PDP: Coffee Chat with Phame

Section: Participating in the Honors Community

When I first signed up for a coffee chat with Phame, I was pretty scared. I was under the impression that little freshman didn’t just have coffee with the head of the Honors College. That just didn’t happen,right? Hearing that I could talk to him one-on-one adn ask him some questions that had been burning inside me for the whole semester sounded very intriguing, and I decided that I would seize the opportunity and go for a chat.

One thing to know about me: I am very bad at starting conversations with people. I don’t know why; my mom is great at it, and so is my sister, but I never seemed to get the hang of it. This is also one of the reasons that I signed up for this chat. I would have to force myself to start a conversation with a stranger, and come up with some questions to ask him (luckily, I thought about those before hand.) 

So there I was, on a brisk Friday morning in October at about 9 o’clock headed down to Kaya, both a little nervous and a little excited. When I arrived, Phame was already there and we ended up shifting down the street to the Dreamer instead (there were a lot of people in line and he said we would probably never get any coffee). Once there, he was the first one to start the conversation (which I very much appreciated.) He talked a little bit about himself and his part in the Honors college, letting me get a chance to know him. Phame even asked me a little bit about myself. It was a great way to start,  I thought; it made him seem a little more human and less like this authority figure who was off-limits to approach. He didn’t talk long, though, and soon enough it way my turn to ask the question. Now this is where it gets a little more interesting. One of my main reasons for wanting to talk Phame was to ask him why he did a lot of the things that he did. What I mean by this is that, though all of the times I sat through Honors 100, it seemed to me that a lot of what we were being taught was, well, kinda hypocritical. For example, we were taught that ‘grades are evil’ and don’t matter, yet we need to have a B- or better in our honors classes or we could lose our scholarship. Also, he (Phame) preached in class about how much he loved doing the No Grade Plan, yet I thought it was odd that he didn’t require us to try it out (or even make Honors 100 a  No Grade Plan class). If you value something so much, why wouldn’t you show the value to everyone else?

Now I know that my previous paragraph sounds very critical of Phame, and for a time I really did feel like he was being hypocritical. I didn’t value Honors 100 as much because I felt I wasn’t learning anything valuable. I am certainly not the person to challenge authority, but I really wanted to know why Phame taught the way that he does.  When I asked Phame these questions, he did not seem taken aback at all (as I thought he might have been, seeing as I was criticizing the way he teaches). When I asked him about why we are required certain grades-high grades, I might add- he explained to me that there must be a standard. If it was up to him, grades WOULD be done away with; but he, just like everyone else, answers to somebody else. And they are the ones that dictate these standards, to make sure that we really are deserving of these scholarships (these are not his words, but that’s the message that I got out of it). Secondly, when I asked him about the No Grade Plan, and why he didn’t just require it for everyone, I was surprised by his answer. I wasn’t shocked because of his answer or anything, but because the answer was so simple. Time, he said. There is simply not enough time to go through 150+ essays and give detailed notes on every single essay. As it was, with the roughly 20 students who did the Plan now, it took an insane amount of hours out of the week to grade them. How had I not though about this? My mother is a teacher; I sat there in the Dreamer, imagining her giving incredibly detailed notes on every single one of her student’s papers. I imagined how frustrated she would be by the end of the week.

After I asked my questions, it turned out Phame had a few of his own. He asked me what my major was, what I planned on doing in the future; ya know, the normal ones that most college students hate answering. I was pretty confident in my answers; I was going to major in Biochemistry, minor in Leadership, and after my undergrad I was going to join the Navy and become a nurse.  He then asked me why. During my explanation, I made a joke about dreading taking Calculus next semester; it’s not that Calc is hard or anything, I said, I just don’t feel like taking it. That was the moment when he turned to me and said, “If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, then WHY ARE YOU DOING IT?” Sure, biochemistry will take you where you want to go, but if you are not enjoying the classes you’re taking, then what’s the point? That was the biggest lesson I learned from him that day, and what I feel that many others could learn as well. We are all concerned on where we want to go, that we don’t stop to enjoy ourselves on the way there. There are different paths that we could take that would lead us to the same place; why not take the most enjoyable one?

I learned a lot that day with Phame, more than I had thought I was going to. I learned more about why he teaches the way that he does, which is what I set out to do in the first place. I also learned more about myself, which surprised me. I had heard from others that Phame could make you reevaluate you life, but I didn’t really take them seriously. Boy was I wrong. 

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