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WOSTER: O, to be a W or Y

Terry Woster

Unless your last name starts with a letter way down in the alphabet, you haven't experienced the back-of-the-room feeling known well to the Ws and the Ys.

In school at Chamberlain, most of my classes involved alphabetical seating. Even the teachers must have tired at some point of "Waysman, Wenzel, Woster, Yates,'' in the roll calls and assignment lists. But there we were, way down the list of letters and usually either across the back row in the room or the last four chairs on the far right side. For some reason, I suppose because that's the way we read in this country, most of my classes started with the As or the Bs in the front seat of the left row and scrolled through the alphabet to "Waysman, Wenzel, Woster, Yates'' there in the far right back.

The seating chart sometimes came in handy. Quite often, when we were reciting aloud in class, the teacher would start at the front and the left, so it would be a long while before the Ws got their turn. That meant we could listen to the presentations of most of the other students, see what worked and what didn't work and adjust our own remarks accordingly. In theory, that should have been a huge advantage, a case of "going to school'' on the other guy's putt to see which way the greens would break, you might say.

In fact, in my case, anyway, I rarely went to school on the other presentations. What I noticed were the fidgety legs, the shaky voices, the sweaty brows and the other signs that my classmates were way out of their comfort zones as they recited "Old Ironsides'' or "Ode to a Nightingale'' or gave a book report on one of the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew mysteries. I'd have been better off to have gone first and gotten the thing out of the way before I had time to think. I usually had the material down pat. I just couldn't stand straight and still in front of a class.

I had a notion that when I went to college, the alphabet thing would disappear. Sometimes it did. Some classes a person just wandered in, found a good seat and plopped down. Funny thing was, when I had those opportunities, I automatically chose a seat as far back in the room and as far to the right-hand side as I could get. Once a W, always a W.

When I went to Creighton University for my freshman year, the alphabet system of organizing students almost made me drop out of college before my first class. I don't know how the system worked exactly, only that when I registered, the gymnasium was filled with tables and tables, each representing a particular section (days and times the class met) of a course. Each section included a certain number of IBM cards, and when you registered successfully, you received one of those cards. At the end, you turned them all in somewhere, a computer did some magic and there you were, a college freshman ready to learn.

If you were a W, however, you were among the last people to register. That meant a lot of sections were filled, and you knew that because there were no cards left in that slot. You might work out an ideal schedule, pick up all of your cards except the last one and get to that table to find the section was full. Back to the drawing board and rescheduling.

I rescheduled about five times that afternoon. I cursed, I cried and I lamented loudly that my parents hadn't had the sense to change my name to Aanderson or something. Truly, had I been forced to reschedule one more time that long day, I think I'd have walked to the Omaha bus station and caught a Greyhound for home.

I made it, finally, and I even received a blue-and-white freshman beanie. I guess the humiliation of the whole scheduling process hadn't been enough. The one positive? The As and Bs in the freshman class had those same foul beanies.

Equal treatment at last.