It’s the last week of classes here at Georgia Gwinnett College. You know what that means – research papers and essays that were assigned by professors at the beginning of the semester are now due. The students who finished their papers early are holed up in the library studying for final exams. For the most part, they don’t come in to the Academic Enrichment Center (aka the writing lab) anymore. Does that mean the writing tutors are catching up on the latest bestsellers and checking FaceBook while they wait for customers? So not.
“Tony. Can you help me with my paper?” Tony’s hair is plastered to his head on his left side, while the right side stands out at attention. He’s carrying the remains of a venti double espresso and a king-size Snickers bar. It’s nine AM.
“Sure. What are you working on?”
“It’s a research paper for my history class. It’s about the causes of World War I.” He eyes me doubtfully, as if he’s not sure that I’ve ever heard of World War I.
“I can help you with that. Let’s take a look.”
Tony sits down and pulls out a pile of chocolate-smeared pages. “I’m having trouble with the grammar and the – you know – like – spelling and stuff.”
I’m pretty sure I could have diagnosed his problem with the grammar and the – like – spelling and – like – stuff even if he hadn’t warned me. His first sentence began with a lower case letter and continued on and on without coming to a period. At all. There were no commas, either, no semi-colons or colons, no apostrophes, and no quotation marks. Unfortunately, poor Tony had a bigger problem than punctuation errors.
“This paper is about Hitler,” I note aloud.
He refrains from saying, “Duh,” but the word is written all over his face.
“I thought you said this paper was about the causes of World War I.”
“Hitler was World War II.”
“I don’t think so,” he says uncertainly. “Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
I’m also sure Tony’s about to faint. “Here, Tony, put your head down between your knees. You’re looking a little pale.”
“No, no, I’m fine,” he insists. “I have to get this paper done. It’s due today.”
Of course it’s due today. When they straggle into the tutoring center looking the way Tony looks, it’s always due TODAY!
“Well, I suggest you get some rest and eat a healthy breakfast before you tackle this again. What time is it due?”
“My class is at 10:15,” he wails. “I’ve been working on this paper all night!”
“Can’t you just help me with the grammar so I have something to turn in?”
“Yes, I can, but won’t your professor mind that you wrote about the wrong topic?”
“Maybe he won’t notice,” Tony says.