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Winning Essay


Charles R. McIntyre
Mission College
Santa Clara, CA
(Instructor: Don Cordero)


Dream of a Master Student

Last night I fell asleep reviewing chapters of Becoming a Master Student by Dave Ellis and found myself in a dream. This was not my usual "I'm-naked-and-unprepared-for-the-test" nightmare. This was altogether strange and different. Should I stay in the dream? After all, "I created it all," I assured myself. I could always yell "stop" and wake up. "So on with the dream," I decided.

Here came 3X5 cards marching towards me to a tune I played on my monthly planner. The planner had become a piano, with the days as notes for me to read and play. In one corner I danced a square dance with other 3X5 cards, dosey-doeing hand-over-hand. Each card seemed eager to chat and tell me some tidbit. "Yes, yes, I know," I answered each in turn.

I began to sing along with my planner/piano, a song of reading, and climbed into that next segment of the dream. In the past, I had always read for fun, devouring books like potato chips. In my dream I saw this had left me with a potbelly full of books. However, my song became the text of How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler. As I sang, I started doing pull-ups with the books. I began to pull harder and harder, lifting myself up. I watched as my arms and fingers became strong as iron, the old book-belly turning into the physique of a "muscle reader."

Next the dream had me piloting a biplane. I towed a streamer with the words "Learning the Language of Higher Education" emblazoned on it. I saw words like "Academic Freedom" floating above the campus like balloons released during a parade. In the past, I had thought of "academic freedom" from the standpoint of students and their right to access classes. Now I had learned that it included the right of an instructor to raise the controversial issues and express unpopular points of view without threats.

Soaring over the campus I wanted to find out who all these other students were. They came from every part of the country, indeed the world. There were young students. There were older students like me, going back to class after a long period, perhaps pursuing an old dream. There were students with disabilities who wanted the same chance to get an education. I strolled out on the wing in scuba gear and dived into a fiber optic wire, swimming through the Internet to visit those using distance learning to achieve their goals. I saw what a difficult task they had "studying with children underfoot."

Would I be able to fit in? Did I have anything to offer that could help anyone? Was this dream turning into the old apprehensive nightmare? I noticed a shimmering field surrounding me and saw it around all the other students. I realized that this glaze was the same feeling of apprehension and nervousness that we all shared.

Perhaps the most frightening nightmare I have is taking a test. Although receiving a grade is a measure of how well I did and not a measure of my intelligence the fear persists. In this dream, though, my favorite tool, the checklist, came to my hand. The items I had to review were popping to attention like little soldiers as I marked them off. I could daydream the day of the test and gently let my anxiety disappear in a gentle puff of wind. I could savor the reward I promise myself no matter the consequences of the test.

As I slowly woke from my dream, I found myself not in bed, but in the classroom with an instructor beginning to hand out the final exam.

My return to college this semester began with a dream of becoming a good student. Along the way I found what it takes to become a Master Student. Constant review, active reading of material, networking among diverse groups, and being prepared are just some of the tools I learned. I am confident I can use these tools to deal with my anxiety or setbacks so that I am on my way to becoming my dream Master Student.


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