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Let Them Eat Cake: A Recipe for Making Friends in the Classroom

June 05, 2007

I’m old enough to be these kids’ mother, I think to myself as I observe my younger classmates lining both sides of the hallway. While we wait for the professor to arrive and unlock the door to our classroom, I wonder about these young people only a few years older than my teenage son. What are their personal backgrounds? What has brought them to a community college? What are their goals and dreams?

Some students slump against the wall trying to work off last night’s hangover while others sit cross-legged on the floor, rummage though backpacks, or rub sleep from their eyes. I feel a little out of place being the only nontraditional student in my 8:30 a.m. Introduction to Literature class, but today I hope I can somehow begin to bridge the unspoken but palpable gap between us.

At last, the professor appears with her armload of books, her keys jangling cheerily in the lock. As we file into the classroom, one girl notices the chocolate sheet cake I am carrying.

“You brought brownies to class?” she asks incredulously.

I smile and nod then take my usual seat in the front row. The professor takes attendance and mentions that I have an announcement to make.

“Well, I just happened to notice that Charles Dickens’ 195th birthday coincided with finishing our reading of A Tale of Two Cities. I thought we could celebrate.” I try to sound confident but my too-ready laugh betrays my awkwardness. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I can eat chocolate cake any time of day.”

A pleasant murmur of agreement erupts as several students offer to help pass out the cake and pour glasses of milk. After the food is distributed and “thank-yous” are expressed, the room falls silent again as we take delight in a shared gustatory pleasure.

One girl eventually pipes up, “You must be a mom – only a mom would think of doing something like this.” I admit that yes, I am a mother of five children. Her statement makes me feel matronly but I’m not offended. How could I expect any of them understand that underneath the graying hair I’m still an eighteen-year-old girl at heart? It’s okay with me if a cake warm from the oven gives my classmates a little bit of homemade comfort to take with them through their day.

Although I’m still not exactly chummy with my younger peers, at least there are a few who now greet me with a “hi” or a smile of recognition. I believe like Dickens that it is “a wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.” One of the great pleasures of literature is the opportunity to gain greater insight into the human condition. Perhaps I’m learning already that trying to understand people better is an education worth pursuing.


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