Barely avoiding collisions with a dozen students, many of whom voiced their objections, the glossy black and chrome custom-built wheelchair ran a sliding, weaving slalom course as if it was a competition skier down the central hallway that separated the Sunny Valley – Logger’s Ridge Community College from the county’s Votec center that shared the building. It careened into the classroom that was its destination. Its occupant was a man with long unkempt hair flowing over his shoulders and a two-day-old beard. He drove the chair with his gloved hands on the cranks in front of him instead of using the rims. The gloves were the fingerless type used by weightlifters. His feet were encased in black orthopedic boots covering his knees. Crutches in mounts on either side of the seat rounded out the apparition.
The students sat transfixed by this spectacle in front of them, which bore a stunning resemblance to a dozen washed-up rock-and-roll legends without their makeup. The chair and its rider barreled across the room, circled the desk, and skidded to a stop in front of the still-open door. The bell rang, and the chair’s occupant slammed the door on the last echo of the bell.
Slowly, calmly, as if none of the preceding few seconds of mayhem had happened, the man in the chair rolled to the center of the classroom, set in a U shape. Each desk had its own permanently installed power outlet strip, which the students would need later in the term. The wheelchair’s occupant ran his fingers through his hair as if that might, somehow, remedy his disheveled appearance. He wordlessly met the eyes of each of the students one at a time, starting on his left. He did not smile, and he kept to himself whatever he saw. The students did not doubt that he was assessing them. Their reactions in these first few seconds were crucially important.
“Welcome to An Introduction to Mechanical Drawing 101. This is a two-semester course. My name is Shane Denning. I did not appear on the course documentation since I was hired only two weeks ago. I left documents on your desks which you should have read by now. You should have ascertained from this document that while the course is officially about mechanical drawing, I intend to teach other workplace skills that will be critical in your ability to get and keep a job. My day job is to teach you how to prepare intelligible mechanical drawings. My personal mission is to teach you about life. The contract I have given you is in addition to the formal coursework. It is optional, but I expect you to honor it if you sign it. Print your name at the top of the contract. Sign the bottom. Leave it on my desk at the end of class. I will countersign it and return it tomorrow. If you do not wish to honor the terms of this contract, you may keep the documents and withdraw from the course. I will not think less of you. I don’t know what else you have going on in your life, and I have high expectations. Not everyone can support work at the level that I will demand. I understand. This class will challenge you, and if you are not up for the challenge, the smart thing to do is sit through today’s class and not return. I will be on campus every day after class for those for whom this challenge appears overwhelming but who feel that additional help will make the difference between success and failure. You can find me in the cafeteria. You are welcome to join me at any time. While I am here to challenge you, I intend to see you succeed.”
The door opened, and a young man, obviously from a wealthy family, given the style of his clothes and the cut of his hair, entered, apologizing loudly for being late.
“You’re late. Get out.”
“But sir, I…”
“I don’t care. You’re late, and the tour bus left without you. Get out. I will give you three options since this is a school, not a concert tour. If this were a concert tour, you would have only one option. Leave and never come back. You may withdraw from the class without penalty. You may take a failing grade or see if you can convince one of your classmates to give you the notes. If you take this third option, you will complete the assignment as written and be the first to present your work at the next class meeting. Regardless of your choice, you will leave now.”
The student left.