Ok, bear with me on this one...and just to make sure we're clear, these represent my opinions and feelings, and it's 'ok' if you disagree with me :)
When I lived in Japan, I studied Judo at the high school I taught at. It may be different "back here", but there, having a black belt didn't mean you were particularly skilled, or any kind of "bad-ass." Having a black belt means you are qualified to practice by yourself without supervision. You are good enough to be expected to see your own weaknesses, and be able to judge the problems with your form safely, without having a sensei monitoring you.
Ok - That's what it means to graduate. It has nothing to do with any sort of degree, real or implied. I have friends who "graduated" without ever going to school. I know former classmates that got their degree 3 years ago, and still haven't escaped the self-limiting student mentality. People like Noah Bradley are justifiably famous for their ability to GRADUATE. Noah gave up acting like a student long before he finished school officially....that, more than any painting skill, has carried him far over the years.
When I was at CTN Expo last year, I saw so many people that I knew within two seconds were still students. (Many of them painted technically far better than I do). They were showing their work to EVERYONE, which is good, but with no sense of WHY, which is really bad. Every portfolio I saw, the conversation went something like this
Them: "Would you look at my stuff?"
Me: "Sure"...then I look. "What would you like to accomplish with this?"
There is NOTHING wrong with showing your work....but you should probably be asking yourself WHY you are showing your work. At some point, you need to have the confidence that you know what's wrong, and from there, you should be getting targeted advice, not shooting a sawed-off double-barrel at the room and hoping to hit something. You ask Pascal Campion about the storytelling in your paintings, and how you can improve it. You ask Ryan Lang about lighting. You could ask me about composition. When you target your portfolio review to both the people you are showing it to and the problems you know you have with your work, you come across as a professional who wants to learn, not someone stuck in the endless "student" phase.
The other thing I've noticed about people afraid to leave "student" behind is that they seem to really want to belong, to the point they harm their long-term success. For example, I really believe that only teachers at a school should wear that school's t-shirt. Why in god's name would you want to advertise you were an underling? Going back to Noah, that dude DRESSED IN A SUIT at every convention he went to. Belonging is great, having a circle of trust and friendship you can rely on is crucial to your success...but it should be a personal thing, not something you broadcast if you want to find work. Remember, your ultimate goal, from the second you join a school, should be to leave that school behind you, with your skills being BETTER THAN YOUR TEACHER. If you want a club, great, but ask yourself what you are telling potential employers.
None of this should be taken like I think being a student is BAD. We all are students at the start..but from day one, you should be thinking about ways to stop being a student under another human being, and to start being a life-long self-learner. Get your black belt.
Thanks for reading, if you liked it, hated it, or really had any response at all, please let me know, and share this if you think it will help anyone :)