[excerpted from "The Collected Works of Chris Welty" by Chris Welty. This material is original in that I excerpted it from my own writings. The events described here are slightly embellished versions of the true story of my graduation.]
Many many many years ago, I finally finished my Master's Project. It had always been a sore point, a dark cloud hanging over my head, and I finally sat down and handed something in. Done, complete, history. What a relief.
Of course, just to check on everything, I went down to the Pitts (for the benefit of those non-RPI readers, this is the place where all our administration is housed - the `Pittsburgh Building', known fondly as `The Pitts') to check that all things were going smoothly with my diploma and my impending graduation to `Master.'
Faint strains of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony echoed in the background as the registrar said, "I'm sorry, but there is a Bursar hold on your diploma."
My bright, cheerful, expression dropped. Of course - an administrative failure. "Why?" I asked in desperation.
"I don't know, you'll have to go to the Bursar's office. Next!"
So I ventured down into the dismal darkness of the sub-basement (no wonder these people are so cheerful) where the Bursar's office is located.
"You have outstanding tuition due from the Spring semester."
"But I'm staff, I don't PAY for courses."
"Go see Human Resources. Next!"
Human resources, ask any employee about them. Sure, they had it in for us, and now they were getting me back for not reading the `Human Resources Bulletin.' HRO is located BELOW the Bursar's office, so you can imagine how happy and peppy they are there.
"I swear I filled out the proper form for employee scholarship for Spring, but the Bursar tells me I still owe money for tuition."
After disappearing into the vault of employee records for a few minutes, the little gnome reappeared, "We have your form on record. You shouldn't owe anything. Here's you receipt. Next!"
Could it be HRO was not against me? Carrying my RECEIPT like a victory banner, I marched into the Bursar's cellar and declared, "Ha! I DID fill out the proper form and should have all tuition waived."
The receptionist frowned in apparent defeat. "Wait here," she said. Going to call in the big guns. I shifted the receipt from banner to shield. Out came the associate assistant undersecretary to the bursar.
"You are registered for THREE courses this semester, staff scholarship only pays for TWO. You owe us for the other one." An evil smile began to creep onto her face.
"But I'm only taking two courses this semester."
"Then go see the registrar. Next!"
The registrar was at least helpful, "Our computer is down. You'll have to come back in about half an hour." So I came back. "You are registered for three courses," she said.
"But I dropped one of those," I replied.
"Did you keep your receipt?" She shook her head in response to my blank stare. "Next!"
I walked dejectedly back to my office at the top of the hill, like a recursive program I was back at the top, yet there was no solution in sight. On a desperate whim, I checked to see if I had retained my drop receipt. Defying all known laws of chance and Murphy, I found it, tucked neatly in a file labeled "RPI Admin." Once again my expression retained a tinge of triumph, as I proceeded down the hill again and into Pergatory. This time, with experience behind me, my banner was not flying so high.
"I have here a receipt that I dropped that third course," I declared to the registrar person.
"Hmmm. So you do, hmmmm...." After conferring with the rest of the Registrar staff, each of whom would shrug, look at me, and shake their head, she said, "You'll have to go see Jenny, right through that door. Next!"
Jenny. I turned slowly towards the infamous doors that led to "Jenny's Office." Jenny. Dread crept into my heart and slowly spread up and down my spine. Jenny. I've seen the horror in the faces of students sentenced to "see Jenny." Many have even gone to community college rather than meet this fate. I took a deep breath, and swallowing my fears, stepped through the doors and into the back rooms of the registrar's office. This is the place where the decisions about people's very lives were made. There were screams audible in the distance, and the foul, dank stench of death was hanging in the air like an ominous warning to any who dared walk these halls. My drop receipt, my only reminder that there was life outside, shown like a beacon as I crept through the passage into the dark room known only as "Jenny's Office."
"I have a receipt here saying I dropped a course but I am still registered for it and the Bursar is hold..."
She held out her hand, signaling me to shut up, and I reluctantly surrendered my drop receipt. "Uh huh," she nodded. "Hmmm. Ahh, hmmmm," she mumbled. "Well, there it is."
"Eh?" I responded, quizzically.
"Right there," she pointed at the numbers on my drop receipt. "You filled in the zero instead of the one box, so the scanner dropped you from another course. Let me fix that for you." Her fingers went flying over the keyboard, and then she said, "You're all set."
Still too stunned to accept this result, I managed to say, "The bursar has a hold on my diploma because they want me to pay for that extra..."
She pulled out a memo pad and wrote a memo to the Bursar saying I was only registered for two courses this semester. Sunlight came streaming in the windows as the heavenly host descended on the office, singing joyous and awe-inspiring melodies of triumph and glory, and pushing the odor of death away. Momentary thoughts like, "Gee, doesn't the software check if I'm actually registered for a class before it drops me?" and so on were dispelled by the multitude of voices singing in perfect harmony around me. As if completely unaware of this, she held the memo out with her signature and calmly said, "Next!"
With the chorus of angels behind me, I once again delved into the depths of hell, and arriving at the Bursar's office, I held out the memo, which radiated a light as pure as gold.
The receptionist, also seemingly completely unaware of the choir, which was now doing the choral section of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, ("Ode to Joy"), quickly signed a memo releasing the Bursar Hold on my diploma, actually smiled in response to my "Thank You," which was barely audible over the majestic German verses, and said, ever so nicely, "Next!"