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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

One step at a time

by Emily Resnik Conn ’85

I keep coming back to this story that, for me, defines a Kenyon education: the quintessential Kenyon story.

As a student, all through school, I did well enough on the essay portions of tests, but I always struggled with the multiple-choice portions. My time at Kenyon was no exception.

One semester, I was taking “Abnormal Psychology” with Michael Levine, and I was having this very problem. After I bombed on the multiple-choice portion of one exam, I went to speak with him in his office. We discussed the problem, he suggested a number of ideas to me, and, finally, he reminded me not to panic when I got to that portion. Instead, I should remember to take it all “one step at a time.”

The class was held in one of the bowling-alley type classrooms in Sam Mather--the long, narrow, auditorium-style rooms with stairs going up to the back of the room. On the day of the next exam, I purposely placed myself at the back of the room, away from the masses, so I could attempt to concentrate.

At Professor Levine’s suggestion, I tackled the essay portion of the exam first and got it over with so I could have all of the rest of the time to “struggle” (my word, not his) with the multiple-choice questions.

As I turned the page from the essays back to the multiple-choice portion, which had come first, Professor Levine started walking very slowly and deliberately up the stairs of the classroom--of which everybody in the classroom was well aware. And then he arrived right at my desk. He handed me a little ripped-off corner of a piece of paper.

I know there had to have been a collective gasp in that room as everyone, at the same time, probably wondered what happened and if I had been cheating.

On that ripped piece of paper I read five very simple words that, twenty-plus years since, have not been erased from my memory. Professor Levine watched me through the exam and waited for me to commence addressing the multiple-choice questions. As a morale booster, that little piece of paper simply said, “ONE STEP AT A TIME.”

I am still hard-pressed to think of any other educational institution where a student would get that type of attention from a professor. For nearly twenty-five years, Michael Levine’s concern has meant the world to me. It will never be forgotten.

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