I didn’t think my question had been rude; after all, I would be missing half a day of work to attend their silly “Honors Day.” I just wanted to know what I would be honored for. My outstanding GPA? My flawless academic writings? My strenuous extracurricular schedule?
The associate dean was mum on the matter, somewhat indignant that I had even asked. Apparently the invitation itself should have been honor enough. After our exchange I might have skipped out on the ceremony altogether if not for the fact that Elise had also been invited. And ,she knew why: she was receiving an award for a particularly spectacular paper she wrote on the topic of style and pacing in James Joyce’s Ulysses. So, at worst I would be a pretty applauding face in the crowd when Elise took the stage, and at best I would be crowned as the most dominating intellect in the Liberal Arts program.
The event program was huge, listing all ninety honors that would be conferred during the ceremony to seventy-some individuals. It even listed the title of Elise’s paper next to her name (“Oh god, I’ll die if someone reads a passage from it”), though I could not locate the indication of my achievements as easily.
I finally found my own name, in the midst of a small group at the top of the last page, listed under The General Electric College Bowl Award. The image it summoned was that of the Alex Trebek hosting the National Geography Bee, which I absent-mindedly audited on PBS last week. I remember thinking that those kids were either geniuses or freaks of nature, and that either way I would gladly get them liquored up to avert their almost inevitable descent from middle-school smarty-pants to high school social reject.
Yes, I know that they’re mostly twelve. I’d still show them a good time. But I digress.
Being on the last page, my award was near the end of the ceremony. My trip up to the stage was unremarkable: two quick handshakes and I was down again, tiny envelope in hand, back to my seat. Like the Oscars, only without any movie stars or acceptance speeches. I opened my envelope and scanned the letter inside. Congratulations, blah blah blah, esteemed, yadda yadda yadda, deposited in your account, blah blah huh, call with questions.
It was not just a dorky award given in the memory of a former Junior-team-Jeopardy style television show that all of our parents apparently watched on weekend afternoons. Not just recognition for my two year string of As, only broken once. All of that, plus an anonymous faculty nomination in light of some distinguished facet of those efforts. And the end result was money. Cash, dollars, paid on my behalf directly to Drexel University. Not an alarming amount of money, but enough that I made my advisor assure me that he could deliver a thank you card to my anonymous benefactor. It’s only the third scholarship I have ever earned, and the first I had not applied for on my own.
In retrospect, missing out on a few dozen dollars from work was definitely worth it.