Papers, Presentations and Paperclips – Intellectual Lingo

As the weirdness scale climbs for this semester, so to does my enthusiasm as the calendar starts to count down to the last days of my undergraduate status. I am writing this in the C2801 room with just one other person who is doing some casual studying, but she is not in my next class. On the whiteboard, printed in blue lettering is, “Eschew Obfuscation,” which is Latin for “avoid confusion,” do not use big words when a little ones will do, a very fitting statement for most students who are asked to write papers that are in a mandatory length format.

Last week it was my group’s turn to present, and we did, but it was a disaster. I met with the next presenting group on my way up to the class room, and it appears that the same thing happened to them as it did with us. They looked totally lost, tired, as we did. I felt sorry for them, but at same time I felt like they are going through a rite of passage as we did when it was our turn. I laughed, but only as a sign of respect because I know the pain that they are going through, and about to endure.

Nothing is as it seems when doing these presentations. You can plan every minute detail, but nothing can prepare you for the unknown. We like to think that we can predict every possible problem and build contingency plans for each predicted disaster scenario. But the truth is, you cannot.  From the heckling voyeur to the meddling professor, there are forces that you cannot control.

I was given our copy of the group’s manifesto, with notes and remarks that were made by each of us from just after the presentation last week. The cover page only had a few hand written notes on it, nothing too terribly important, but what got me was the paperclip that held all the documents together. It was a bright yellow thick plastic clip with two orange stripes down each side of the length of wire. At one end of the clip was a rhinestone flower with a happy face in its centre. A fitting gesture for such a dramatic event for the five of us. How such a symbol for joy and happiness could be placed along side a document of terror and disbelief. But of course, I have a tendency of putting way too much emotion into insignificant events such as a botched presentation. I will never forget the paperclip.

Now that I am seeing this in hindsight, the vision is in 20/20. There was nothing that we could have done. The deck was stacked, and this was the test, it was not the content but a lesson on listening and following orders and instructions. We would have paid dearly for our efforts it they were based on anarchy and radical concepts. Perhaps what the good professor really taught us was that if you want the good grade, then you follow like the sheep; do as the Roman’s do when in Rome, but if you decide to travel the path least taken, then you will pay a hefty price.

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