For my final paper in graduate school, the stakes were high. If I passed, I would graduate in an elegant ceremony at Oxford University in England. If I failed, I wouldn’t graduate on time, and I would disappoint my family who was coming all the way from the U.S. to see me graduate. (I thought that if I failed, my parents and sister would cancel their trip to England. It didn’t occur to me that they’d come anyway.)
I was worried because I wrote an unconventional paper for the course “Virginia Woolf and Her Contemporaries.” Rather than writing the traditional analytic paper, I wrote a short story in the style of Vita Sackville West. I couldn’t believe that the professor would let me do this. It was much easier to me than doing a formal literary analysis.
I talked to the professor once to get permission to write the paper and once to get some feedback as I wrote, but I don’t remember her response to my work in progress. When I turned in the paper, she seemed to take a long time to grade it. I wouldn’t know until two or three days before graduation whether or not I passed. I was anxious to get my grade, because so much was riding on it.
I remember the feedback on my paper. The professor pointed out that I made one mistake in logic at the end of the story, but said that the rest was well done. I earned an “A-“ on it, and was amazed — first that I passed, and second, that I did better than a “C.” Looking back, I wonder if it was just grade inflation. Either way, it was a tremendous relief to have passed.
My family arrived in Oxford and all was well. They attended my graduation ceremony that was held in a beautiful historic stone building with stained glass windows. Afterward, my parents, sister and I traveled together for a week to explore parts of England. It was a happy vacation, in part because I passed that final paper and actually graduated on time.