Pass or Fail

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.

2 thoughts on “Pass or Fail

  1. Congratulations to you! It is always a relief when you accomplish what you want and do it in an unconventional way. My recent graduate degree (2018) was similar- take a test or write a paper on topics given to you. If you failed this final “exam” you would not graduate. My degree (MS) is in Natural Resources and I wrote three papers to respond to three different (varied) topics. I had a prior MS in Child Health (1990) for which I did a thesis project. I write better than I test, so I ended up doing fine. I was actually just dinged for a citation error.

    I’m glad it all turned out well for you and would love to visit Oxford sometime in the future I’d also love to hear more about your travels in England with your family after your graduation.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Such a wonderful memory of what was certainly a stressful week or so. I teach grad students these days and can assure you the stress you felt is felt by most of them! So much money, so much effort, so many people counting on you adds up to STRESS

    Liked by 1 person

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