It was a hot day in August, and as a new grad student I had been filling out forms and getting through orientation. You know--meeting people, "here is the copier," and all that.
And then the administrative assistant handed me a small brown envelope and a card. "You have to sign here," she said. "Here's the key to your office."
I knew in some abstract way that, as a TA, I would have an office and that I would be sharing it with a few other people.
I signed, and she gave me the envelope. I shook out the contents.
It was a standard brass key, just the same kind of standard institutional key that we all carry now and don't think about.
But it was a key. And it was mine.
I went out in the hall and just stood there for a while. I had keys, of course: apartment keys, car keys, mailroom keys. I had worked before, too: filing, cashiering, and so on. But I had never had a key in any job.
I went down to my office, unlocked the door, and put the orientation papers down on one of the chipped Formica desks. This was my desk, and this was my key.
For the next couple of days, as I was listening to various orientation speakers, I would pull out the key and look at it, and it gave me a little thrill or glow.
This was the key that someone had given me because they expected me to work and to come and go without punching a time card, something I had done in a previous job.
From this distance, it may seem a little silly or sentimental that I was so excited about this key. I've been issued a lot of them since then, and I never had that same feeling occur again. But giving me the key was making visible and concrete and visceral something more important than what all the speakers were doing.
It was telling me I would have a place in the work world.
It was telling me that I had a voice.