Whenever I think of all the excuses that students have given me, I always think of Renee first. She was in my Spanish III class with five other students. This college didn’t have a college requirement, so all the students were in the class because they truly wanted to learn Spanish. I remember when I gave them the midterm exam, the department head asked me how the students did. I said that everyone got an A, but that I wasn’t surprised because they all studied very hard. Well, the department head didn’t like my answer. She said that she found it hard to believe that the entire class got an A. She said that department expected the grades to form a bell curve. I said that if a student earned an A, I could only give an A to that student and nothing else. At the end of the semester, I assigned every student an A. That was my last semester there.
But back to Renee. She was very pretty, but not extremely beautiful, in a plain sort of way. She had light brown hair and hazel eyes. She was thin and of average height. Whenever we had to act out a dialogue from the textbook, she really poured her heart out into it. Oh, yes, she was a theater major. We also had student named Joe who was studying to be a broadcaster, so he would always read the directions for the grammar exercises in his deep, well-modulated voice. Sometimes he would act as the narrator for our dialogues. He would announce such things as, “El día siguiente,” or whatever else needed clarifying. In one dialogue, Renee played a tourist at a restaurant in Spain. She’s asking the waiter what different meals on the menu are. Apparently she can’t find anything that she would like to eat. She’s getting flustered by all this. Finally, the waiter says that do have something that they serve to most Americans who eat there: Hamburgers! Well, for a simple dialogue that most Spanish students wouldn’t take all that seriously, Renee memorized the lines in about a minute and then demonstrated a wide range of emotions that added tremendously to the performance. We all had fun with this simple little dialogue. I really enjoyed this class.
I gave a lot of homework, but since there were only six students, I corrected everything they did. The students complained, but since I actually read and corrected everything, no one complained. Then, Renee missed a whole week of class and she didn’t notify me in anyway. When she showed up to class the next week, she said she was sick. She would explain everything to me during my office hours. Well, she said, she missed class because she was very sick and had to go to her doctor in Champaign, who used to be her mother’s doctor. She didn’t tell me her illness and I didn’t press her to tell me what it was. She started missing class more frequently. She finally came to my office to explain her situation. She closed the door behind her and told me to sit down. She sat down, but then said nothing. I asked her what she wanted to tell me. Finally, she said, “I have cervical cancer.” She explained how her mother had died of cervical cancer, so she went to her mother’s doctor who regularly tested Renee for cervical cancer. “I’m only twenty-two!” she said. “I don’t want to die!” She hugged me and I hugged her back as she sobbed uncontrollably. I told her that she should worry about getting healthy more than anything else. She was graduating that semester and she was suddenly struggling with all her classes. She came back to my office a couple weeks later explaining how her doctor was going to give her a hysterectomy in order to save her life. She cried because now she would never have children. I comforted her the best I could. The surgery was scheduled for a couple of weeks later, after the semester ended. Well, she made up all the work and got an A on the final exam and an A for the final grade. I told her to call me if she ever needed to talk. I never knew how her surgery turned out. And I never heard from her again, either.