“Er… Um… Like… Er… Um… Like…”

Recently, I’ve chronicled my battles with telemarketers and cold-callers and spambots.  I’ve added a recording application to my BlackBerry PRIV cell phone (have I mentioned how much I love this cell phone?), and I’ve decided that if anybody’s going to bug me for money… they’re up for fair game.

The Walkway. Rolleiflex Automat MX camera, efke 100 film. Photo by Chuck Miller.
The Walkway. Rolleiflex Automat MX camera, efke 100 film. Photo by Chuck Miller.

So last night, when I received a phone call in which the Caller ID was recognized as the main number for my alma mater, Hamilton College, I knew what the call would entail.  Especially when the call was received at about 7:00 p.m. last night.

Now hands up if you know the answer… why would my college call me in the evening?  Yep.  Chuck was about to be solicited for financial donations.

Hey, I get it.  College is expensive.  Trust me.  And my guess was that if I picked up the phone, the person on the other end of the phone would ask me for money.

Yep.  A freshman from old Ham Tech wanted to know if I would donate.  For now, I’ll just identify her as Alice.

She asked if I was “Mr. Charles Miller.”  I knew right then and there that it wasn’t a long-lost classmate contacting me through the college alumni association.

And then Alice asked if I would consider making a donation to the college.

Now, if I wanted to be a goofball, I would be well within my right to do so.  Believe me, I’m ready to mock any telemarketer who calls me.

But I instead decided to take another tactic.  Guess what, Alice… you’re a Hamilton College student… let’s see if you’ve taken any classes on Public Speaking or Argumentation or the like.  I’ll donate… but I want to know what’s happening on campus.

And by “what’s happening on campus,” I wanted to know about The Movement.  And I wanted to hear how Alice would respond if I asked her questions about the secret society of students who want the college to change their hiring and curricula.

And truth be told… I wanted Alice to go off-script.

So I asked her.

“So I’ve heard students basically demanding that teachers and professors resign, or form quotas … You’re going to college to get an education, all I’ve heard are some very disturbing results between both the Movement and people on campus that are either for the Movement or against the Movement or are afraid of the Movement. ”

Alice’s response …

“I understand what you’re coming from,  but, um, the Movement, uh, doesn’t constitute like the entire school’s, um ,views, um, basically what the Movement was, um, it was just like a group, like, students, I guess here who made their own judgment and tried to, like, I guess, like, reform the schools in their own like, uh, like, strong way, um, but in no way does the Movement reflect what Hamilton College is currently, so…”

Time for a follow-up question.

“But what I’m reading and seeing and hearing is that the Movement has caused enough disturbance and enough upheaval that it has actually affected the education process for students on campus.  And I’m wondering if the Administration is kowtowing to students rather than the students accepting the Administration – if the school is this tangled to the point where students are having secret demonstrations and operating in the shadows, this is supposed to be a university, it’s not supposed to be a cosplay for V for Vendetta.”

Again, Alice’s response.

“I see where you coming from, and, um, the Administration has been trying to do a couple of different things to, um, like, um, to like um, what’s the word for it, um, to like, put together, like, the racial issues and try to, like, fix, like, solve them and, like, it’s not more like, talk about it and, like, a more respectful informed manner, because right now, we’re holding like, um, like, biweekly, there are, like, forms for diversity issues and talks on campus and there are teams, I guess, they have divided themselves into, like, teams to cater towards those specific issues regarding race and token issues as well, so, as much as, um, like, like, the students, like, the people that the students that were part of the Movement, I don’t know who they were but they – I guess – I don’t know how to put it into words on the issue…”

Oy gevalt.  More likes than on a Facebook post.  And nobody should say um that many times unless they’re channeling the spirit of Major Lance.

I decided at that point it was time to let poor Alice off the hook.  I told her I would donate money to the College in a day or two.   But I also made a donation to her.  And this is where alumni donate to undergraduates.

Because when I was a student at Hamilton, we had speech and elocution professors.  Warren Wright.  Richard Somer, just to name two.  Public speaking was, if not at least a graduation requirement, it was strongly encouraged.  These educators made sure that we could think quickly and accurately.  This would be important if one were to argue a case in a debate.  Or if one chose to run for office.  You want a candidate with clear and strong statements.  How strong was the desire to improve my public speaking and oration?  I actually audited one of Warren Wright’s classes because I felt that I needed improvement in that discipline.

I didn’t completely need the College’s party line on the Movement, and I didn’t need the Movement’s manifesto regurgitated back to me.  I wanted to know Alice’s opinion.  And whatever her opinion was, it was buried in a sewer of “like, um, uh, like, um…”   The brain was stuck in the ditch, and every “like” and “um” was the equivalent of spinning the wheels and hoping that the car would extract itself from the morass.

And I’m not perfect.  I’ll still use “like” and “um” and “you know what I mean” and other brain-stumblers.  I live in the figurative glass house and I’ve thrown stones.  I’ve had people blue-pencil my blog posts and send me “helpful corrections.”  Usually it’s along the lines of, “Here’s a helpful tip.  One space after a period.”

But I’ve also learned to appreciate the dynamics of thought; putting your concept to the test, speaking with conviction and dedication.

And I suspect that Alice hasn’t taken those public speaking classes yet.  Because once she does, she’ll excise those tired brain-stumblers from her vocabulary.  And three years from now, Alice will graduate from Hamilton College with a Bachelor of Arts.   And when she takes the dais on that sunny May afternoon, in front of her family and friends and fellow graduates, she’ll give a speech worthy of her status as class valedictorian.

And there won’t be a “like” or “um” or “er” or “you know” in her entire speech.