Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Last Day

Class is over. No more homework. No more panic that I've missed an assignment or fear that God invented accounting simply to torment me. Just like that: we're done, baby.

Of course it didn't all end without some really good theater. Today was the second day of our international team business plan presentations, and it was my team's turn to present for 25 minutes in the mid-morning. The audience today was a bit smaller than yesterday, apparently because all the Poles who presented yesterday started drinking last night and told everyone they had no plans of stopping just to come to class. (you've got to admire that boldness) And it was great watching the Europeans in the class as they ignored the faculty's instructions to pay attention to the presentations-- there were laptops up, Blackberries in use, and even newspapers unfurled in class throughout the morning. It was also amazing to see the sheer megapixels on display as just about every Chinese student had a cellphone camera, SLR, or camcorder running at all times. People up on stage felt like they were being stalked by paparazzi. And the visiting professors from Europe delighted in droning on with 5- and 10- part questions that weren't really questions at all, but rather more a chance for them to speak and be heard. It made me really happy I wasn't part of European Academia.

And then it was our team's turn to present. As I've written elsewhere in this blog, our team was, shall we say, unique, and to see us all up there on stage presenting was a little surreal. After so many months of working alone when we should have been collaborating, after so many 5am Skype calls to accommodate the schedules of the Chinese who never showed up to the calls anyway, after coming together this past Monday with no slides prepared, there we were, all ready to present and be done with this thing.

I do presentations for a living, so I've been in worse situations. I knew my material well enough to know that I could talk for 25 minutes off the cuff if needed, and I knew from experience that people probably wouldn't be able to tell if I did. So I kicked off the presentation, delivered my slides, and handed it over to my teammates for their parts. I also tried to keep things moving so we wouldn't run out of time for our last slides like several other teams had done.

Everything went pretty well-- no disasters, and I really had to give it to my international colleagues for standing up in front of 75 people to speak their second language under the pressure of the clock while also being recorded on video.

Then came the part I'd been waiting for: our Chinese team member, Mr. Delegater, the one who considered himself a Chinese Jerry Seinfeld and who had delivered a 10-minute unsolicited speech to the class on the downfall of capitalism earlier in the week. His assignment was simple: walk through the financials, and close with a story. I knew he wouldn't be able to stick to any of that, so I was excited to see how it all played out.

I wasn't disappointed. He began with a rousing speech on how he was asked to be "the closer," but in reality he was more like "the TERMINATOR." It was brilliant theater, and it was actually cathartic to have my classmates see firsthand what I'd been complaining about since our project began last fall.

For the next 10 minutes, he told stories of rabbits, hotel guests as caged animals, caves, and he even managed to work in a joke about polygamy (that one prompted one of my American classmates to stand up and walk out of the room). I was laughing behind him, because it really couldn't have ended in any more of a surreal fashion. He barely mentioned financials at all, and the feedback from the class was that they would have invested in our venture if only Mr. Delegater hadn't been part of our team.

Oh well, you can't win them all, and this was a pass/fail class anyway so I doubt we'll fail. If anything, I think the faculty may have felt a little sorry for us up there on stage with The Terminator.

What I do know is this: it feels absolutely amazing to be done with school. Bittersweet, to be sure, but only after walking out of that classroom for the final time did I begin to feel the weight fall off my shoulders. As I drove home along the Mississippi River in the brilliant spring afternoon, I let myself dream about untold luxuries like free time, pleasure reading, and reasonable bedtimes.

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