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Professor, Can You Spare a Letter of Recommendation?
By Gloria Diaz
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Fort Wayne Reader
The other night, I had a dream I was back in grad school. I remember I was sitting in class, trying to do an assignment that seemed incomprehensible. It involved a folded poster of the second plane crashing into the World Trade Center. The poster reminded me of the posters Scholastic Book Club used to send every time our class put in an order. Mom pretty much let me get as many books as I wanted, and because of that, on every single order, we always got extra swag. You're welcome, Mr. Huffman's sixth grade class.
So yeah, I graduated. After sweating bullets about my thesis (I think 95% of grad school involves worrying) it was approved. I got a front row seat to graduation, because I'd earned my master's degree. I wore my John Fluevog Sugar boots, and my honor society cords. Imagine that: no one thought I was college material, and here I am getting eternal deb- er a master's degree. I'd had grand plans for the summer, but I'm broke (surprise!) so I stayed home a lot. It's cheaper.
But recently, I've bitten off more than I can chew. I don't know why I thought I could work four part-time jobs, two odd jobs, and a couple of internships, plus prepare for a yard sale. I'm busier now than I was in grad school, and that doesn't make a lot of sense to me. However, I AM happier, and that's a good thing. I'm starting a side gig with a friend, and that's been a lot of fun so far.
But I'll admit, there was a void right after I graduated. I had a great interview with a growing tech company in the area. The people who interviewed me started talking salary and benefits, which is usually a good sign. They wanted three letters of recommendation. Piece of cake, I thought.
Turns out, getting letters of recommendation was like trying to raise money for a Hitler statue to be erected in Tel Aviv. I asked the usual individuals one would ask to write letters, but only one came through. I've taught at the community college level for over five years, but one person I asked said they couldn't write me a letter, because they hadn't seen me teach. Hmmm. Well, I'll ask a couple of my former students.
It's sort of frustrating to ask for letters of recommendation from professors, only to have one say, “what do you want me to say?” Um...well, perhaps something about my work ethic, since I was in your class? Maybe my attention to detail? The lack of typos in my papers? The dedicated research from a variety of sources? That I turned my work in on time and never asked for an extension, NOT ONCE? The fact that I didn't use Comic Sans for my font, even though I love it?
I guess if I decide to get a doctorate, I'll have to ask for letters of recommendation once again. Maybe my professors can write about my attendance in class, and comment on the amount of water I drank. They might observe my snacking, and that semester they had me I appeared to eat my weight in blueberries. Maybe they can write that I preferred black ink Bic Cristal ball point pens. Or that I took notes once in a while, when I wasn't hogging the classroom discussion.
Because that's why my professors saw me do. They never saw me teach, even though I've done it for more than five years. They never saw me do research. They never saw the stacks of books I borrowed from the library, or the reams of paper I printed out to read seemingly endless articles I was assigned. They never saw me affix stickers to a research paper in order to accentuate the authenticity of the project. They never saw me present that paper at two graduate conferences. They never saw me talk about my novel in front of 30 people. They never saw the six agents that were interested in the humorous approach I planned in rewriting the novel. They never saw the flyers I posted in order to get people to respond to a survey I was doing to market research my intended audience for my fiction.
They never saw the diploma I earned. They saw me sit in class. So, I guess for them, that's all I'm capable of.
But I know better.