She was looking kinda dumb with her finger and her thumb in the shape of an “L” on her forehead.

***Because this is an even-numbered year and because I’m sick of waiting around for life to grant me with success, I have decided to take this year as an opportunity to enter every contest for which I am eligible.  The following is a submission for a writing contest at my university; I entered it last month and found out, just today, that I lost.  Fail.  As disappointed as I am (the prize was $1,500 cash, and I was going to disperse the majority of that cash to my blog and its readers), there is a bright side: Ready-made Post.  Although, apparently it is garbage and not worthy of any sort of cash prize, so I don’t know that you guys deserve the punishment of mucking through it, but that’s not really my fault, now is it?  You should’ve picked a better blog to read—one with an author who doesn’t lose every contest she enters.***

A Cautionary Tale

The college student donned its heavy backpack (shiny and new and packed to capacity with overpriced textbooks it was happy to purchase), and blazed through the doors—sliding glass doors, which lessened the drama—to the university. The time had come to learn.

It was giddy, the college student. It was excited to learn. If it could have skipped to class without looking absurd, it surely would have. It was majoring in English. It would grow up and be a writer with a degree in literature, and someday, it would write something that would change the world. It wasn’t sure what, but it was sure.

First class. “Question: Who likes learning?”

The student raised its hand. School was going to be wonderful.

Next day: class. Lecture. The student liked its professor. School was going to be wonderful.

Next day: class. Group work. Hmmm… The college student’s classmates seemed to be morons. They hadn’t raised their hands. They didn’t want to be there. They did not want to learn. School might not be so wonderful.

Time passed, and the student trudged on. Midterms: pass. Group work, group work, all semester. The college student forgot to learn. It forgot to be happy to learn. Too busy hating group work. Finals passed. Wasted semester. Learned nothing.

Try again. New semester. Heavy books, heavy backpacks. First day of classes. New prof—lectures. Ahhh… The college student remembered its excitement—its passion—for English. Excellent. Its professor stood before the white board and declared, “I am testing what you know, not what you don’t know. Learn. Write. Create. Think. I am not a fountain pouring the only single knowledge into your brains. I may not agree with your arguments, but if you can defend them, you will pass.” All professors say it.

Assignments looming: the student starts weeks in advance—it does not procrastinate the day of its research. It thinks and reads and develops an idea, supporting it with a fortress of reason and also well-incorporated quotations cited in MLA. The student’s paper was amazing, it knew.

But its professor disagreed.


The student mourned its loss, but determined to try again. Another paper, another argument, another barricade of incredible logic and parenthetical citations—another fail. The student quickly learned (university is for learning) that despite its profs claiming they wanted to hear the student’s thoughts, such was not actually the case. Instead, its professors sought only answers, formulaic answers. Regurgitation—flowery vomit, but vomit nonetheless—of acidic classroom lectures. They sought literary, scholarly bile. At last, the student learned. It conformed: A+. Success.

Semester three: conform. Success. Semester four: success. And so on. And so forth. The college student continued on, trudging its way through class after mindless class, memorizing notes and terminology and entire afternoons of lectures, preparing for final exams, for passage identification and short answer questions and long essay questions. It stockpiled a bank of useful vocabularies, knowing in the end that its professors judged not the quality of ideas, but the loveliness of the silver platter on which they were delivered. The student’s favourite words: similarly, therefore, thus, indeed, likewise, by contrast, incidentally, subsequently—professors loved “subsequently”—and in conclusion. The student did not think, did not question, did not argue, and so, it did succeed. Straight As, even. Highly praised by its professors. College was for learning, and the student learned, if nothing else, that college was for learning. Time passed. Nothing changed. Hollow. Empty. Emotionless. Lemming.

Semester eight: the college student’s final countdown. It entered class, met a new professor—a heinous frizzy-haired woman. (Not that the student had anything against frizziness—its mother had worn frizzy hair for as long as it could remember, and she was nice enough. Frizzy hair would be an excusable offense if not accompanied by such a belittling, derogatory head.)

It wasn’t the frizzy hair that made the woman so insufferable. It was her horrible treatment of the college student. If she had been a physician, she would’ve had awful bedside manner. The frizzy woman did not make her expectations clear. She asked for free thought (which really meant conformity, as the hobgoblin, little-minded college student had long ago learned [college is for learning]), but rejected the literary regurgitation that had heretofore gotten the college student so many shiny red A plusses.

“Don’t you read?” the woman asked, mocking. “Don’t you know? Do I have to spell it out for you? Are you not a college student? College is for learning? Have you learned nothing?” Belittling.

The vicious accusations sparked a foreign something in the college student—it felt—it felt. After four years of droning on through mundane lectures and tedious research and the subsequently tedious research essays; after four years of writing the same words about different subjects, variations on a theme; after four years of squelching any sort of emotion whatsoever, the college student felt. It grew to hate the frizzy-headed woman with her smug expression and red felt-tipped pen. Hate, the student had learned (for college is for learning) was the catalyst for so many literary wars—Montagues, Capulets, Trojans and those other guys, Germany and the Jews—all the wars ever waged in all the books the student ever read were motivated, fueled, and rationalized by hate. Thus, the college student had come to college to learn, and learn it did. It would not be crushed.

It devised a plan: it would save up all its foulest, bitterest retorts to the frizzy-haired belittler, and save them throughout the entire semester (of course it could not actually use them in class; hate her as it did, the college student still wanted an A). Finally, at the end of the semester, the time would come for Instructor Evaluations, and that would be the day of Frizzy’s reckoning. The student would tear into its nemesis with such force, such eloquence, such meaningful constructive criticism, in bold blue ink from its favourite ballpoint pen, that the frizzy woman would not be asked to return the following semester. The college student would ruin the woman’s life, for every college student knows its only vindication from an awful professor is the end-of-course evaluations. It was a perfect plan.

The day arrived: the last day of the last semester of the last year of its university experience. The formulaic research essays were handed in, and formulaic final exams were written with their formula formula formulas, and the college student was relieved. Finally, it would graduate with its degree in English. It was as educated as it could be (without another degree, of course). It had come, it had seen, it had learned and conformed (college is for learning and conforming)—it had been educated. It was ready.

Armed with its ball-point, loathing at the ready, the student sat to devise its scathing Instructor Evaluation. Prepared to begin the first of what promised to be a long career full of life-changing articles, the student angled the paper (it was right-handed), uncapped its pen…

…and stared blankly down, blank, as blank as the sheet it was holding.

After four years, countless A-plus essays, a degree in English and a university education, the student had forgotten how to write.

A cautionary tale.

***In retrospect, maybe this wasn’t the smartest submission for a UNIVERSITY-sponsored writing contest, two-thirds of the judges of which have actually been, or are, my English professors over the past three semesters.  I’m blaming it on poor content choice, not poor writing quality. {Whatever helps get me through the day, right?}***

About Camille

I'm Camille. I have a butt-chin. I live in Canada. I was born in Arizona. I like Diet Dr. Pepper. Hello. You can find me on Twitter @archiveslives, Facebook at, instagram at ArchivesLives, and elsewhere.
This entry was posted in failures, fiascos, my edjumacation and me. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to She was looking kinda dumb with her finger and her thumb in the shape of an “L” on her forehead.

  1. TeamHaynes says:

    Omgosh I LOVE this. Really, I’m not blowing smoke. If only I didn’t have to leave in 5 minutes I would say more but for right now I’ll say keep writing!

  2. Chloe says:

    I agree with you: I blame it on the content, not on your writing skills. I think it’s great!! I LOVE IT.
    In my first year of college, I also wrote an essay for English… criticizing my professor’s ideas. Obviously, I didn’t get an A (there’s no need to know my real grade). I learned my lesson (college is for learning). Since then, I’ve always written what professors wanted to read. Too sad.

  3. niki says:

    you know i would have picked you…biased or not.

  4. Shannon says:

    I love this essay!!
    I have advised my kids and armed myself with this same logic. If you want a good grade figure out what the teacher/professor wants and give that to them, whether you agree or disagree. “Conform.” I don’t know if this is the best advise, but it does seem to get the grade. We all “learn” more from the world and “doing” then by regurgitating information anyway. Thank you so much for your poetic words!

  5. RatalieNose says:

    This, my friend, is brilliant. But yes, as I read it I thought to myself, “she did submit this at the university she’s talking about, her professors are gonna know who and what she’s talking about…that’s probably why she didn’t win….they’re all PANSIES who can’t take the truth!!!!”

  6. RatalieNose says:

    By the way, nice title, I love that song!

  7. lindsay says:

    “loathing at the ready” hahahaha, that was my favorite line. You are awesome camille and one day, this whole blog will be published for monies. no joke.

  8. GRANMAMA says:

    Did I give birth to you? I applaud your free thinking and the guts it took to submit this. I totally understand why you are $1,500 unprize winning.

  9. Just found your blog! :) I think we might be kindred spirits. I totally had a similar experience at the beginning of my undergrad–I was majoring in writing too (and am still a writer, actually, like you! :D even if the dumb committee didn’t pick you) and the first two writing classes I took were basically about breaking down anything you’d ever thought about writing and teaching you to turn out formulaic essays. Really, really formulaic. It was the worst.

    But, clearly you still know how to write, and with voice and style! I can’t wait to read more.

  10. chelsie says:

    So true is all I can say. I am just wondering what all these years in college and all the semesters of student aid have really got me. Did I really learn anything I couldn’t have on my own? I am probably going to end up back at a dead end minimum wage job just trying to pay off my debt and hope for the economy to turn. . .

  11. Joel says:

    Yeah, I was reading that thinking “They couldn’t have chosen this as the winner even if it was the only entry in the contest.” Definitely not playing to your audience… :) Mmmm, college education.

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