25 May 2015

Last names, exams, and surprises

When you have a last name that begins with the letter z, you grow accustomed to being at the end of most every list and line. Though it often means waiting a bit longer for things, it does have an advantage (in that it helps make things predictable), particularly in academic settings.

When most teachers return papers or quizzes or exams, they have the items already stacked in alphabetical order because it makes recording grades easier (I know this from my past experience as a teacher). If you have a last name beginning with the letter z, you can generally simply take the paper at the bottom of the stack and know that it will be yours (though sometimes you are in a class with another z which makes things slightly confusing for a time). Those with a last name of a can, of course, simply take the first item. I've always felt sorry for those whose last name begins with a letter in the middle of the alphabet because they cannot really know where there papers will be.

There is, of course, an exception to this rule, as there is with most every rule. The exception most often happens when the teacher also has a last name beginning with z - or another letter at the end of the alphabet - and reverses the order of things because "the last shall be first and the first shall be last" (Matthew 20:16).

My classmates and I have been awaiting the announcement of the times for our oral exams in our class on the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches. In the past, we have alternated the alphabetical order for exams, meaning that for one set of exams I would be at the end and for another set of exams I would be at the front.

The exams, of course, have a certain amount of time which they are to use and you are given a specific time slot at which your exam will be held. However, it often happens that a professor starts late (one began the exams last year more than 90 minutes late because he forgot about them) or even early (which is more rare). It also happens that some exams do not use all of the time allotted and that other exams take up more than the allotted time.

With all of this in mind, I fully expected this time round to be at the end of the list, which would likely mean that my exam would take place sometime in the mid to late afternoon, effectively making most of an entire day all but useless.

The schedule for the exams was released a few minutes ago and - to my great surprise - the order in which we will be examined is not alphabetical, either forwards or backwards, but seems to be quite random (the only consistent thing about life in Rome is the inconsistency). As it happens, this works out for my benefit: my exam will be the third one of the day, after two others with last names beginning, respectively, with d and b. For the curious, the name of the last person to be examined begins with m, and he will be just after somehow with a last name beginning in v.

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