During Spring Semester of 1984, my senior year in college, I was lucky to take a course from the legendary Jerome Wiesner, science advisor to President Kennedy, president of MIT, and a key figure in preventing World War III. There were just about 15 students in the class, so we all got to know each other quite well. I worked incredibly hard on my final project. I was very proud of it. Dr. Wiesner had read a draft and was impressed, but he had a number of substantial revisions.
I was so in awe of this man and his legacy, I wanted to take all of his suggestions and make the final project perfect. But I had other classes, other commitments, and limited time. I collapsed from exhaustion in my dorm room, face down on my desk, while working on final revisions the day it was due. My buddies dragged me into my bed. I work up in the middle of the night, in a panic. I collected the paper and rushed it over to his office first thing in the morning. Dr. Wiesner's secretary told me that there was an international crisis, that just after the due date he graded all the papers, then rushed to the airport to fly to Moscow. This was the height of the Cold War. She told me he did not know when he would be back and that she was not comfortable contacting him on this matter.
I was so lightheaded and sick to my stomach I had to sit down. I needed a grade in this class to graduate in a week. My parents were flying to Boston from Portland to watch me graduate. They had been planning it for four years. My mother had never been in an airplane and had never been east of Lewiston, Idaho. Dad had travelled as far as Alaska for work, but had never been East. I was sure I was the worst child and the biggest disappointment in the history of time. Perhaps even worse than that, I had let down Dr. Wiesner, this person I so deeply respected.
The secretary could see that I was troubled. I explained the situation. She called in another professor who was close with Dr. Wiesner. She was a young, visiting professor from England, Dr. Emma Rothschild, and had been a guest speaker in our class a couple of times. She went into her office, closed the door, and read the paper. She called in the secretary and they consulted. Fifteen of the worst minutes of my life passed. Then I was called in. They had learned that they could submit a grade for me, that I could graduate. But, Dr. Rothschild was not comfortable assigning a grade higher than a C without consulting with Dr. Wiesner.
My parents came to graduation. I told them the story, knowing it was funny, but also embarrassed that I had a C on my college transcript. My parents just laughed and asked if I wanted them to burn my grade report or if I wanted to do it myself.