After I finished and defended my dissertation, I did not have a remote feeling of accomplishment. It was mostly a job finally done, after four solitary months of thinking, some more thinking, and writing. It was a project between me and my dissertation adviser. I didn't even feel a relief, and was wondering when the excitement and pride are going to kick in.
And then, they did. Big time. For many people (me included) graduation ceremonies may seem corny and silly. But when I put that cap and gown, and had my name called in front of everyone on the graduation day, it hit me: this is pretty AMAZING. I wore the same clothes as my professors; our caps were octagonal instead of square. I am now one of them.
All of the sudden, that single brief moment when I stood up and waved to a giant auditorium made everything worth it. For the first time in my life, I felt like I have something that no one, ever, will be able to take away from me. Ever. I accomplished something that not a lot of people can achieve.
This accomplishment may seem unnecessary. As my friend put it, getting a Ph.D. is like climbing: it's not useful, it doesn't help anyone, but once you do it, it's such a f*ing BAD ASS. Once you are at the top, you forget all the pain and sacrifice that got you there. The only thing that stays with you is the deep and overwhelming knowing that you, after all, have done it.
And you feel a little bit like a bad ass yourself.