Category Archives: Humor

The passing of notes

This story was previously published in the Feb. 12 edition of The News-Gazette.


We didn’t have Facebook or even email; rather, we ’80s teens communicated through written notes passed in class, slipped into lockers, and mailed to homes over the summer.

I feel sorry that kids don’t write notes now; recently, text-generation students of mine gave me the “What the heck?” look when I asked if they had passed notes in school when they were young. Nope. They didn’t have to. Electronic fairies did it for them.

Those students, however, did reminisce with nostalgic “do you remembers” about the ancient, bygone system called MySpace!

Too bad for them, because I still remember the way a note with a girl’s handwriting — maybe neatly folded in a triangle — tingled my fingers when it fell into my hands from an open locker or geometry book. A note was a kiss, really — maybe on the lips or on the cheek (depending on the contents) — or maybe even a slug in the stomach — if the author were really mad. Whatever — a note meant human touch. I don’t think I would say the same of a text. What vivified notes was the human contact needed to create them.

A note in the locker meant warm hands pressed pen to notebook paper, trimmed paper tabs neatly off, folded it cleverly, and slipped it — perhaps with a tremble — into an orange locker in eighth grade hall. A note took commitment. Letters even more so.

I remember long summers far away from home living with my divorcee Dad and coming in the house to see a letter — a letter! — with Jenny’s handwriting on it, hanging from the top trim of a bedroom door by a 2-foot piece of tape, dramatically placed by my stepbrother who knew I would be ecstatic to receive it; I was. A letter! A note!

Every single word could be analyzed because someone had taken the time to find a pen, some stationary, an envelope, a stamp — because someone meant business: If a girl signed the letter “Love Dana” or “Your Friend Dana” or just “Dana” it made a BIG difference, because likely she had taken the time to think it through.

You see, you can punch out a text and press send with a shaky hand and frowny emoticon, and quite reasonably claim later you didn’t really mean it. But, a letter? How could you not mean a letter! You could rethink it a hundred times as it sat in the mailbox waiting to be picked up the next day. A letter? The medium itself was a message, to paraphrase McLuahan.

Even opening a letter was a ritual: I would savor the envelope, flipping it over in the hands (the best letters even had messages on the back), unwrap it slowly like a Christmas present, read it over and over, and then place it in a shoebox for later. Over time the shoebox would grow full.

My favorite school note I ever received may have even given me a break. A girl slid a note to me in Algebra class, with the question, “Do you know what ‘ubiquitous’ means?” scribbled on it. My breath stopped. She was a brainiac, and this was a chance to impress her, and — not actually knowing the word — I decided to go with humor, so I wrote: “It means ‘You look like a French pastry dish: pronounced U — Be — Quicheous!'” She returned, “Gee, I thought it meant ‘omnipresent’ or something!” All this with the math teacher’s back turned. I missed the word, but I won her heart for a few months with that one.

Years later, one of my grad-school professors off the cuff asked us, “Does anyone here know what the word ‘ubiquitous’ means?” I called out, “OMNIPRESENT!” and I had a friend and a note passed daringly up and down the aisle by four people to thank for it. That professor later served on my dissertation committee, and you just never know.

Life has moved on, and a few years ago I had to clean out my mother’s condominium and there in a closet like it had been waiting for me, tapping its fingers, sat a large box filled with my notes and letters from junior high through college: Some were from girls I hurt; others from girls who hurt me. One was even an unopened Dr. Pepper can two girls had given me because they thought I was cute. A type of note.

I gazed at the cardboard box, unsure, and then … I threw them away. All of them. Just gone. Why? Because they didn’t mean anything to me? Because the whole thesis of this piece is wrong, and that notes and letters are just as erasable as a crowded in-box? No. Quite the opposite. Because these words — carved by sharp number two pencils — still cut me to the quick. I realized, I didn’t want or need them anymore. They had to go.

The few notes I cared to remember, I knew by heart, anyway. It was time now to write new chapters to my wife and children, new friends, and a few old friends I have managed to keep up with. In fact, after drafting this piece, I wrote my wife an honest-to-goodness, sent-through-the-mail letter, because a letter means love.

[Steve Rutledge is a lifelong resident of Champaign-Urbana and teaches developmental English at Parkland College. He can be reached at]

7 Ways to TANK Your Grades While There’s Time

Okay, so you’ve checked your midterm grades on my.parkland and you’re doing  fine: No “underwater grades” (below C level), you’ve made a good impression on your teachers, and you just might succeed!

Don’t worry, though; there are still LOTS of ways you can take all that hard work and money and flush it away! Here are just seven!

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Flushing away your good grades is easy. Photo by Sue Jones.

1.  It’s cold and dark now in the morning…go ahead, sleep in. Sure, you know that when you went in early and looked over your notes in D120 before class, everything made more sense; but now… it’s dark! Don’t be smart and figure out what will propel you from the covers (i.e., set the thermost to go on when it’s time to get up, turn that light on, put the alarm clock across the room, get a cat, make coffee, whatever!). Just sleep your good grades away.

“Big feet ” by Cyndy Sims Parr. Creative Commons license (521365548).

2.  Hang out with people who aren’t studying. They’re having a good time! Plus, they’re not concerned with your goals and dreams, so they won’t mind if your grades go down.

3,  Don’t just celebrate Thanksgiving Day. Celebrate Thanksgiving Week!  You have a lot to be thankful for. Surely you’ll need more than just two days off to express your thanks.  What’s a couple of days of missed assignments or quizzes, anyway?

4.  Lost your notes? Don’t even bother to look for them. Look back over the old material before you do tonight’s work; that’s what successful students do! Find somebody else who can share? Review for the final? That’s the stuff that might get you on the Dean’s List, so you’d better not!

5,  Text, sleep, and get all that social stuff done in class. You started out the year paying attention and taking good notes, but now you’ve figured out where to sit so the instructor can’t tell if you’re sleeping or on your phone (well, s/he probably can, but….) You’ll figure this stuff out later, right? Like when you’re hanging out with your friends who aren’t taking classes.

6.  Don’t bother to withdraw from classes you’re not doing well in.  After all, it is such a pain: You should meet with an advisor and financial aid to see how withdrawing will affect your academic or financial aid standing, then physically go to Admissions (second floor, Student Union) to fill out a withdrawal form. And they want you to do this by a specific date? Ugh.

7.  Give up when the going gets tough. You’ve fallen behind, and it will take more work than you want to put into it to get back up to speed. Well, no, you don’t even really know how badly you’re doing, but… ask? Face your fears? Heaven forbid you should talk to your instructor or visit D120 and ask for some help; asking for help is a definite sign of weakness. At least, that’s what people say when they aren’t brave enough to ask for help.

So…drop your work into the tank…

Photo by Parkland graduate Bill Gibbens; used with permission.

…OR,  if you don’t think these are good ideas, come on over to the Center for Academic Success (CAS) in D120! We’ve got pep talks, reality checks, course helps, and lots of students working their way to academic success, just like you! See you there, if you dare!

Come over to CAS for steps to success! Photo by Sue Jones.

Your Mom Called. She Said to Wear Clean Underwear and Carry Your I.D.

Lori Sprague
Lori Sprague, Admissions Assistant


Here’s something I’ve noticed for quite a while now: When students come into Admissions, the first thing we always ask before we can conduct any business is, “Do you have a photo ID?” This is the interesting part (to me, anyway): The student usually says, “It’s out in my car.

I would say this is the response we get about seven out of 10 times. (Okay, Institutional Accountability and Research doesn’t have any data on this, so let’s just say it’s based on my own observational data. Sounds pretty solid, right?) Well, maybe some days this occurs more than others. There may be some days where lots of photo IDs are showing up at the front counter, and then there are other days where most of them are locked safely out in the trunks of cars in the B, C, & M parking lots.

So, you might have to be patient with me, here, as I may slip into “Mom-mode” and let my worry-wart behavior hang out…get ready for a few “what ifs”  (I’m a big fan of bullet points, they’re awesome!):

  • What if you get hurt while on campus?
  • What if you don’t feel well and pass out?
  • What if the New Madrid fault causes a major earthquake, Parkland is the epicenter, and you fall into a crevasse?

Even though the Doe family (Jane and John) certainly are part of a respected and long line of anonymity, and they seem to be super welcoming to adding new relatives, you may want to retain your very own, unique identity.  What better way to retain your identity than to carry it with you at all times?

So whether you are a Parkland Student, or a Student of Life, my friend, I will leave you with this sage old advice:  Always wear clean underwear. Always carry your ID.