by Nathan Peto

The One to Avoid

Going into university for my first year, I sought advice from my older peers on what were suitable first year classes. They often had varying advice based on their own interest and backgrounds.

"This class is not bad and usually pretty easy," one might say, or

"Professor Y is great and usually has extra help sessions if you get lost."

However, there was an overwhelming pattern in their advice. This Professor Smith was difficult, inflexible, and not interesting was the common review. Simply put, she was the one to avoid. I had not given much thought to the comments, but took their advice when registering for my courses. I stood in line with the thirty or so last-minute sign-up students, nervously looking at my feet, my watch, and at my carefully selected courses written as legibly as possible on my course selection sheet.

Despite my already-issued student ID with my picture and student number stating that I belonged there, it all seemed very alien to me. This big campus with thousands of new faces seemingly peering at me, trying to assess if I belonged at this place of higher education. My thoughts of not belonging were interrupted by the friendly voice and smiling face of the woman at the registration desk. I quickly stepped to the counter and presented the form, which she took, quickly typing and clicking away at her computer. "I'm sorry, but this course is full." She pointed to the course that I was really interesting in. "However, you can take this in slot 3 with Professor Smith." The name sent a shiver down my spine. That name had been spoken in vain to me for the past two months of consideration. That professor was to be avoided at all costs, but in my hurry to get out of this uncomfortable situation, I nodded with approval and was dropped in to his course.

Walking to the parking lot, I was kicking myself for not just switching to a different area or even just taking nine courses instead of ten. But, unwilling to go back to that line, I resolved I would take the class and then drop it if it was really that terrible. After all, how bad could he be?

The first day of courses, I stumbled my way around campus just trying not to make it too obvious that I did not really belong at this place yet. However, it was most likely clearly marked by my shining new textbooks in my arms and the lost look on my face. Finally during this day of confusion, I ended up in the class that I feared the most. The one to be avoided was already prepped and ready to go with a clear agenda before him, his keen eyes seemingly looking right through each student as they entered the room. He was not unfriendly, but he made no effort to smile, laugh, or make small talk like other professors. It was clear from day one that his plan was to cover the material as thoroughly as possible. He did this with much passion and vigor, although as he casually looked down at her very carefully scripted lectures, it was clear he had memorized every word, date, and person he referred too. It was impressive to watch, but as a student, I barely had time to stop and admire his sheer skill as I madly scribbled every word and date that he mentioned, a clear sign of a new university student.

His lectures were clearly painstakingly researched and written and were very careful to look at both sides of any given perspective. In academic terms, they were the perfect example of an academic paper, and despite what my previous census of students had indicated, I found myself incredibly fixated on each day's lecture. I found myself thinking about the issues discussed in class and analyzing what had been said and discussed, although I rarely spoke in class discussion. Make no mistake, despite my great respect for him as an academic, I still found him very intimidating as a person. It was not because he was intentionally intimidating or unkind in anyway, but his sheer professionalism it made him unapproachable in my mind.

Despite my efforts to avoid his direct attention, I knew that our first essay would put my work and abilities firmly in her attention. This terrified me. I simply felt that even my best attempt at writing an essay would fall woefully short. However, I did my best and worked harder on that assignment than I ever had before or ever have since. It was my best effort, but I was sure it would not be enough. When I handed it in, I had this feeling that I never wanted to see that paper again. When those essays came back three weeks later, he made sure to hand them out individually, connecting a face with the paper. When he handed mine to me, he was expressionless. This worried me, but my fear was multiplied by the seemingly millions of red pen revisions on the first page. I did not have the courage at that time to look at the back page and see the damage done. When I finally had the fortitude to look at the comments on the back page, there were several paragraphs commenting on everything from grammar to sourcing, ending with one comment that sent a chill up my spine: Nathan, please come to my office to see me regarding this paper. If my main goal had been to avoid attention, then I had failed miserably.

The meeting time was listed on the paper, and despite my trepidation, I dared not miss the appointment. He welcomed me with a subtle smile and asked me to sit down. I handed him my paper, and he slowly and methodically reviewed each one of his comments. I tried to make sure I was memorizing each comment to ensure that I would never make those faults again. At the end of the paper, he commented that he had enjoyed reading the paper and thought that I wrote well for a first year student. I took this compliment with the highest regard, and he seemed to become much more approachable in that moment.

I learned in that class that the 'hard' classes are often that way because you learn the most, and the 'one to avoid' was really the one you could not afford to missbecause professors like him combine their towering academic experience with a desire to teach. I became good friends with Professor Smith for the rest of my university career. He was an invaluable source of information, expertise, and advice. Without taking that class that I was originally so afraid of, I would have really been shortchanging myself by missing so many valuable lessons in his classroom. Taking that 'difficult' class my first year taught me how to grow and prosper as a successful university student. Growing and transition is rarely easy, but adversity and challenges will force you to recognize your true abilities and accomplish more than you ever imagined. This lesson was taught to me by the 'one to avoid.'

Nathan Peto

Nathan Peto is the Past President of the Brandon University Students' Union. He will graduate from Brandon University on May 31st of this year and address his peers as class Valedictorian. Since completing school Nathan has been working with the Brandon Chamber of Commerce as the new General Manager. When not working or going to school Nathan enjoys playing rugby, movies, and reading.

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