It is with great joy and huge relief that I can announce that I have completed and passed my Masters degree in the Theology of Mission and Ministry form the University of Nottingham, via St John’s College. I will graduate on Tuesday 9th July.
This achievement for me has not been one that I have managed on my own, there have been a loyal group of friends and family that have supported me though the past 6 years. No more so than Becky, who has repeatedly told me that I could do it and believed in me when I found it hard to believe I would ever reach this stage myself.
Personally for me this has been one of the hardest things I have ever done. (Cue X factor sad music) When I was 5 I was adopted by my step dad, this was a great thing but did mean some changes. The biggest one being that my name changed, I was no longer Benjamin James Howard Smart, I became Benjamin James Norton. This might not seem a biggy or anything to do with passing my Masters, but one thing that happened during this whole process that has had a defining influence on me from the day it happened.
I remember very clearly at this time being in school and writing my name on a piece of work and handing to my teacher to mark. As she looked over it she drew out her red pen and wielded it over the text marking the red ink in glorious fashion, with every mark of red on white my heart sank a little until the point she read my name at the bottom of the page. It was spelt wrong, my surname anyway, “My goodness boy!” she exclaimed “Don’t you even know how to spell your own name?” being too shy to explain that I was still getting the hang of my new name, and if I had, had the brains about me I might have well told her that actually the spelling of my new name was at this point in my life not the highest priority on my agenda, what with been taken in and out of court on a regular basis as my parents fought for adoption rights, not knowing where I was sleeping that night or who was picking me up from school that day.
So needless to say that, that moment, that voice has been etched into the back of my mind right the way though my education, knowing that words and letters have always been a war and a battle for me.
It was with both relief and more frustration that as I started my Masters Degree that one of my tutors suggested that I should be tested for Dyslexia. After some testing it was confirmed that I am indeed dyslexic. This was a good thing and freeing in many ways and also frustrating in others. It allowed me to put something in place to help me, it helped me understand the way my own brain works and how differently it is wired, the gifts that dyslexia gives and the things that it makes difficult. In many ways it can be like being trapped in your own mind at times. I can be writing away and then the word that I want to use will not appear. The phrase “on the tip of my tongue” is one way to think about what happens when my brain freezes, stammering over words, a short attention span, falling over words and missing them out completely, forgetting really simple things like phone numbers I know I know. Constantly looking stupid and feeling stupid, a lack of confidence and self esteem. These are all things that make me, me. On the other hand this way of thinking allows me to be creative, expressive, constantly challenging myself to better who I am.
I guess we all have our demons and words are mine, but with passing my Masters it does feel like a fatal blow in my battle with words, and the sweet irony is I now have two more letters after my name that is hard enough to spell at the best of times !
Ben Norton MA.