There was a knock on the door of my office. I opened it to a
stocky young man who greeted me with a grin and a casual.
“Good morning, can I help you?” I asked.
“You the Professor of the Comp. For Honors Class?”
“I would like to talk to you about. like, joining up
next semester.” He smiled.
Exposing a small wad of chewing gum as white as the rows of
“Guy in my dorm has been telling me about that class,
like about all the stuff they do there and I’m like telling
myself I should, like, check it out.”
I moved aside to let him enter. He slipped a heavy backpack
from his shoulders, made himself comfortable in one of the
chairs and patted into place the black knitted cap which
tightly encased his head.
“This guy in the dorm,” he continued, “he’s,
like, always going on about the Honors class, about the stuff
they do, and it sounds, you know, like just what I’d like to
“What is it you’d like to do?” I asked.
“You know, I am a Journalism major, and I’m, like,
pretty good with writing and stuff like that, and from what he
tells me, I’m thinking I should be in that class.
He crossed his legs and adjusted himself in a more comfortable
“What is your name please?”
“Williams, La Mar Williams.”
“Well, Mr. Williams, I welcome your interest in the
Composition for Honors Class, but I am not sure you would find
it very much of your liking.” I told him.
“Why?” He stopped chewing and the smile quickly
“If we’re to have a conversation, Mr. Williams,”
I paused briefly, “I’d prefer that you get rid of the
chewing gum.” I pointed to the wastebasket beside my desk.
Shamefacedly he complied and resumed his seat.
“I know from personal experience that it is quite
difficult to clearly enunciate one’s words while chewing.”
I said, in an attempt to relieve his embarrassment.
“Sorry about that,” he responded. “I forgot I had
it in my mouth.”
I arranged a chair facing him and sat, giving him a few
moments to regain his composure.
“The Composition for Honors class is not only about
writing, Mr. Williams.” I continued, keeping the tone
friendly and casual. “Writing is only a part of what we do.
As the name implies, the emphasis is on Composition whether we
are reading, writing or speaking, and yes, even thinking.”
“But isn’t Composition just like, I mean, writing
stuff?” The guy in my dorm is always on his computer doing
stuff, and I’m like, you know, looking over his shoulder
reading some of it and thinking, I can do stuff like that, I
should, like, be in that class.”
“Composition is much more than writing, Mr. Williams.
For instance, you and I are having a conversation, aren’t
“Yeah, right.” He nodded.
“As we speak we try to arrange the words we use so
that their meaning is clear.
“In short, Mr. Williams, we compose our words. We
compose them first in our minds so that when we speak or read
or write the words make sense, humorous sense, dramatic sense,
legal sense, whatever we will…”
“Right, right,” he interjected. “That’s exactly
what my guy was saying. That’s why I want to be in that
I let a moment or two float by. He was again comfortable.
“We not only work at improving our use of our
language, Mr. Williams, we also make a serious effort to
exercise ourselves in those little social niceties which help
us to be comfortable with each other in the rather restricted
space of the classroom.”
He was watching me expectantly as if wondering where this was
“For instance,” I continued “you entered the
office wearing your cap and you’re still wearing it.”
With a smooth motion he snatched it from his head.
“I didn’t think it was, like, a big deal,” he
said. “I, like, wear it in class all the time.”
“Let’s imagine, Mr. Williams, that this office was
located somewhere downtown, and you were here to be
interviewed for an internship or a job. Would you have entered
it wearing your cap?” I stood and walked a few steps away
“Well, no, but I, like, figured I’m like, in
school, so it doesn’t matter.” The knitted cap was
squeezed tightly in his hands.
“Oh, it matters, Mr. Williams. It matters a great
deal. This place, this revered Howard University, is expected
to educate you in every way, in preparation for the wide
variety of circumstances which will confront you when you
eventually leave here. Now is the time for you to practice and
be comfortable with all those necessary habits, I believe they
are called social graces, by which we’re all judged on first
contact with others. Don’t you agree?”
“Yeah. Right. Sorry, I wasn’t, like, thinking
“I do understand. However, I’m sure you know what
they say about first impressions.”
He nodded in agreement, the cap still tightly gripped, the
knuckles of both hands gleaming palely.
“Another thing, Mr. Williams, the Honors classroom is
not very large and in such relatively close quarters it is
inevitable that each of us is subject to the critical scrutiny
of the others for nearly an hour, three times a week. Such a
situation demands that we treat each other, at all times, with
unfailing courtesy and respect. We make an effort, a real
effort, to be at our best in every way, and gradually we’ve
become comfortable with being at our best. We comfortably
share ideas, opinions, experiences, hopes, and concerns; in
short we share quite a bit of ourselves with each other,
learning from each other, so that through mutual help and
encouragement we grow academically and socially. The Honors
classroom is a little more than it seems. For a few hours each
week it is a community, a temporary venue for practicing those
skills which will serve us well when we leave here, and we can
practice them in an environment made comfortable by all those
He looked away from me towards the window through which the
morning sun was making the room quite warm. Again he turned to
face me, with
“Are you, like saying I can’t join the class?”
His hands were now on the arms of the chair as if readying
himself for departure.
“Not at all, Mr. Williams. I’m merely describing
the way in which we function in the Honors Class.”
“Right, right. So what do I do now? I, like, told my
guy I’d like to get into the class and he said I should come
talk to you. So what happens now?”
“I think that you should first pay us a visit. Drop
in one morning and look us over. Test the atmosphere, so to
speak, that you might know if you’d be comfortable in it.”
“You mean, like, just drop in?” The suggestion
seemed to surprise him.
“Certainly. Just drop in.”
about fifteen minutes before I would leave for the classroom,
there was a knock on the door of my office. I opened to a
stocky young man whose smiling face was vaguely familiar.
“Good morning, Professor.” He greeted me.
“Good morning. Can I help you?”
“Don’t remember me, do you?” The smile widened to
expose two sets of gleaming white teeth. I’m Williams. La
Mar Williams. I was in your Honors Class three years ago.”
“Oh, yes. Of course I should have recognized that
smile. Do come in. I am delighted to see you. How have you
been getting on?”
“Fine, Sir, just fine. I’ve been doing really good.
I’m graduating in June, you know, and I’ve already got a
job all lined up.” The words were spilling out of him in an
impatient, pleasant torrent. “Two years running I’ve
interned with a corporation in Philadelphia and I’ve been
promised a job there after graduation.”
“In Journalism?” I inquired.
“Oh, no, no. But I see you remembered. No, Sir, I
switched from Journalism to Business. Marketing. It’s just
the thing for me. And the job I have been offered is great.
Good starting salary, benefits good prospects. I can hardly
“I can hardly believe it myself, Mr. Williams. What
will you be doing?”
“I’ll be in the Design Department working as part
of a team to promote descriptive texts for new products. The
designers produce their colorful outlays and we create
supporting texts, using just the right language to, like,
seduce prospective customers. Oops! Sorry about the
‘like’.” His smiling face animated with excitement.
“Mr. Williams, I’d really love to hear your news,
but I must hurry. My class is waiting. Would you drop by later
and tell me about your job?”
“Sure, Professor. Just thought I’d look you up and
“Hi, Mr. Williams.”
Still smiling broadly he strode off down the corridor.
© 2001 E. R.
11 February 2001