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It was the last day of final examinations in a large Eastern university. On the steps of one building, a group of engineering seniors huddled, discussing the exam due to begin in a few minutes. On their faces was confidence. This was their last exam—then on to commencement and jobs.

Some talked of jobs they already had; others of jobs they would get. With all this assurance of four years of college, they felt ready and able to conquer the world.

The approaching exam, they knew, would be a snap. The professor had said they could bring any books or notes they wanted. Requesting only that they did not talk to each other during the test.

Jubilantly they filed into the classroom. The professor passed out the papers. And smiles broadened as the students noted there were only five essay type questions.

Three hours passed. Then the professor began to collect the papers. The students no longer looked confident. On their faces was a frightened expression. No one spoke as, papers in hand, the professor faced the class.

He surveyed the worried faces before him, then asked: “how many completed all five questions?”

Not a hand was raised.

“How many answered four?”

Still no hands.

“Three? Two?”

The students shifted restlessly in their seats.

“One, then? Certainly somebody finished one.”

But the class remained silent. The professor put down the papers. “That is exactly what I expected,” he said.

“I just want to impress upon you that, even though you have completed four years of engineering, there are still many things about the subject you don't know. These questions you could not answer are relatively common in everyday practice.” Then, smiling, he added: “You will all pass this course, but remember—even though you are now college graduates, your education has just begun.”

The years have obscured the name of this professor, but not the lesson he taught.


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