Graduating College During the Pandemic
This summer, I will be graduating from a small university in Paris with an undergraduate degree in Art History. It was fun. I wrote essays on Frida Kahlo, dicks, Leonardo da Vinci’s lazy ass, Impressionism, and my love of performance art. I live in Paris, so before the pandemic, I had classes in the Louvre, in the Musée d’Orsay, some of the biggest museums in the world, studying artworks as close as you could physically get. Paris is a museum in itself, some would say. I even had the opportunity to participate in a student program in which, for a brief month, I presented artworks to visitors at the Louvre. I am currently an editorial intern at Vogue Paris, writing articles about fashion and culture.
I was admitted to several prestigious art history graduate programs, and in the end, I chose the Art Business M.A. at Sotheby’s Institute in London, hoping to eventually work in the international art world as a specialist, curator, or to, one day, perhaps, own my own gallery. In addition to English, I speak French and Arabic fluently, and I am currently learning Italian. I have over five years’ experience writing in journals and magazines about culture, most recently Vogue Paris. I have received scholarships, and awards, and although I am completely broke and working three jobs to graduate college, I am hopeful about the future.
My parents, who have supported me to the best of their abilities, feel otherwise. Especially in the Post-Coronavirus world.
My father wants me to go to law school, or get a master’s degree in marketing or communications, which are safer choices, more likely to land me a job anywhere in the world. I have the grades. With the necessary scholarships and loans, I could do anything. Yet I have chosen a path that only the rich, privileged, and deeply connected succeed in.
The business of art is one of billionaires. Auctions regularly make the news because of the outrageous sums of money wealthy individuals spend on valuable art. This was one of the questions I was asked during my interview at Sotheby’s.
The department director asked me: How do you feel about wealthy foreigners buying up art for their private collections?
I was honest: I told him I thought that was not good, but I didn’t really care either way. I’ve never been big on morals.
He said: You’re in the right place.
I got an unconditional offer, and a scholarship.
In my admission letter, he said he was “Looking forward to continuing our conversation on Modernism.”
I felt like I’d cracked the code. I was in. The elite art world had embraced me. I was certain that after a year at Sotheby’s Institute, and perhaps an internship there, I would immediately find a well-paying job in London or New York or Los Angeles and I’d rise above my middle-class upbringing.
My entire life, I have had this desire to rise above the little apartment in a Christian suburb of Beirut where I was raised. I wasn’t that good at science, and my grades in math were abysmal, but I was exceptional at languages and history. I won a national poetry competition. I took part in Model United Nations. I passed the exam to get into one of the most prestigious French high schools (“lycée”) in Beirut, studying a Humanities program that was so selective, we were only fourteen students.
I received the highest Cambridge English Certificate grade in the entire country of Lebanon. I passed my French Baccalaureate with a “Very Good” average, although I never actually went to class. I got into McGill University, the “Harvard of Canada.” My father sold some land he inherited to pay for my studies abroad. I ultimately dropped out of McGill because of mental health issues, and I moved to Paris to study Art History at the American University of Paris, a tiny college with 1000 students, mostly wealthy children of Ambassadors and high-profile Europeans who wanted to do coke and get a degree on the side. I definitely felt out of place among such privileged, wealthy kids. I once smoked weed with this millionaire kid and his model girlfriend in their mansion right in front of the Panthéon. They had an elevator in their own home.
I was just a girl from Beirut who’d always shopped at H&M. I felt like my dreams were finally becoming true. My English Literature professor, who has degrees from both Harvard and Columbia, mentored me, got me a tutoring job, took me to elite bookshop openings in the city of lights and wrote me stellar recommendation letters. I was hanging out with the daughter of the Prime Minister of the Gambia. One of my friends had a house in Bahamas. It was surreal.
Of course, the Pandemic made it difficult to cultivate an active social life, so my last year and a half of university has been pretty uneventful. I am living in a tiny studio with my cat, working three jobs to pay for a dream I am beginning to doubt. My wealthy friends have all flown off to Mexico, partying away the pandemic, leaving me behind to deal with the lockdowns and curfews in a stifling solitude.
I’ve always said I envied people who were happy leading conventional, normal lives. Even as a child, traumatized by my mother’s mental illness and suicide attempts, neglected, bullied, abused, I had always longed for more. Perhaps I became a narcissist as a coping mechanism? That’s what my therapist says, anyway. But I am rambling. My point here is:
Should I go to Sotheby’s?
I don’t know for sure that I’ll find a job after I graduate. It’s a highly elitist environment, and I am not from that world, although I am trying to infiltrate it. I’ve got the culture and the clothes down. I’ve got the fancy education and the fancy words. I even talk to art specialists about Modernism.
But what if all of that doesn’t matter? What if it is just an elaborate fantasy I have built up inside my head, and it is now time to wake up, and realize that
I AM NOT SPECIAL.
Being a divorce attorney would be less glamorous, but at least I’d never be poor again. I’d never have to live in a dingy studio on the outskirts of Paris again. I’d never be left behind to deal with catastrophes while the more fortunate could afford to numb themselves away from the illness the world.
What should I do? How do I decide?
The future is approaching and I feel like a deer in the headlights of life.