Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Wednesday Night Stories: The Schweber Panegyric

As future stories will let you know, I was an awkward freshman. I stayed in my dorm room my first 48 hours of college. I carefully plotted out my map to each of my classes on the first day. I once wrote out a conversation on a post-it note and carried it in my hand to use as a script. But even with all this, I had one moment in the Fall of my freshmen year of college that made me pretty cool.

That inaugural semester I was taking "Western Political, Economic and Social Thought I: Ancient through Medieval." A topic that likely makes many of you fall asleep just reading the title, but makes me sit up in my chair. That class lead me to take a number of political philosophy courses and to collect a shelf full of books by Locke, Hume, and other Lost characters.

The class was caught by Professor Howard Schweber, a quintessential, semi-arrogant academic. But, boy, could he back it up. Once he came into class and had this exchange with someone in the front row:

Professor: "What did we read for today?"
Student: "Plato."
Professor: "Ok, (turning to the whole class) Plato was . . ."

He then launched into an hour-long lecture with no notes, no preparation, and no book in front of him. He was good. Very good.

And I was taking this class for honors credit, which meant the Professor himself would be grading my papers and all honors students would write two extra 5-page assignments.

The class was going well. We'd covered Homer, Plato, Aeschylus, Paul, and Augustine and I had already turned in my first honors paper and our first regular paper. At this point the reality of college was also setting in. I had a lot of papers to write. A lot of reading to do. A lot of stupid things to do when I should have been asleep. And I began to consider how I could work this system in my favor.

So I looked at my class syllabus and saw an interesting inconsistency. The syllabus had a separate section with notes about students taking the class for honors credit and this section didn't list how the grading of our 2nd
honors paper would be computed.

Did I care how my grade would be figured?


But I saw an opportunity and I jumped on it. I'm still shocked I did this, even more shocked that my freshmen personality had the gumption to try this, but I promise it did happen. I penned a late night email to my professor about the seeming discrepancy on the syllabus and asked:

"So will the final honors paper be graded separately, as a part of the 1st paper, or perhaps, will the 2nd paper be cancelled altogether? If the latter option was chosen I may be inspired to write a panegyric in your honor. Just a thought."

For those who don't deal in Greek oration terms, a panegyric is a speech or verse written to give high praise to a person or thing (the week before we had read a panegyric in class).

Now there was one fact I hadn't considered. I sent this email late on Tuesday night and the following day I not only would have class with Professor Schweber but I would be turning in a paper. So, here, the day after sending a potentially presumptuous email to my professor I would literally march to the front of our large class in Bascom 272 and hand that professor a paper with my name (same as the name on the email) printed on the center of the title page. There was a good chance I was going to get called out in front of 200 plus people.

So, I went to class the next day, handed my paper to him and quickly turned around with my eyes on the floor. I was two steps from getting back to my seat when I heard, a loud, clear, somewhat energetic voice,

"Mr. Nettleton."

I turned around slowly as if to say, "That's me."

Professor Schweber looked at me, one eyebrow raised, and inquired, "A panegyric?"

"I'll see what I could do," I somehow trembled out while sounding confident.

"I'll consider it."

I breathed a deep breath of relief, he was actually smiling about it, he apparently had not taken it the wrong way. But the best was yet to come, as at the end of class he announced, "And for the honors students, due to a highly creative classmate of yours, the second paper will be optional. You can write it if you want."

No way. I had just emailed my way out of writing a paper. I win.

And I did follow through on writing that panegyric, which I just read. The writing was awful, but there were references to leather jackets and Eric Clapton, so that counts for something, right?


Evan said...

Wonderful storytelling. I even lol'd to myself.

Matt said...

So are you going to put the panegyric on the blog or what?