Saturday, May 19, 2007

Lowering the curtain

Thursday evening and it was all over - the final exam of the final class of the semester. The last student hands over his paper and, with a quiet muttered exchange of thank yous, vanishes into the night. There I am left with my little pile of Scantrons (okay I take the easy way out sometimes) and a few memories.

Sidenote: as I am writing this, the FA cup final is approaching its end. My aggravation at the fact that the game is not on television, already worsened by the discriminatory disclaimer on Radio Five Live that commentary is available only to UK listeners (some nonsense about copyright I suppose), is further compounded by the BBC website malevolently and unpredictably failing to update in a timely fashion. Curses, the thing has just updated twenty five minutes in the last refresh betraying the result that Chelsea won. Some comfort can then be had from the whole experience to know that the Cup has eluded the vile Man U. I often marvel at the depth of purple hue on Alex Ferguson's nose. I'm given to thinking he must like his dram as much as his football; but nothing is ever intimated about that aspect of his life, which appears to be beyond reproach. Unlike that Swede and his indiscretions all over the front page; but then he didn't win the World Cup, nor ever looked like doing so. I suppose you cannot argue with the results.

Back to the business in hand. It's a slightly sad event the end of the class. There we are, sixteen weeks in each other's company, thirty-two weeks in some cases, and it's suddenly all over. I wonder to what extent differences are really made. For many, it's a question of ticking the box, another step on a road to some desired degree or qualification. Often I suspect the enthusiasm and politeness to be masks worn to gain favour in pursuit of a creditable grade. A few for sure evidence genuine interest. Some take the trouble to compose nice notes of gratitude. They can often be quite moving: one woman confessed that she had avoided chemistry for ten years such was her fear of it, compromising her achievement of her desired goals in the process (she easily got an "A"); another did not want to sell back her book so she loved it so much (I didn't think the book was that great, but that's hardly the point). One or two, not more thankfully, express a version of reality that differs from mine when it comes to assessing the final grade. Attempts to negotiate upward adjustments can be the cause of some uncomfortable moments, leaving me feeling somehow responsible for unmet objectives. Careers in tatters as a consequence of a tenth of a point, self esteem destroyed by the appearance of a single "C" on the transcript and so on. Do we not worry too much about such minutiae? A select few will grasp the bigger picture and develop an appreciation for the beauty of the subject. All of a sudden they are off on their own, probing for greater understanding and discovering other questions, which often are forwarded to me for answers. I know then it has not been in vain.

Friday was the big graduation night. I had attended for the first time last year, the whole gay fandango and ceremony just being a little off putting. There is a great speech in Henry V centered on ceremony though I remember not a word of it now - thrice gorgeous ceremony or something. Out of a growing sense of duty I made the effort last year and endured the palaver of getting the gown and stuff. I was a little skeptical about the authenticity of the rented "Oxford" colours. This year I privately looked forward to seeing the students in their borrowed robes march proudly across the temporary stage in the noisy PE center. What is perhaps tiresome for us world-weary academics is for some a once-in-a-lifetime event. Why be churlish about that? I would note how many of them I knew. I had a front row seat on the end and the line would file right past me. None of them saw me and each time I was immobilized by indecision as to whether to acknowledge them, an unwelcome intrusion of their moment perhaps, or not. I chose not, with a note of regret. Afterwards, a rapid retreat beaten from the "cookies and punch" reception (why do these sorts of things have to separate us from real universities?) to Houlihan's - appetizers provided by the Faculty Senate (but not drinks of course!). Il Presidente graced us with his presence for an extended period and even bought a round guaranteeing by that transaction my eternal loyalty. How cheaply I can be had.

A few more days and then the new rounds begin. One week to explore other interests in the interim.