painting, practicing violin–working so hard. Ira never backed down from the challenge.
Now her MFA with Honors diploma hangs on the kitchen wall to testify to that hard work.
Kiki will step up to the challenge, too. It will mean leaving home sooner than she’d planned. It will mean stretching herself beyond any concept she’d had before of what she was capable of doing. But now, she wants to be a scholar athlete more than anything she’s ever wanted. She isn’t sure she’ll be able to do it, but she has Ira as her role model, and she wants to try.
Case and Ira throw a going-to-college party for her. They invite all the friends, and to Case’s surprise, they have a full house.
Case feels as proud of Kiki for taking up the challenge as he does of Ira for meeting her challenge. If he’d stopped to think, he might’ve felt proud of himself, too, for what he’d accomplished, in the community, his career, and the lives of his family. But that’s not his nature, to feel proud of himself.
Instead, he stands at the window and looks out on all the memories with the bittersweet taste of goals met, griefs endured, and love tended.
And with that, Gen 1 comes to a close.
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