Monday, April 30, 2007

A Series of Fortunate Events

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - This Saturday was my big thesis presentation day. Every year, the Livingston College Honors Program sponsors a day in which all the seniors must go up in front of a crowd of fellow honors students and faculty and present essentially a summary of the thesis they wrote this year. So, for 10 minutes, I had to basically speak about Jean-Luc Godard and Quentin Tarantino and summarize my thesis regarding them both, in which I basically tried to show, by delving not only into a comparative discussion of their respective films but also comparing personal backgrounds and the historical and social contexts in which their work was created and received. In other words: they're both interesting and important in their own ways. (That's certainly a rather different proposition from the one I initially started out with in undertaking this thesis project, one that I'd like to think has come from a lot of careful consideration.)

I have a pretty checkered history with public oral presentations. I don't think I'm bad at them; give me something to read and I could probably deliver it in a fairly dynamic and engaging manner even with every word written out. But I've always been distrustful of my ability to think on my feet as I'm speaking in public without faltering or stuttering. So my impulse in the past has almost always been to write everything out so I could read it smoothly up there on the podium. It's an impulse I somewhat tried to curb this time. No, the speech paper I brought up with me on both Friday---when I rehearsed my presentation for a few of my honors peers as well as the scholar-in-residence who monitored our thesis progress this year---wasn't a model of economy: I used bullet points, but I still wrote portions of it out as a guide for whenever I felt lost on-stage. (I had actually had an entire speech written out word-for-word, but when I tried to read it to myself a couple of days before my big presentation day, I was startled to realized that I actually felt uncomfortable with simply reading something verbatim, that it didn't really sound like me at all.)

A bigger enemy of mine is Q & A. Now, I know that I'm supposed to know my material like the back of my hand by the time a public presentation like this comes bout. I know I'm supposed to be able to anticipate questions that might be asked me if I have to answer them from audience members after a speech. Hasn't helped for me all that much in the past: if I get asked a question on a public stage that I don't know how to respond to, in the past I've often automatically tensed up and barely stammered out an incoherent, pathetic excuse for a response. Often extreme self-consciousness has contributed to this: I don't have much of a response if a fact or opinion of mine I've expressed in a speech is challenged, but somehow I'd rather try to come up with something to say instead of just honestly admitting, "I don't know how to respond to that," or else I'll risk sounding like I don't know what I'm talking about after all. Of course, if I knew what I'm talking about, maybe I wouldn't have so much trouble answering this particular damn question I was just asked... Anyway, so I've had some nasty experiences with Q & A in the past, and in general, sometimes I feel I do an infinitely better job defending myself in print---when I have time to think of a response to something---than in person, when I often have to think of a response on my feet.

All those concerns seemingly disappeared on Saturday. I was able to get my speech in just under the 10-minute limit (my original speech ran about 8 minutes over the day before, so I skipped rainy, indoor Rutgersfest on Friday---not that I was really planning to go in the first place---to work on cutting it down), and, most importantly, I was actually able to answer the question I was asked! Yeah, I rambled an answer that probably barely answered the question, but hey, at least I felt confident in responding to it, like I actually knew what I was saying.

So I'm quite satisfied with how my presentation went on Saturday, and I seemed to get good response from not only my peers and the scholar-in-residence (he asked me the question), but also from one of the most critical of audience members: my parents. Yes, they were there, and while obviously my opinion on the success of my presentation doesn't live or die by what they think, I was pleased to hear my mother compliment me later that day at home.

My actual written thesis is pretty much finished; I just need a signature from my thesis advisor, and I'm done! (I got it strip bound by Kinko's today, complete with clear plastic cover in the front and black leather cover at the back; I'm tempted to spend a bit more to get a copy bound for myself.) Semester over---though, as my previous blog entry explained, undergraduate college career not quite over. (I finally told my parents about my situation on Sunday over dinner, and thankfully my mother didn't throw any kind of fit as I half-feared she would.)

Anyone interested in reading my senior thesis? I'll be glad to send an electronic copy of it to anyone who wants to read what I have concluded about Godard and Tarantino. Drop me a line at and I'll send it to you.


Other good stuff that happened these past few days:

I didn't think it would happen, but after a State Theatre shift Wednesday evening, I found out that the house manager decided that I did a superior-enough job that he selected me as Usher of the Month for March. "I was a little hesitant to hire this person," the house manager began as he was trying to build suspense as to who it was, "but he's become a valuable part of the staff, and I'm glad to have him around."

Is it ungrateful of me that my initial thought when I find out he's talking about me is to wonder what he thought about me at first that made him hesitant to hire me?

No matter. I got a $100 gift certificate to Sapporo's for my, uh, value as a staff member, and I used it to celebrate my thesis presentation success yesterday. It's probably been the first time the family---sans our poor dog Dusty, of course, who we left restless and panting at home---went to an actual restaurant---as opposed to the cheaper buffet places we usually frequent---since...oh, I'd say, that eventually-disastrous Maine trip. But the salmon teriyaki dinner, the sushi and the red bean ice cream I had was worth it.

Also: on Thursday evening, the whole Desktop Publishing class went to a printing press up in Wall Township to see our AlumKnights newsletter get printed. It was actually a pretty fascinating trip. I've never seen a printing press in action before, so it was interesting to discover, for instance, that the press actually has to waste a whole slew of printed copies in the beginning of the process in order to allow the color balances to adjust. Believe it, it takes a while before the colors are balanced out.

I took a couple of pictures of the printing press in action on my cell phone, but I still have to figure out how to upload them on my computer, if possible. (I disabled my text-messaging ability on my phone because some asshole kept sending me weird text messages saying "Go get laid" or "Get a life" and leaving callback numbers that were disconnected or never picked up by anyone when I tried them.) If I figure it out, I'll post them in a future entry.

Now I have 10 fresh copies of the upcoming issue of AlumKnights! One of my professors insisted that we send complimentary copies to our interview subjects. Being that I had five of them for my one story---which, if you recall, made it to the front page of the newsletter---obviously I have to send five issues to five different addresses. I really hope I didn't fuck anything up facts-wise!

1 comment:

odienator said...

Congrats on your fortunate events!

Send me your thesis. I can read it during my fourteen hour flight to Japan next weekend!