Dr. Weaverson said, “A clean slate of young minds is always an exciting thing and worthy of a toast.”
Mary said, “To a clean slate.”
The mood was jovial and the conversation light hearted. When the dinner plates had been cleared and the tiramisu had been set before her guests, Mary said, “I hope you have all enjoyed yourselves, and truth be told, I did have an ulterior motive in inviting you here this evening.”
Mr. Evans said, “How ominous and delightful. After such a delicious meal, I am more than willing to do your bidding.”
“Thank-you Mr. Evans. As you all know, well, all of you except our newest colleague,” Mary said with a smile towards Dr. Emily Bird and continued, “we have a faculty member who is a constant source of embarrassment for both our fine college and all who devote their lives to making this the best institution of higher learning possible. He mocks all that we hold dear.”
Dr. Weaverson and Mr. Evans nodded with understanding. Emily Bird asked, “Who is this notorious professor?”
“The skirt chasing drunk is a more apt moniker. As far as I know, he hasn’t written anything in over a decade.”
Mr. Evans asked, “How can we help Mary?”
“I’m not asking for you to do anything unseemly, just attend his class tomorrow and write a brief summary of his performance.”
“Is that all,” he said and then added, “You didn’t need to wine and dine me for that, but I’m glad you did.”
“To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t bother to get out of bed.”
8 am, Doleston Hall.
Dr. Weaverson, sitting between Mr. Evans and Dr. Bird, said, “By my watch it is time for class to begin. It figures.”
Mr. Evans jotted down a note.
A nervous looking woman peered out from behind the curtain.
Dr. Weaverson, asked, “So, tell me Emily, how are you settling into our little community?”
“It’s lovely. I especially like the book shop on main and the student union is very impressive for a school of this size.”
Mr. Evans said, “Yes, we are quite proud of it. I chaired the fund raising committee that got that ball rolling.”
“Mr. Evans did yeoman’s work in rounding up donors.”
The din of chatter calmed as a woman approached the lectern. “Hello, my name is Wen Hu and I’m one of the TAs for this semester. Dr. Byrne will be here shortly. Until then, why don’t I introduce the others.”
Five minutes passed and Wen was running out of song and dance. She kept looking to stage left, which did little to persuade the class that Dr. Byrne was actually on his way. At ten minutes past eight, she returned to the microphone and said, “I think we should just…”
A booming voice from the middle of the auditorium said, “Don’t be so hasty.”
Wen looked out over the crowd and said, relived, “Dr. Byrne,” and started to clap. Nobody knew what was going on and a few students clapped, too.
Arthur removed the hoodie and stood up. “We live in a new era,” and he walked to the aisle. “When Guttenberg invented his printing press, it brought the written word to the masses. No longer were books the domain of the privileged.”
Heads turned and people craned their necks to see Arthur speak. He continued, “Media has, for centuries, been controlled by a few. The gate keepers, if you will, deciding what is news and what is unworthy. They wrote the reviews, told us which plays to see, and warned us when mother nature was on the cusp of a hissy fit.” Arthur didn’t head for the stage, but walked up and down the aisles, with all the showmanship of P.T. Barnum.
A phone rang, and a nervous voice said, “Sorry, I thought it was off.”
“What would Alexander Graham Bell have thought, were he with us today? To see his idea flourish to become not only an integral part of our lives, but almost an extension of our bodies. What is your name young man,” he asked, making his way towards the student.
Arthur chuckled, “You may call me Arthur. Sir seems far too formal. Who was calling you David?”
There was a long silence and then he said, “My mother.” A few awes could be heard, but mostly laughter.
“Everyone loves a call from mom.”
Another voice yelled, “You’ve not met my mom.” There was more laughter.
“I stand corrected. And that is why we are here, because social media has the ability to wrest the power of truth from the few and give it to the masses. You are the media of the future, you are the keepers of what will be consumed, you, my bright eyed lads and lassies,” he said donning a Scottish accent, “Shall shepherd in the next evolution of society.”
Someone else yelled, “Amen”, and another round of laughter erupted.
Arthur climbed to the stage and walked the length and then walked back again. “I see we have several distinguished faculty members with us, today. No doubt concerned about the heresy I might be preaching. For, we are part of the ruling class. We tell you what to think, but what if…we simply taught you to think for yourselves? What if we showed you how to make your college days more than beer and football? What if we explored FB and Twitter and then dug beneath the surface,” Arthur preached and then took a moment to let a silence shroud the room. With a softer voice, “How many of you are on FB?”
Almost everyone shot a hand in the air.
“How many of you are on Twitter?”
Over half the hands came down.
“How many of you know exactly what you are going to do with the rest of your life?”
All but a few of the most optimistic hands disappeared.
Arthur continued to pace and brought his voice back up to theatrical level and said, “It looks like there are 80 young minds who managed to get out of bed at this unholy hour, which means that about 20 percent of this class, didn’t. I applaud you all. For your first assignment, and for mine, we…and I mean WE, are all going to create new Twitter accounts. I know, there are some of you who probably have put in a fair amount of effort and don’t want to start anew, but today we begin a journey together, so we all start from scratch. If you need to, go get a new gmail account. I got mine last night. My twitter handle is @ExtraAmbivalent. All you need to do, to get the first twenty points of this class, is set up an account, write a clever bio, and then follow me. Now, there are likely those among you who are ambitious. If you want to earn the easiest extra credit ever, just follow your fellow classmates new accounts. Oh and one more thing, the twenty points is only good for the next twenty four hours…make that twenty eight…ish. My team of crack TAs will be going through and counting how many of your fellow classmates you’ve followed.” Arthur stopped and reached into his pocket.
A smile crept across his face. “Is there a Josephine here, today?”
A woman with long chocolate brown hair raised her hand. She was sitting in the first row smiling, with her phone in hand.
“Josephine, can you guess why I have called you out, today?”
“Is it because I’ve just earned twenty points?”
“Yes it is! In the brief time I was blathering on about how the class works, she set up an account and followed me. Social media is that easy. Any questions?”
“Why is social media important?”
“That is really two questions, why is it important on a macro scale and the more interesting question, why is it important to each of you? We will study the former over the rest of the semester, but the latter is easy.”
Mr. Evans was scrawling notes, while Dr. Weaverson sat with arms crossed, shaking his head at every opportunity. Emily seemed to be playing with her phone and not really paying attention.
“Most of you have indicated that you are unsure what the future holds, but whether you leave here and practice law, become a rocket scientist, or find yourself as a low level manager in a cubicle of death, knowing how the world works and being able to reach into the depths of the dreck that fills up the world wide web and retrieve something of value or better yet, demonstrate that you have people’s ear, will help you to be able to get beyond the mediocrity of your fellow classmates and truly grab that brass ring.”
A hand went up.
“I’ve never understood why one is grabbing a brass ring and not gold or something like that?”
“A bit off topic, but in the days of your grandparents, before the X-box, people went on dates to places like Coney Island. There one would find a merry-go-round and if one leaned really far out, there was a brass ring that could be grabbed, but it took courage. Basically, it means, sticking your neck out to try to impress the girl you just blew your entire paycheck on. Okay, that isn’t exactly what it means, but you get my point. Without risk there is no reward, despite what you may have learned from watching reality TV. I mean, do you really want your success to come from being named Snooki?”
“Snooki rocks,” came a voice from the back.
Arthur grinned and looked at Wen, who was now sitting in the front row, “please find that misguided youth, explain the error of their ways and deduct two points from their grade.”
“I’m just kidding…as far as that student knows…The point I’m trying to make is that this semester we are all going to build something. We are going to use the tools that the evolution of our society has given us and craft something more valuable than the sheep skin you’ll frame after graduation. We will be building a giant microphone so that each of us may be heard.”
Another hand went up.
“Yes, the young man with the Cubs hat.”
“Can you explain how the grading will be done?”
“Each student will be judged, harshly, and those found to be worthy will receive a mark commiserate with their performance.”
All but a few of the faces were blank, a few looked frightened.
“It will be points, standard 90%, 80%, ect…It should all be laid out in the syllabus that my crack team of TAs will hand out.”
He checked his phone and asked, “It seems a young woman named Emily has also gotten a jump on her homework. Emily, would you mind standing up?”
She stood and said, “I’m not sure that “young” is appropriate, and I’m not really a student, but I just might have to audit your class.”
“As long as there is a seat, all are welcome. In three months we will change how you think about the world, and more importantly, how the world sees you. With that, I’ll see you all Friday morning. TAs unleash the syllibi.”
Arthur walked off stage right. Every student stood and cheered.
Dr. Weaverson said, “What a dreadful display.”
Mr. Evans stopped writing long enough to say, “It was shameful. He has no regard for proper decorum.”
Emily said, “I liked it.”
They both gave her a weak smile.
Arthur didn’t return to his office after his exit and there were three hours to kill before his next class. He wanted a drink. The cheers were intoxicating, but their echoes took him back to the last time he had lectured in front of so many.
The air had seemed too heavy to breathe. Four hundred students and faculty showing their appreciation as he walked on stage. For three days he had fussed over his speech, only to have it all vanish like a morning mist, the moment he got to the microphone.
She wore a maroon silk top and sat in the front row. Her angelic eyes and unwavering support had kept him at the typewriter day after day, until finally he had written, “The End” She found the publisher, too. He found new words and said them to her and it didn’t matter if everyone else listened in as he did.
It had been the happiest time of his life. It wouldn’t last. Soon, the adoration became a habit that he fed in ways she couldn’t live with and when it was gone, he turned to drink. Last he knew, she had given up on life and gotten married…happily.
The arboretum was nice and Arthur contented himself watching squirrels. They seemed to be in fine spirits.