Petya’s First Scholarly Presentation
The research paper was excellent. Once 30-some pages, he needed to mercilessly slice and dice the manuscript to 9 pages in order to fit into the 20-minute time frame. Very difficult to do.
He would need to enunciate clearly and drop the Russian inflections. I listened to him practice so many times I think I could have given it verbatim from memory-! He had a tendency to gloss over the ends of words when speed-reading, as well as drop middle syllables as though he were born and bred in the south. For instance, upon occasion, he would say “utilizin” instead of “utilizing” and “arch-ology” instead of “archaeology”, all of which might be detrimental to his future career since the conference was full of top archaeologists.
Held in Colonial Williamsburg, the event also coincided with the College of William and Mary’s homecoming weekend. Hotels were full and traffic was everywhere. More stress.
Lots of professional friends present and eager to hear him. More stress.
The appointed day arrived. I checked and rechecked early that morning: “Do you have your thumb drive? Your typed paper? Your computer just in case?”
The recently-turned-20-year-old was a pro. He knew from his parents to be overprepared. Petya had a PDF version, a PowerPoint and a Keynote version. Arriving around 7:45 am, plenty of time before his 9:00 am presentation, the PhDs in attendance already possessed copies of his paper and he went to hand-in his thumb drive. A jury would be judging him.
No stress at all, did I mention?
It was then that he received the news. Not one of his formats were compatible with any of their equipment.
This was looking bad. Petya, king of all high-tech eventualities, tweaked this and that. No can do, they replied. It was unfathomable. I stayed in my seat in the now-crowded auditorium and prayed. My son also did not know, but his father was on the way to hear him, driving all night for six hours. After all, this was tantamount to a first “away” game.
Only problem was, with the highway closures after Hurricane Matthew, it would take his father slightly longer to get here. And then, it turns out that one of the presenters had dropped out. Petya’s time slot had just been bumped forward by 20 minutes. I furiously tried to text Benedetto to say: COME NOW. But nothing worked from inside the walls of this edifice-! I considered stepping outside to try to text, however, the real possibility of losing my seat kept me in place.
Meanwhile, my son stepped outside to pace the halls, go to the restroom, and have his own time of prayer. I guess the Fruit Loops from the hotel’s morning breakfast of champions was not agreeing with him— I let him eat the junk just because he thought the sugar might help and because I thought it might let him know that I now considered him an adult— enough to allow him to stay out late at the pool the night before and eat a multi-colored, unnaturally-hued children’s cereal at breakfast— if that makes sense.
Around that time, in walked Benedetto… slipping into Petya’s saved seat beside me-! The two guys had seen each other in the hallway outside. Prior to that, Benedetto received a special 20-minute pass to the conference, with one of his acquaintances telling all of the registration folks exactly who this honored international guest was to grace the conference.
My head was spinning.
“Bathroom. He’s coming.”
And before we knew it, he was there, we heard a couple of presentations before him, and he was up. Petya thanked the crowd for being there, started to apologize about his slides, when another PhD did something and handed him a clicker. THE SLIDES WERE WORKING-!!!
Our son didn’t miss a beat, spoke quickly and clearly and did a remarkable job. He inserted one slide midway which caused some levity and finished to resounding applause-! It was a dream come true.
We needed to stay for the other papers, but his father whisked us away for a quick breakfast out. The two of us returned to listen to dozens of others papers over the course of three days, while Benedetto drove back through still-rising floodwaters to points south. Petya’s proud public congratulated him, noting the obscurity and educational value of his topic, along with the excellent presentation skills.
On the last day, my son took me out for lunch, celebrating this milestone in his life. We made it through. Thank you, Lord.
————Tags: disaster before presentation, Russian adoption and university, son's college research paper, son's first scholarly presentation