November 2016

Love & Graduate School: Climbing the Mountain Together teaser image
I could hear the crunch of gravel under her florescent green tennis shoes as she followed my lead up the trail. I glanced straight ahead and could tell that we would soon reach our destination. She held my hand tightly as we took our final steps up the rocky ledge. Then, with her hand still in mine, I was overcome with a feeling of pure joy as I looked upon what is still one of the most spectacular views I have ever seen. Granted, the view from Enchanted Rock was pretty spectacular; but the way my girlfriend Mallory smiled from the top of the Texas hill country that day is an image I won’t soon forget.

That moment happened back in July of 2015 when Mallory and I were on a well-deserved summer vacation in the heart of the hill country. We had been dating for just over a year and climbing Enchanted Rock had been something we both had wanted to do for quite a while. The way we worked together to climb a mountain that day has since come symbolize everything we have experienced together over the last two and a half years. You see, that July was the start of our second year together, but it was also the start Mallory’s second year of graduate school at Texas A&M.

Many former graduate students are quick to give words of advice to current graduate students as they face what can be the most challenging and stressful years of their lives. However, I found out as the boyfriend of a former master’s candidate, that there aren’t too many people out there who can give advice to the spouses and significant others of graduate students. So, I’m here to say that the two years it typically takes to receive a master’s degree will be filled with hardships and achievements that will be felt by both the student and the one that cares for them the most.

Did I mention we were also in a long distance relationship at the time? Yep, that’s right! If the stress of graduate school wasn’t enough, Mallory also had to learn to love a guy who worked 12 hour shifts a three hour drive away. When I worked night shifts, we would usually only get to talk at 7:00 a.m. when she had just woken up, and I was about to go to bed. I can remember many of our drowsy conversations when I would ask something like “How’s your dissertation coming along?” and she would always patiently reply back “It’s not a dissertation, it’s a thesis.”

There were also times when the stress of her classes, my job, or going several weeks without seeing each other took a toll on our relationship. Tears sometimes fell on our phone screens as we would describe to each other the day to day challenges we each faced in our own separate worlds. Yet, we soon learned to rely on each other for guidance and advice as we began to understand that although the challenges we each faced were different, the solutions were often the same. Instead of letting the hardships Mallory faced in graduate school pull us apart, we became stronger in our relationship as we both became fully committed to her education.

As the months passed, I not only became engaged to her studies, I also became interested in pursuing a graduate degree myself. I vividly remember the night in early fall when she asked me what I had on my mind. A look of disbelief crossed her face when my reply was simply “I think I want to apply to grad school.” She then asked “After all you’ve seen me go through you want to go to grad to school now?” Being the simple country boy that I am, I replied with a mischievous grin and an optimistic nod yes.

While Mallory collected data and put the finishing touches on her thesis, I studied for the G.R.E. and gathered letters of recommendation for my attempt at getting accepted into graduate school at Texas A&M. I figured the odds were against me, but I did all I could to put together a good application which I eventually submitted. Once I sent my application in, all I could do was wait for an answer.

A new year began and Mallory was set to defend her thesis in February. When the big day finally came, I was sound asleep from working the night before. I woke up to a text that said she had successfully defended her thesis and I was elated because I knew all that had gone into making that moment happen. Soon, it was May and Mallory’s graduation was upon us. My chest swole with pride as I watched her walk across the stage at Reed Arena. She received her diploma that day and just a few short months earlier I had received my acceptance letter to Texas A&M.

By late August, our roles had completely switched. Mallory was working full time and I was in graduate school. We had both achieved what we had worked so long and so hard for. I couldn’t have done it without her, and although I know she can do anything she sets her mind to, I like to think she couldn’t have done it without me.

Last weekend at approximately 7:15 a.m, Mallory said “yes” to spending the rest of her life with me. The smile I saw on her face that morning was the same one I saw on top of Enchanted Rock one and a half years earlier. Although we hadn’t realized it, we started climbing on our journey together when she started graduate school, and we will continue to climb steep trails as I now continue my education. When the trail gets tough, we have each other for guidance and support. Although it can be a hard climb, I know now that the view from the top is worth every ounce of effort.

The decision to attend graduate school can impact relationships in many ways. People that you care the most about may be in another city, state, or country. Yet, with hard work, patience, understanding, and a selfless attitude I believe relationships can survive and prosper in graduate school. In the end, you might find that you and the graduate student that you love aren’t just climbing mountains together, you are actually moving them.

Matthew Pfeifer | Agricultural Leadership, Education, and Communications

Howdy!  My name is Matt Pfeifer and I am pursuing a Master of Science in agricultural leadership, education, and communications; I hope that by furthering my understanding of leadership and workforce training I can improve the lives of people in rural America.

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