Another week done. Another sunny and warm Friday afternoon. I didn’t know if it was normal to still be sunny and warm this late into October. I grew up in a different part of the state, and with the ocean and all the mountains nearby, the weather was often drastically different in different parts of the state. The weather back home in Plumdale is usually still nice in October, but I already knew that Jeromeville gets hotter in the summer than Plumdale does. Plumdale is close to the Pacific Ocean and its cold marine layer.
I got on my bike after my last class got out and pedaled down a road that passed by several tall and mysterious-looking buildings. I turned left onto another path, and stopped at a stop sign at Davis Drive, the main street that ran east-west through campus. This was the street that led past Thong Bikini Hill toward Highway 117, which was the way we entered the campus when my family and I first visited a year ago. I crossed Davis Drive, and continued on the path past a parking lot and a cluster of small buildings that reminded me of portable classrooms at elementary and high schools. I had no idea what any of the buildings I had just passed were used for. I knew that there was at least one medium-sized lecture hall in the first of the mysterious tall buildings I rode past, but I knew nothing about any of the others. They were probably laboratories of some sort.
Just past the buildings that resembled portable classrooms was the South Residential Area, buildings A through M. I parked my bike next to Building C and walked up the stairs to my room, where I planned on lying down for a bit and reading something that wasn’t a textbook. As I opened the door to the second floor hallway, I heard footsteps above me and looked up to see Rebekah Tyler coming downstairs from the third floor. She and I were in the same math class, and we had gotten our first midterm back today.
The concept of “midterm” confused me a little. The word “midterm” suggests an exam in the middle of the term. However, many of my classes at UJ had two midterms, sometimes even three, so they did not always come at the same time in the term. Also, because of UJ’s three-quarter schedule, the term was only 11 weeks long including finals, so in many classes there was a test of some sort every three weeks or so. The word “midterm” at UJ was used for any test that was not a final exam.
Many of the lower-division mathematics classes at UJ were not taught by the regular full-time professors. Some were taught by lecturers, who were hired only to teach and not do research. Some were taught by Visiting Research Assistant Professors, who were in Jeromeville only for a temporary time period and often did not speak English as a first language. And some were taught by graduate students, like my instructor this quarter, a young guy probably no more than 30 years old working on a Ph.D. His name was Jimmy Best, which is a great name no matter what your job is. He made a typical teacher joke on the first day of school when he said that he was the Best teacher ever. Today, when he passed back the midterm, he announced that the highest grade had been 99 out of 100.
“Hey, Greg,” Rebekah said, seeing me downstairs. “Let me guess. You were the one who got the 99 out of 100 on the midterm.”
“Yes, I was,” I said. Apparently the reputation I had at Plumdale High for being good at math followed me to Building C, although being that we were all Interdisciplinary Honors Program students, I figured a lot of students around here were like me. “How’d you do?”
“That’s not bad.”
“I have another midterm right now for my engineering class.”
After spending a few hours reading, writing emails while staring out the window at the beautiful day outside, and playing a game on the computer, I walked down to the dining hall. Tonight’s special was spaghetti and meatballs, which I spooned onto my plate. I looked around for a seat. I didn’t see any of my friends around. I started to walk toward an empty table, but then I noticed that a girl sat by herself at the table next to the one I was walking toward. She had straight light brown hair pulled back into a ponytail, blue eyes, and she wore a striped shirt and tan pants. I knew this girl. Well, I didn’t exactly know her, I didn’t know her name, but I had seen her before. She was in my math class.
“May I sit here?” I asked, gesturing to the chair across from her.
“Sure!” she said.
“We’re in the same math class, aren’t we?” I asked.
“Yeah. I’m Andrea.” She pronounced it with the stress on the first syllable.
“I’m Greg,” I said. “Nice to meet you.”
“How’d you do on the midterm?”
“I got 86,” she said. “I thought I did pretty well, but there was one question I just couldn’t remember anything about at all.”
“Aww,” I said. “I was the one who got 99.”
“I figured,” she replied. I didn’t understand this. How does someone I just met know that I’m the one who got the highest score on the midterm?
“What’s your major?” I asked Andrea.
“Math. I want to teach high school math.”
“Good for you,” I said. “I don’t think I could ever be a teacher. I’d get tired of the politics involved in the education system.”
“I know what you mean,” she replied. “I just know I want to teach. I’m just hoping all that stuff doesn’t bother me.”
“What’s your major?”
“I haven’t decided yet,” I said. Saying that always felt wrong, like this was something I should know by now. “I know I’m good at math, and physics, and chemistry. I’m kind of thinking one of those, although math is the only one of those classes I’m taking right now.”
“What about engineering? Are you considering that?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “We’ll see.” What I didn’t tell Andrea, and what I was a little ashamed to tell any of the engineering majors in IHP, was that I really didn’t know what an engineer was, and that was the main reason I never considered it as a major. I grew up very sheltered in a blue-collar part of the state where not many people have advanced degrees. My mom worked in an office, and my dad fixed and maintained agricultural equipment. Jobs like engineer didn’t really come up in my very limited world view. “Where are you from?” I asked.
“Irving,” she said. “Near San Tomas.”
“Oh, yeah, I know where that is. I’m from Plumdale. In Santa Lucia County.”
“I know Santa Lucia. I’m not sure I know exactly where Plumdale is.”
“In the hills to the north. It’s not very big.”
“Which building are you in here?”
“I’m in B. I know a few people in Building C. Liz Williams? And Pete, the guy with the beard, I don’t remember his last name? They’re in C, right?”
“Yeah. Pete Green. I know both of them. Liz is just down the hall from me.”
Andrea was finished with dinner by then. “I have to get going,” she said. “It was nice meeting you! I’ll see you around?”
“Yeah. Have a great weekend!”
After I finished eating, about five minutes later, I walked downstairs to the mail room and noticed an envelope in my mailbox. I read the return address and smiled. It was from Melissa, my friend from high school who lived down south now. I had written her during the first week of school, and now she had written back. This was the first time I had heard from any of my high school friends.
Sarah and Krista from the first floor of Building C were walking toward the dining hall as I walked in the opposite direction. “Hi, Greg,” Sarah said, smiling. “You got a letter!”
“I did. It’s from a good friend from high school.”
“Good! Did you eat already? You want to come to dinner with us?”
“I just finished eating. Sorry I missed you guys.”
“That’s ok! We’ll see you back in the building.”
“Yeah. Have a good dinner.”
I walked back to my room and opened the letter. It was mostly just the usual stuff. Melissa told me about her classes. She told me what it was like living with her grandmother and asked if I had made a lot of friends yet. She apologized for missing Homecoming, saying that she wanted to go but she ended up having a paper to write that weekend and having to do something with her relatives. She mentioned that her family was taking her out to dinner this weekend for her birthday. I made a mental note that I had forgotten Melissa’s birthday, but now I could write her back with a belated birthday card.
After I read the letter, I walked upstairs, but I walked all the way up to the third floor because there was something I was curious about. The door to room 316 was open a little, so I knocked and stuck my head inside.
“Hi, Greg,” Rebekah said. “What’s up?”
“Can I ask you something?”
“I just saw Andrea from our math class in the dining hall. How is it that everyone knows it was me who got the highest score on the midterm?”
Rebekah laughed. “Probably because you’re always the one participating in class and answering questions. Everyone else is still half asleep at eight in the morning.”
“I’d never thought of that,” I said. “You’re probably right.”
“I wish I was as lively as you are in the morning.”
“I guess that’s just how I am.”
I went back to my room a few minutes later and looked out the window at the sky. which was now quickly getting dark, but there was no fog coming in as there usually was in coastal Plumdale at this time. Life was so different now compared to a month ago. College is different than high school. Jeromeville is different from Plumdale. But tonight I felt at peace. I did very well on my first math test. I finally heard from one of my old friends. And I had a new friend who lived in a different building… and not just any new friend, it was a cute girl who liked math. It is often said that good things come in threes, and I was three-for-three today.