Original from July 17th, 2014
On the second day of orientation, I was one of the last people to enter the lecture hall for an event entitled “Crash Course to Medical School.” The seats in the back rows had already been claimed, so I sidled past a pair of burly male students sitting by the aisle and settled into a seat in the middle of the second row. The seats to either side of me were empty, but one of the male students leaned over the vacant seat and introduced himself as “John.” He looked strangely familiar, although I was fairly sure I hadn’t met him in the past day and a half – I had probably seen him at Second Look Day.
Soon afterward, the Dean began his lecture on acting professionally, dressing for Grandma and not for the nightclub, and a myriad of other common-sense topics that everyone knew everything about anyway –
“So, instead of showing up to class in the morning looking as if you passed out at [the local bar] last night – ”
Out of my left ear, I heard a distinct series of clicks – “John” was increasing the volume on his Macbook to maximum levels. The next thing I knew, he pressed “play” on the YouTube music video and a deafening deluge of rock-and-roll flooded the lecture hall for the entirety of two seconds – the longest two seconds of my life. I shielded my face in my hands and waited for the disaster to end.
“Oh, sorry!” John smirked at the Dean as he stopped the video. The Dean’s smile became rather fixed.
As the incredulous rumbling in the rest of the lecture hall subsided, another male student in the back row was finishing off a call to his mom.
“Oh, oops, sorry Mom, I’m in class and I gotta go. Call you later!”
“Is there a problem back there?” The Dean addressed the back of the room, still smiling sweetly. Apparently there was no problem, because there was no answer.
The Dean resumed his lecture, only to be interrupted by the male student next to “John” who kept asking the Dean to repeat ordinary statements (“Sorry, could you repeat that?”) under the pretense of clarification. Then, “John” sighed loudly and lifted his feet onto the empty chair next to me.
Once again, the Dean paused his lecture mid-word. “Is there a problem here?”
“Oh, no, sorry.” John grinned widely at the Dean and lowered his feet back to the floor. “Just relaxing.”
Not another minute had passed before the next disruption took place. At this point, the Dean was attempting to focus the class on the importance of focusing in class, with limited success.
“It’s critical that you come to class alert and ready to learn – ”
Without warning, the Dean lowered his microphone and crept up to the third row on the right side of the lecture hall. In one of the aisle seats, a student was dozing with his navy blue hoodie drawn over the entirety of his head, which was planted firmly on the desk in front of him. The Dean tapped the student gently on the shoulder; the student met the Dean’s gaze with heavy, languid eyes.
“What class are we in right now?” The Dean spoke calmly into the microphone.
“Er… Crash Course to Medical School?” the student answered slowly.
“What were we just talking about?”
The student grunted his acknowledgment of ignorance.
“And what are you doing here, may I ask?”
A collective murmur rippled throughout the lecture hall.
“I think you and I will have a little chat after class,” the Dean finished, leaving the groggy student and returning to the podium.
He had barely begun the first syllable of his next bullet point when a pair of students in soccer jerseys and gym shorts lumbered through the front side entrance. One was dribbling a soccer ball, and they were both chattering loudly together until they saw the Dean. They immediately fell quiet – but instead of darting out the way they came, they walked behind the Dean and climbed up the aisle steps to the back-door exit as 151 pairs of eyes followed them in utmost silence.
The Dean attempted to continue as if nothing had happened, but he was interrupted once again by the loud crackling of a closet-sized bag of potato chips as a student in a middle row crumpled it in his hand. With a stoically fixed smile, the Dean bounded up the steps to meet the offending student.
“Is there a problem here?” the Dean asked.
“Yeah,” the student said, “at lunch they didn’t give us a big enough bag of potato chips, so I bought an extra large bag of potato chips for myself.”
“Would it be okay if I borrowed this?”
“I would prefer if you didn’t,” the student said.
Regardless, the Dean confiscated the student’s bag of potato chips. When he returned to the podium, however, he once again spotted a glaring violation of Professionalism. He climbed the steps to the third row and rapped Mr. Sleepyhead on the head with the bag of potato chips.
“Wake UP!” For the first time, the Dean thundered into the microphone. Once the student jerked up from his slumber, the Dean asked him to leave the classroom. The majority of the class “oohed” in unison as the student swung his backpack over his shoulder and trudged through the front side entrance. The student sitting next to “John”, however, raised his hand.
“Sorry, could you repeat that?” the student said.
“I think you would like to have a little chat with me, too,” the Dean said, his dark eyes flashing dangerously through his smile. “Wouldn’t you?”
“No thanks,” the student said quickly.
At this point in my life, I deeply regretted taking my seat next to a couple of harebrained strangers in the second row.
The Dean finally progressed to the last slide of his presentation. As he was speaking, however, “John” switched on his rock-and-roll music at full blast. I dove my face into my sweat-drenched palms and peered through the miniscule gaps in between my fingers.
“Oh, oh – so sorry,” John said quickly as the Dean’s eyes gushed with saccharine poison.
To my chagrin, the Dean pointed straight toward me. The first thought that flitted through my mind was “I didn’t do it.”
“You – what’s your name?”
“Er…” I gulped down a ping-pong ball-sized globule of phlegm. “Homaira.”
“So, Homaira, how do you feel about what your neighbors have been doing in today’s class?”
“Um…”I paused as the class fell silent for my response. “I feel embarrassed.”
The entire class erupted in waves of boisterous laughter; even the Dean chuckled along with the students.
“Embarrassed! Okay, that’s honest. I like honest. But how did you feel that this affected the quality of your learning during this class?”
I answered with the best of what my mortified brain cells were capable of at that point – I weaseled my way out of thoughtful responses and then pretended to take notes when I was really writing “mortified” mindlessly throughout the blank lines on the open page. I tuned back into the lecture in time to hear the Dean say:
“I kept my cool because this was all set up. I would like to invite the second year students to come out of the audience and join us at the front for a Question and Answer session.”
The second years bowed to the audience, we applauded them for their extraordinary performance, and the rest of the afternoon was spent exchanging practical advice about the road ahead. Toward the end, the second years presented their own student-made Introduction to Medical School video for us to enjoy:
In summary, I was thoroughly fooled that afternoon. The disruptive students had not been first-years at all, but second year students who had opted to assist the Dean in illustrating some real-life concepts in the lecture hall.
Update 7/26/2014: I still find myself laughing about this impressive series of stunts whenever I happen to think about it. I am so grateful for Penn State.
A more serious moral of the story: we are no longer college kids. We are health professionals in training. Anything we do – how we behave, how we dress, and how we carry ourselves – will make an impression, for better or for worse, on our patients and the broader community as a whole.