Thursday, July 28, 2005

The department chair held class outside, on the mansion’s terrace, that is, Woodrow Wilson Hall, for the spring afternoon weather was already muggy, so near the Jersey Shore. After the coming summer semester, I would complete the nascence software engineering program - the first of its kind in the nation - but the incentive bonus at work had already been discontinued.

As the session broke up for the day, Dr. Diaz-Herrera, late of Carnegie Mellon and now at RIT, asked me whether I would attend the evening’s awards ceremony. I shrugged, acknowledged receiving the invitation in the mail recently and said that I had not even considered it. My academic rival was also in Jorge’s class, and I noted that he had not inquired of his intention to attend. My professor continued to tell me that attending would be in my best interest, however I refused him again. Shortly afterwards, I changed my mind and went - for the free dinner.

Most of the awards were for the undergraduates, and they celebrated their accomplishments with whoops and hollers as undergraduates do. The SE program was small then, nearly ten years ago. The department bestowed only one annual award: to the year’s “best student.” I knew that I was not at the head of my class. My husband and I graduated at the same time and he had a 4.0 GPA. I did not, so it is unclear how “best student” was selected, but somehow the honor fell to me. It could be that male and female recipients were alternately chosen each year.

My name was called with the department chair’s name who was to present the award to me. I walked up to the podium and waited briefly before a quick thinking stranger, a professor from the math department, joined me, shook my hand, gave me an empty manila envelope and escorted me to my seat amid uninterested applause. He explained gently that he did not know my professor personally, but there would be hell to pay. He gave me his business card, told me to call him the following day and promised to get me my award and straighten everything out.

I had no trouble tracking down my professor the following day. He gave me a gift card to Barnes & Noble, probably out of his own pocket. He admitted that he should have been there even though I had told him that I would not be.

Over lunch the following week, my boss asked me how school was going. I had an amusing story to tell him about receiving a select award under such absurd circumstances. He was always one to appreciate ironic, self-effacing humor, especially from his subordinates.