It was Dr. Michael Mikolajczak, the professor with whom I took three of my eleven courses in my undergraduate major (English, if you are just joining us), who first inspired me to don a bow tie, for which I will always thank him, as I am sure does the general public. A colorful and dynamic instructor, he is also memorable for his peculiar views on final examinations.
Literature courses in a liberal arts institution are not, in my limited experience, generally seen as conducive to evaluation in written exam form. These are the sort of things we write essays for, texts spread out on our crowded dorm desks while we fiddle with the margin and line-spacing settings and try to avoid spilling either coffee or beer on any of he library books. But Dr. M. had his own approach to pedagogy, and he was very fond of the final exam.
On the morning of a final exam, you should leap out of bed and say, “Goody, goody, gumdrops!”
“I want you to think of the final exam as an occasion of joy,” he would explain to the class, and in each of the three semesters I heard this speech, the students seemed pretty uniformly skeptical on this point. “The final exam gives you an opportunity to revisit all that you have learned this semester. On the morning of a final exam, you should leap out of bed and say, ‘Goody, goody, gumdrops!’ ” The class would pretty much just be staring at him at this point, wondering what he was on.
I won’t pretend I was any fan of those final exams at the time, but I have never forgotten Dr. Mikolajczak’s words. And now, in the ultimate days of my graduate studies, I think I can say I finally say that I share and embrace his enthusiasm. It is only in these long hours of panicked review that I am truly seeing the extent of what I have (theoretically) learned these past three years of work toward my Licentiate in Canon Law. It is almost not too strong to say that it is only in this review that I am learning what before I had only heard, which is not meant as a judgment on my professors’ pedagogy but rather as a telling comment on my own lackadaisical learning style.
Let’s dispel any illusions you may be harboring about me. I don’t take notes. I don’t make flash cards. I don’t ask questions. I don’t raise my hand during lectures. I don’t get around to reading a lot of the ‘recommended’ texts, or even many of the ‘required’ ones. What do I do, then, to have made it this far in academic pursuits? Two things: I listen in class, as actively as I can manage, and I care. Most days, that is enough. Which is fortuitous, since that is all I can manage.
Now, three days before I must stand before a panel of my professors and answer on the spot whatever questions they choose to throw at me, I am doing some of those studenty things I just said I don’t do. I am poring over canons and commentaries, laboriously creating a heap of index cards during the day which my loving wife will use to quiz me in the evenings. I am, in a word, actually working at this, which feels foreign to me (because it is), and also feels downright thrilling.
Should I have felt this sort of agency regarding my own learning before now? Absolutely. I am embarrassed and ashamed that I have largely slouched through my academic degrees, because I could, rather than muster the energy and courage to really try. Who knows what I might have become? At the least, probably a better man. But it is too late to change what is past; what I can do is change the game, even at this late hour, and I am uncharacteristically confident that I might be able, not only to make this work in this critical moment, but to make a lasting change of it that will open new possibilities of productive learning and knowledge retention for me in the future.