Wednesday, October 10, 2007

what I learned during my final exam

Round one of my finals started this morning at the library for a proctored essay exam for my national security class.

I sat quietly at a computer station with a laptop in front of me, and a sign beside me that read “proctored exam in progress.”

My stomach was a bundle of nerves, and I fidgeted as I read the print-out of the essay questions, wondering how to even begin. My mind raced, trying to summarize large concepts like homeland security, terrorism, and….divorce?

That last topic was a contribution to the woman next to me, also seated at a computer, but definitely not working on an exam.

“So what are you working on?” She asked in a friendly tone, as she peered over at my computer.


I looked at her, surprised, wondering if I should respond, since I was clearly in the middle of an exam. A timed exam. Although I don’t usually mind small chit-chat with a stranger, I didn’t think the testing process allowed me to talk to anyone. (Although I don’t think I was in any danger of this lady “revealing” any secrets of national security that might give me an unfair advantage on the test.)

“It’s an exam for my class. A proctored exam.”

“Oh.” I thought she’d stop there, allowing me the necessary time to complete the task at hand. “So what’s it for?”

“Um…my Master’s class.” I said, glancing at her, then returning my eyes to my computer screen.

“Oh yeah? What program?”

The conversation continued, since I was too darn polite to ask her to stop talking. And I didn’t want to ignore her questions, which would have been rude - though the rules of manners might change when conversation is attempted during exam-taking. Either way, I wasn’t sure and erred on the side of being polite.

“That sounds cool. I want to go back to school, too. Just as soon as my divorce is final.”

From this point, I learned things about this woman that I shouldn’t have, especially during a final exam.

She’s getting divorced. She has a 8-year-old son. (I saw photographic evidence, when she turned her computer screen toward me so I could see a picture.) She’s dating someone else. He went through a divorce, too. And isn’t that ex-wife of his so terrible? That lady actually signed the rights to their daughter away - what kind of heartless woman would do that? Anyway, she is going to adopt the girl, assuming that things go well with her and the boyfriend.

Finally, she stopped talking. I felt relief and proceeded on with the exam, focusing again on national security and not on this lady’s unfortunate divorce.

She sat next to me for an hour and a half longer, surfing the internet and showing signs of her cold through occasional sniffles and deep breathing.

Finally, she left. “Good luck on the exam!” she announced.

Lady – good luck to you, too.

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