Moving right along...
In my grad program, we have a tradition: new grad students are assigned a sort of "big brother" or "big sister" from the existing grad students to act as a guide. It's a little like the pledge system in Fraternities and Sororities, except without the misogyny, mind-games, and pushups in human feces.
This practice (By which I mean our program, not the fecal-pushups) is, in my opinion, an excellent idea. It gives new students someone to go to for advice and support, as well as a way to be integrated into the wider grad-student community. Since first-years take almost all the same classes, and all share an office, this can be about the only reliable way for them to branch out beyond their cohort.
For older students this is an equally useful way to make contacts with new people. It can also provide the vital service of making us feel important to someone... which is a nice change from the lukewarm regard of faculty, the alternating affection and hostility from various other grads, and the benign neglect of the undergrads ("Look, fuckers, when I say 'do your homework' I mean 'Do your homework NOW!!!'"). Being a "big" for a new grad student can be a wonderfully rewarding experience, just as having a big can be amazingly useful.
The program itself is actually run entirely by grad student volunteers. Two grad students organize it, and match up incoming students with one of the existing students who volunteers to act as a big. Often times older students will request particular first-years that they may have met previously, but there's still a fair amount of semi-random assignment.
When I entered the program my big, Nick, was a stranger to me. Gradually, however, over the course of several years he's become a good friend and someone I can rely upon. Last night, as it happens, I attended a party celebrating his longtime girlfriend's birthday. He also plays a devastating game of "Axis & Allies." To my credit, however, I play a mean Japan. My Big's Big (Grandbig? Greatbig?), Bert, also ended up being the big of my roommate, Jeremy, meaning we're "related" in some twisted fashion.
When it came time for Jeremy and I to consider becoming Bigs, we decided to do it as a team, and have co-bigged for three grad students so far. First there was Karl, then there was Gordon, and finally, this year, we have Marty. Meanwhile, our first little, Karl, was busy raising his own precocious brood in the form of Jerritt, and then Lisa. In total, my "family" includes nine different graduate students and stretches across six cohorts. I'd diagram it for you, but blogger hates and fears all ASCII graphics. I've been trying to make it work for a good twenty minutes now, and have come to the conclusion that I have better things to do with my time.
So, why do I bring this up now? I do so only because my entire grad student "family" is getting together tonight for an evening of debauchery. Well... debauchery might be taking it a bit far. Four of us, at least, already have significant-others, and I don't drink. It's hard to properly get your debauch on while in a relationship, or without beer goggles. Still, it promises to be a pretty cool evening. We're sitting down for a potluck (always a dangerous affair for grad students, who have tiny budgets and questionable culinary skills) and then hitting the bars for some pool and cheap beer. Hell, I'm even making my family-cheesecake... which, if I say so myself, is the finest cheesecake in all the land.
Why do I care about something like this? I mean, isn't it a little silly? Sure, but that doesn't mean that it can't be meaningful all the same. Much as I love my real family, and distant as I am with some of the members of my "grad family" I guess this seems like such a cool event because this is the life I have chosen for myself. Growing up we all become accustomed to having our lives decided for us. Even once we go to college- if we do- and start "living" our lives, we're not really living them yet. College is a little like being in a subway station. You have a place to be, and you have a plan about where you're headed, but for the moment you're just kinda standing still, waiting for your train to arrive.
After college I worked, but my job was... horrific. I ended up feeling like I was just marking time until I could get on with my real life. I had somehow just ended up in another terminal of the same subway station. Going to grad school, beginning this career, was to me the act of getting aboard a train. I'm on the track I want to be on, I'm headed in a direction I chose, and success or failure, I am living my life. Maybe y'all don't have the same experience, but there really isn't anywhere I'd rather be or anything I'd prefer to be doing. I am a sociologist because it's what I want to do more than anything else.
So, when my grad family gets together, maybe I don't really know everyone well, but they're a family that I have because they're a part of the life I've chosen. That these people are in my life is a consequence of who I am trying to be and the decisions I've made (Yes, yes, within the structural constraints imposed on me by society. Fuck. all. of. you.) and so they're special to me, whether we're close or not. Besides, I've learned by this point that your truly good friends, the ones you keep your entire life, don't always show themselves immediately. Sometimes the really special people take time to grow on you- not unlike athlete's foot.
I am grateful for my life, for my work, and for the people that I share both of those things with. Tonight, I get to celebrate that.
What more could anyone ask for?