Chapter Four: Shame (~jinghan)

And there I was standing in the middle of a lecture hall with my heart pumping, as I held onto as sincere and friendly a smile as I could. I was dearly grateful for the chair-back behind me to somehow keep me standing.

“So… would anyone like to nominate someone – or themself – to be the student-staff liaison committee representative for this class?”

I hadn’t even flinched to put up my hand. But there must be some universal truth that no one is ever perfectly comfortable with the idea that a hundred pairs of eyes are looking at them. And of course if I could read the future I could have saved the muscle energy needed to lift one’s right hand above one’s head, and saved a lot of other embarrassment too. But time ignorantly moved on in its usual linear fashion.

So now there were now four volunteers standing. Everyone else seemed so comfortably seated.

“Okay each of you need to answer three questions: one, your name; two, your course; and why you are passionate about physics.”

This wasn’t how my other subject lecturers had conducted the painful process of selecting student representatives! was what my heart was thinking as it thumped. Some more controlled part of my mind, secured an answer and repeated it over and over while the boy to my left gave his answers. He was so unfazed and casual… and perhaps a little too uncaring, but I give him a smile anyway hoping the calmness would rub off a little.

“Uh, hi. My name is Jinghan. I’m doing a Bachelor of Science – obviously. And I’m doing physics because, well, back in high school I really got into the subject because of some of the demonstrations our physics teacher showed us – especially the ones like how music and driving linked to physics. Um, I really like the idea that basic everyday things like that related to… deep mathsy, physics concepts we were learning. Uh… yeah.”

Mathsy was not a word, I reminded myself later. But my primary emotion could only be relief. As the girl next to me finishes her talk, I catch myself, again, trying to catch her eye and share a smile. Not because I felt so narcissistic that I thought she needed reassurance but because I wanted to give myself the impression that she was standing with me and not against me.

I sit down, and thank the laws of physics for the reassuring existence of gravity. But before I am able to regain my comfort I am called to a stand again. This time alone. And for the class to cast a vote by show of hands. Could the lecturer make this process more fearful? Though I suppose they want someone who isn’t afraid of people to be a representative.

My somehow convoluted speech must have been more impressive than I thought because a fair proportion of hands are up. And this is how I stumbled into being a staff-student liaison committee member.

And stumble I did, in time.

However, in the meantime, I gradually grew into the idea of being a class representative. Faces in my class became familiar. The names of my fellow volunteers stuck in my head, and other names weren’t so hard to remember anymore. There were people to greet and talk to, rather than strangers to guess at. I knew people, and I could talk to people, and -in a way – I fulfilled the conditions of a class representative.

But, of course I hadn’t done anything yet. And when I got an email about a meeting I dutifully put it into my diary, and even rsvped with a confident, “I’ll be there. Thankyou.”

I was yet to discover that I had just executed a grave act of blindness.

I find my way to the meeting location. It’s fairly late in the day, but the head of the day had subsided into comfortable warmth that did not breed tiredness. Against the pattern of the ups and downs of the first two weeks of the semester this had been a fairly smooth week despite the steadily increasing workload. In the calmness of my mood, my slight navigation errors do not deter my confidence.

I am not fazed, even when I walk into the meeting room and sit down with nothing in front of me but a small sticky note of a few things I had noticed in class. I notice that the other representatives have a printed document, and wonder where they got it. And perhaps I should have panicked at this point, but perhaps it was better that I let my ignorance continue.

The silence and awkwardness of the room melts as reports digress into discussion and debate. The Physics Student Society committee members from third year, who were at first silent and aloof warm up to become really friendly people with wonderful input and ideas.

But as the other representatives continue running through their documents, with the set structure of the feedback, and with survey information from their respective classes, I no longer can ignore my mistake.

“Was that document attached in the email?” I whisper to the boy next to me, pointing at the neatly formated paper in front of him with clear headings of different areas to comment on.

I saw it coming: “Yes.”

I will myself to remember the attachment. How could I have overlooked it? But I had.

When I got home, and could not help opening my inbox and finding the overlooked email. It’s official tone and formal instructions cast my shame deeper over me. The meeting hadn’t been all bad, we had some interesting discussions about first-year experiences and physics methods over different undergraduate levels, but I could not help feeling that my notes and ideas were not as concise and organised as I would have liked them to be, and that I had not represented the student voice fairly.

What was I to do? What was I to do? It felt unfair that all the other classes had a say and mine did not – and the fault was entirely mine. I hung my head, and replied (for the second time) to that meeting notice email admitting my error and asking whether I could conduct a retrospective survey. And now, I bite my lip and wait for the verdict.

Perhaps if this was still first week, or even second week I would have fallen into a heap and wept over it; but, somehow, third week was a time for rebuilding calm rationality and confidence – but of course one can never completely ignore the bitter humility of making blind mistakes.

2 thoughts on “Chapter Four: Shame (~jinghan)

  1. Oh you signed up for that? I was told there would be free pizza and was tempted, but thought of how stressful it would be put me off a little…
    So far all the mistakes I’ve made have been ones that haven’t bothered me – well, I mean I just take them into perspective and think “no one knows me. No one cares. NEATO.” anonymity is a wonderful thing, and so is not giving a damn! 😛

    On a similar-but-not-actually-related note, have you started recognising randoms? In the first two weeks I got it into my head that I’d never be able to tell anyone apart somehow or something, but now I recognise a lot of people. It’s weird.

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