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Keith John Paul Horcasitas

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Memories of Completing a Master's Thesis in Graduate School and the Procrastination that was Involved.

Pic: Smith Corona Typewriter, Public Domain

Sometimes when I check on the status of our youngest son's high school projects, it is like de ja vu, as I recall the many times in the past that I would also put off finishing school work until the last moment. Nowadays, with internet tracking like, when you can get real time updates on your kids class work, it is fairly easy to monitor their progress on grades, but school projects still entail some long range planning .

When I was in graduate school in the early 1980s, one of my requirements was completing a Master Thesis before the last semester of the two year Social Work & Gerontology Concentration curriculum that I was enrolled in then. Since I already had a certified “Master's in Procrastination,” this became a never ending project. Besides doing about 20 hours a week of “Work-Study” at the SDSU Limited Loan Library, I was also very involved in extracurricular and non-school activities at the campus Newman Center per music ministry and retreats.

Also, I was blessed to be a live-in caregiver for a frail elderly lady, Lucille, 83 y/o, who only charged me $ 40/month which kept my bills very low, but that situation also entailed some keeping up with her care needs – thus, taking away more time from my studies. Cutting the grass, keeping the house in order, etc. were other tasks that certainly preoccupied much of my time. Thankfully, I could usually get by on about 4 hours sleep a night to fit in all those activities. Also, I was engaged to a sweetheart back in New Orleans, Maria, during this latter part of my graduate studies, so I had other excuses to put off doing my Thesis work.

So back to my thesis, at least I knew what I would study for the project, as my field placement at the San Diego Area Agency on Aging (similar to a “Council on Aging”) provided some great issues and info to use. Since I had helped during an earlier semester of my placement in putting together the agency's Annual Report, I had a lot of useful data at my finger tips! Being of Hispanic heritage and with a growing Latin population in the San Diego area per its close proximity to Mexico, I decided to review the adequacy of the agency's services targeted to elders with a Hispanic background.

Now back in the 1980s, computers were just coming into full fruition – nothing like all the electronic devices we have today. I still mainly used a Smith Corona electric typewriter for completing most of my papers. I think I spent more time using correction fluid or “white-out” as we used to call it, as well as correction ribbon just to get most of those papers done.

But with a Master's Project, there were more demands involved like completing a minimum of 50 pages for the entire report, using the “APA” style of documenting a bibliography and having to put all of the footnotes onto the bottom of the pages where the references were cited! It was horrendous spending so much time with a ruler in hand trying to figure out if the page would be intact with the right margin spaces for the citations. When I later used “word processing” that became more affordable and available after my grad school days, I would dread these Smith Corona memories!

Thankfully, my Social Work Preceptor was patient and put up with my constant “forthcoming” notices when he would be wondering when the varying stages of my Thesis would be turned in. It felt great to get an “Incomplete” Grade on one of those Semester Report cards, which didn't entail drastic consequences on my subsequent grades!

My procrastination routine would usually entail me bringing the typewriter on my bicycle to a McDonald's near school in the mornings before class, where I would get something for breakfast and a lot of coffee to perk me up for the work at hand. Fortunately, I was able to safely hook the closed typewriter onto my bike's handlebars without much trouble.
I found it hard to focus on studies at Lucille's house, since I would invariably get distracted with something she may have needed or keeping up on phone calls and love-letters to my fiance'. The staff at McD's were flexible, so they didn't mind me plugging in my Smith Corona to their outlets. Many times on days when I only had afternoon classes, I would end up getting a Big Mac and fries with a coke later besides the breakfast business they had gotten off of me earlier!

One way that procrastinating paid off is that I was able to eventually convince my professor that it would be allowable to include many of the data grids that I used for my Thesis citations as inclusive of the 50 page minimum requirement – since I had actually created them for the agency's Annual Report!

It took a long, long time for me to finally meet all of the above mentioned protocols for completing my Master's Thesis, but it got done just in time for me to make the grade, B+, that I needed to satisfy my Preceptor for the previous Incomplete! To celebrate my completion of the Thesis, which then led to my graduating with an MSW degree, Lucille let me have a party at her house. It was a blast! Lucille's 88 y/o boyfriend, Herman came, and we all had fun dancing.

In thanksgiving to McDonald's for all of the Thesis work that I had done at their restaurant, I bought a big order of Big Macs, fries and shakes for the party! And in recognition to that Smith Corona, some of my first works of free-lance writing, the Grey Matters column that I did in the late 80s for the Times-Picayune, were done using that same typewriter (and white-out!). While I later got a Master's in Health Services Administration using a computer, I'll always treasure the other two degrees more from having used the Smith Corona: 1) MSW and 2) Procrastination!

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