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That Time That Waiting in Line Changed My Life

When I was a freshman in college, schedule changes had to be made the old-fashioned way—in person. That meant waiting in line. Shortly after that, the university implemented phone registration and then online registration. No more lines. Progress!

But I often reflect on how different the course of my life would be if I hadn’t been forced to wait in line all those years ago.

After I had made my freshman schedule back the previous spring, I received my AP College Board results and discovered that I had scored high enough to place out of all college English requirements. At that point I had not yet declared a major and was very unsure about what I wanted to study. But I did know one thing: I never wanted to take another English class! So, I happily approached a long intimidating line to get the required signatures to drop that freshman English class and be done with it all forever!

When I at last got to the front of the line, I was face to face with a smiling, friendly English professor. When she heard about my test scores, she said, “You are just the kind of student I am looking for. I am teaching an Honors Upper Level American Literature class. It’s by invitation only and I would love you to join me.”

Looking into her eager face, I found myself saying yes, and the course of my life was changed forever.

I fell in love with that class and with her. After that I took every class she taught. I even took classes on authors I have never heard of—like Flannery O’Connor, which was also a life-changing moment—just because she taught them.

Eventually I decided that I was having so much fun, I declared English as my major. And that was that! I went to grad school to keep the fun going. I became a teacher to keep the fun going. And all these years later, I am still having fun! A fun that I would have missed out on if I had been able to drop that class online. I needed a signature from a real live person, and that made all the difference.

Now, I am not against online registration. There is no question that this technology has lifted a huge burden off of many students—especially working students—where standing in line can mean the loss of income.

I just hope to point out that with any technological gain there is a corresponding loss. Fostering relationships with my professors, beginning that day in line, was absolutely vital to my education. That professor’s smile and friendly conversation with an unsure freshman changed the direction of my life. And I wonder how many conversations like that are no longer happening.

The more that we engage with efficient but impersonal technology, the more we have to be very deliberate in fostering those crucial relationships elsewhere. And it can be a real challenge.

In my case I was forced to have a conversation that I can’t imagine would have happened any other way. And for that, I am grateful forever for having to stand in line.

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