Evidence of Graduation

Audrey Thompson


Ruth Trinidad, Frank Margonis, and Donna Deyhle
Ruth Trinidad, Frank Margonis, and Donna Deyhle

Sofia Villenas and Ruth Trinidad
Sofia Villenas and Ruth Trinidad

William suggested that I take some photographs of Ruth Trinidad at her dissertation defense. “We need evidence that people graduate from here and get jobs,” he said. “We should put some pictures of that on the web.”

“We need evidence that we do any work at all,” I said. “All the photos I have are of faculty and students with drinks in their hands.”

Frank, Papa, and Demba
Frank, Papa, and Demba
Donna, Ed and Harvey
Donna, Ed and Harvey
Octavio Villalpando and Olin
Octavio Villalpando and Olin
Vianey Moreno, Paulette Cross, and Deanna Blackwell
Vianey Moreno, Paulette Cross, and Deanna Blackwell
Ed Buendía (with Leslie Flemmer)
Ed Buendía (with Leslie Flemmer)
Donna, Spindler Award Winner
Donna, Spindler Award Winner

“Or cake,” I added as an afterthought.  “I don’t have a single picture of anyone doing anything that looks remotely like work.”

“That’s okay,” said William. “Putting pictures on the web that show us partying is a recruiting strategy. We want students to think that getting a graduate degree here will be a non-stop party.”

“We do?” I said. “I thought we wanted them to think it was non-stop work.”

“When they get here, then they have to work, but before they get here we want to make it look like it is strictly fun. That will be our strategy,” said William.

William Smith
William Smith

It is not a very good strategy, in my view. How many people looking into graduate school search the web for pictures of academics partying? Besides, what if the plan backfires? People can be so literal-minded. If incoming students expect non-stop parties, they may be ticked off when they find out that they have to work.

If the students take Harvey Kantor’s class, they will have a lot of work to do. Harvey assigns about twelve books a semester. So does Donna. These are not books on tape; they are books to study.

I would like to show you some photos of people studying, but I don’t have any. Studying does not present many photo opportunities; mostly, it involves sitting by yourself and reading or writing.

If you have cats, however, you usually are not allowed to study alone.

Audrey with Trillin
Audrey with Trillin

It is true that the exchange of ideas may also involve talking, but if you are talking all day long, chances are that you are not studying. Last summer, I saw a lot of Octavio Pimentel; he was at the office pretty much every day. “Audrey,” he said one day, “did you notice that I am at the office all day long? That way I will get my proposal done.”

“Octavio,” I pointed out, “it is not enough to be here. You have to be studying; you have to put in seat time. You can’t just talk to Jay and Vianey and Marty all day.”

Marty Shafer
Marty Shafer
Vianey and Jay
Vianey and Jay

“Oh, that’s only part of the time,” said Octavio.

“Yes, I know,” I said. “The other part of the time you are in the photocopy room talking to me. So far we have been talking for two hours.”

“Okay, I will go and put in some — what did you call it? Seed time?” said Octavio.

“No, seat time. Time when you are sitting in your seat. And working, of course,” I reminded him.

Although I did not actually witness any of this seat time, it must have happened, because when Octavio saw me recently at a party, he said, “Guess what, Audrey. I passed my proposal defense! It’s all that seed time,” he said.

“Seat time, you mean,” I said.

“Yeah, that’s what I mean,” he agreed. But now I wonder. It is possible that Octavio and Charise are growing some kind of special proposal plants. I would be very interested to know what kind of seeds Octavio used to get that proposal done. As Sandra Boynton would say, you certainly could sell a lot of them.

Octavio Pimentel
Octavio Pimentel

The same day that Ruth defended her dissertation, there was a departmental holiday party. After Papa Coulibaly defended the following week, there was yet another party.

Ruth with Nemilitzli
Ruth with Nemilitzli
Frank, Papa, and Donna
Frank, Papa, and Donna

Amadou Niang notified me about Papa’s upcoming party several times, checking to see if I was coming. It is lucky that I wanted to come, because what it means when Amadou checks to see if you are coming is that in fact you are coming, whether you want to or not. When Amadou suggests that you do something, it is expected that you do it. He suggested to a number of doctoral and master’s students that they take a course of mine, and all of them enrolled. They said to me, “We are thinking of taking your course,” but the decision had already been made. In my undergraduate class, Amadou tells the students, “I suggest that you keep up with the reading or you will fail.” Studying diligently is not really a suggestion he is making. It is more like a very, very good idea that it would be reckless not to act upon.

It is probably just a coincidence that the few other Malians with whom I am acquainted also know for sure what it would be a good idea to do. I have known Papa for years and he has the same powers of suggestion as Amadou, only more so. Even Amadou does what Papa suggests, which is to study. The only person who raises objections to doing what Papa suggests is his daughter, Fatima. Fatima takes after Papa and has her own ideas, which involve dancing, among other things.

Papa did not dance at his party. He enjoyed himself, but he was serious.

Papa with Deanna
Papa with Deanna

Demba, Fatima, and Amadou did the serious partying.

Demba Boundy
Demba Boundy
Fatima and her Uncle
Fatima and her Uncle
Rahim Coulibaly and Simone Fritz
Rahim Coulibaly and Simone Fritz
Amadou and Simone
Amadou and Simone
Deanna and Paul
Deanna and Paul
unknown
Habiba Doucoure
Habiba Doucoure
Demba
Demba

When Fatima was two, Papa complained to me that she was stubborn and strong-willed and opinionated. “Really,” I said. “Who would you say that she takes after more, you or Habiba?”

“Me,” he said. “Definitely.”

“Can you really complain, then?” I asked.

“Yes, I can,” he said. “Because when I am opinionated I am right.”

Papa and Fatima Coulibaly
Papa and Fatima Coulibaly

Papa used to be a TA for me and now Amadou is. Amadou is pleased to be working with me; he figures that I make him look good. After I talked over Amadou’s and my expectations of their written work with the undergraduate students, I asked Amadou if he wanted to add anything. Yes, he said.

After explaining that he did not need students to provide him with two and a half pages of summary of an article he had already read himself — that what he wanted was an analysis of what they had read, not a description — Amadou added happily, “It is no use wondering if you would be better off in the other discussion section.” Amadou is almost always happy, but he was especially happy as he told the students, “If you are in my discussion section, I will make comments all over your papers and I will be a hard grader. If you are in Audrey’s section, it will be the same thing. Whichever section you are in, you will wonder if you might not be getting better grades if you were in the other section. The truth is, it is exactly the same in both. I am very, very pleased that Audrey is giving you all these writing assignments. It is an excellent idea and I am sure that you will do a much better job of studying as a result.”

As it happens, I am very good at giving people writing assignments. Octavio Villalpando overheard me giving Karen Johnson a writing project at a party he and Dolores were giving. It was a project that would have taken Karen a minimum of two years to complete. Karen was pleased with her writing assignment until Octavio intervened. “Be very careful,” Octavio warned her. “This is only the first of many assignments. I speak from experience. You will get an email from Audrey and you will think, ’No danger here. The header just says, ”Thanks.“’ But when you open the email, it will contain one paragraph of thanks and four paragraphs of new ideas for writing projects.”

Being a professor does not protect you from getting writing assignments. Karen and Octavio are professors. Bryan is a professor.

Bryan informed me that he is using the comments I wrote on one of his papers to show students concretely that when they think they are pretty much done with a project, they are probably no more than halfway through. “Look,” he told the doctoral students, “here is a paper I wrote. It was already accepted for publication. I showed it to Audrey to see if there were any changes that she recommended I make before sending off the final copy of the manuscript. Here are the suggestions she made.” He showed them a manuscript covered with red ink.

“Did you make the changes?” the students asked.

“Yes,” said Bryan, “and here are her comments on the second draft.”

“But there is just as much red ink on that draft as on the first one,” the students objected.

“That red ink says that I wasn’t done yet,” Bryan told them. “And you aren’t, either.”

Bryan Brayboy
Bryan Brayboy
Post-acceptance drafts one and two
Post-acceptance drafts one and two

Some professors do not use red ink when they make comments on papers because it looks discouraging. Red ink looks like they might be making criticisms, so they use green or purple ink or pencil instead. Green ink looks friendlier. When you have friendly-looking ink, you can write things like, “What is your evidence for this?” and “Nice anecdotes. Do you have an argument?” and it will look chipper and gay.

I do not do this. I use red ink. A lot of it. Not just on other people’s papers; I use it on my own papers, too. It is easier to read the changes. Someone sitting next to me on the bus one time watched me crossing out sentences and paragraphs in a typed manuscript of mine, circling typos, changing words, scribbling in question marks, and fitting new sentences into the margins and between the lines. Soon the entire page was covered with red ink. He shook his head sympathetically. “That is going to be one unhappy student,” he said.

One person is happy, though. After taking a class with me, Jay Garcia bought stock in companies that make red ink pens; in this economy, he figures, it is the only sure thing.

Of course, it is not all work around here. There is always gossip, if you know the right people to talk to. One day Marty and I were talking about a professor in another department who, we agreed, is now officially wacko. Before too long, we thought of another professor who, if not officially wacko, was getting pretty close. “It would be better if professors retired before going completely off the deep end,” I said to Marty. I turned to Jay. “Do you think that you could remind me of that in a few years?”

“I may not be here in a few years,” Jay pointed out. “You will have to remember it for yourself. ’Memo to self: Retire before going insane.’”

“Thank you,” I said. “That is very helpful.”

Then, of course, there are the parties. In addition to their other virtues, parties are a good place to get gossip. At a recent party, Ed told Frank, Maria, Mary, and me a musical secret. “I don’t usually tell people about that,” he said. “I only tell you because you will understand the context.” I would like to tell you the secret, but Ed says that I am not allowed to. I double checked.

“When you say that you are only telling us the secret, Ed, do you mean just us? Can I put it in a story on the web?” I asked. “I could give the context,” I told him, although really I couldn’t. I didn’t understand what the context was supposed to be. Also, I didn’t fully understand the secret.

“No, no. Better not,” said Ed.

A few weeks before that, I had heard even better gossip. I was at a party where a student who shall remain nameless told a very incriminating story about someone important and influential. I would pass the information on to you, but she told me explicitly, “Do not put that on the web.” Later, when she herself did something memorable and gossip-worthy, albeit non-incriminating, she said, “That is not to go in a story, Audrey.” Luckily, she did not tell me that I couldn’t tell you the facts in person, if you should happen to ask.

So you see how my hands are tied. Practically all the interesting things that people do around here, the stories they tell, and the confessions they proffer are secrets that I am not allowed to put on the web. But if you were here, you would have access to them firsthand. If by some chance you are a student doing web research about graduate schools, bear that in mind. There are many, many interesting stories in this department, but for most of them, you would have to be here first, to find out what they are.

That is unless you see Bryan at a conference. Bryan will tell you all the stories you want. But they would not be as reliable as the stories I could tell you.

Octavio Pimentel and Quetzin
Octavio Pimentel and Quetzin
Charise Nahm-Pimentel and Quetzin
Charise Nahm-Pimentel and Quetzin
Maria Estrada and Mary DeLaRosa
Maria Estrada and Mary DeLaRosa
Amadou Niang
Amadou Niang
Kathy Spencer Christy
Kathy Spencer Christy
Tracy Stevens
Tracy Stevens
Darron Smith and Rich Garcia
Darron Smith and Rich Garcia
Troy Richardson and Giancarlo
Troy Richardson and Giancarlo
Bobbie Kirby
Bobbie Kirby
Jay Garcia
Jay Garcia
Giana Curtis and Leslie Flemmer
Giana Curtis and Leslie Flemmer
Deanna
Deanna
Paulette and Vianey
Paulette and Vianey
Farah Ramezanzadeh
Farah Ramezanzadeh
Indica and Jane Szucs
Indica and Jane Szucs

Almost all our graduates have jobs, but I don’t have pictures of them at their jobs. I don’t have pictures of them graduating, either. I don’t have pictures of them studying. Other than Ruth, Papa, Kris, Johanna, and Georgia and Mike, I don’t have any pictures of them at all.

Johanna Hadden and Simone
Johanna Hadden and Simone

Kris Fassio
Kris Fassio
Mike Hayes and Georgia Johnson
Mike Hayes and Georgia Johnson

Nevertheless, they do exist.

I tried to get photographs of some of our current students studying, but pretty much every picture I have shows them eating, drinking, talking, and laughing. It is hard to get pictures of students studying. First, you have to catch them in the act.

Then again, it is hard to get any pictures of faculty studying, either. Every picture I have of faculty shows us holding either a drink or a baby.

Suzanne Wade, Doris Warriner, and Izel
Suzanne Wade, Doris Warriner, and Izel
Frank and Izel
Frank and Izel

Here is a rare photo of Norma holding a book.

Norma González
Norma González

I have decided that if I can just get a picture of someone looking serious, that is good enough.

Jay
Jay

I am not going to be able to get a lot of pictures of people in my department working.  Only Nola Lodge looks like she is doing any work around here.

Nola Lodge-Hurford
Nola Lodge-Hurford

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