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the arrival

It was a glorious summer afternoon when Scott arrived at the campus of State University. Bright sunshine, not too hot, flowers in bloom, trees and shrubbery brilliantly green. The lawns which covered much of the space between the college buildings were carefully mowed, almost inviting a game of pickup football or softball. It didn’t matter that Scott was over-dressed: no need for a raincoat, no hat necessary. He was not uncomfortable.

Hat in hand, coat thrown over his shoulder, and dragging his suitcase behind him, Scott moved with relaxed confidence across the campus—as if he belonged. And in truth, he did belong. The instructions that came with his acceptance packet told him to be at the university this afternoon and to sign in at Ridge Hall where he would receive further directions. So after getting directions from a passing student—and there were not many students on campus during the summer session—Scott made his way toward the registration site.

He was impressed with Ridge Hall. It was one of those very old buildings that colleges seem reluctant to tear down because they were part of the original campus. Such structures are impressive looking: ivy covering much of the red brick walls, pointed Victorian roofs—sites of learning for more than a century. They are unmistakably quaint and inviting.

In actuality many of these venerable buildings are outdated. They have a multitude of flaws, not the least of which are old plumbing infrastructure, floors that sag or slope off to one side, leaky ceilings, poor wiring, and even an insufficient number of electrical outlets.

But, they are revered as architectural shrines linking contemporary students, professors, and administrators to the ancient founders of the school.

Scott thought dignified old Ridge Hall was fantastic; the embodiment of what a college should look like. When he entered the building, he didn’t mind that the hardwood floors creaked under his feet. This was the first time in his life that Scott Tennyson had been inside a university building, and it brought a soft smile to his face.

The staff behind the registration desks quickly enrolled Scott and collected the report he had prepared. As one young woman explained it, “We will be assessing all student essays tonight. In the morning when the Young Scholars meet here at 9 o’clock, assignments will be made on the basis of our evaluations.”

“Just how many students are participating in this two-week program?” Scott asked.

“We have four students in eleven different categories of scholarship,” answered the young woman. “For example, Mr. Tennyson, you are one of four Young History scholars. We have a similar number in each of the other nine areas: Young Art, Young Chemistry, Young Mathematics—plus Foreign Languages, Physics, Music, Literature, R.O.T.C., Biology, and Social Sciences.”

“Will we be meeting together or in our specific groups?” Scott inquired.

“Occasionally all the Young Scholars will meet together, most often here at Ridge in the morning session. Of course, you will also be interacting with other students socially. The vast majority of your time during the next two weeks, however, will be spent on the assignment you receive,” the young woman explained. “That’s why your research paper was so important. We’ll use it as the basis to decide what you’ll be doing here as a Young Scholar.

“Meantime, Mr. Tennyson,” she continued, “here’s a name tag for your shirt; and here are the rest of your registration papers. Your next stop is the University dorms, specifically Stebbins House, where you’ll be living—two to a room—while you’re with us. Stebbins is about a quarter-mile directly east of here. Just follow the main walkway and you can’t miss it.”

“Thanks very much,” Scott said as he turned to leave. Suddenly a hand was extended toward him. “Hello, I’m Steve Bergson, I’m Young Music,” said the friendly young man approaching Scott for a handshake. “I see from your name tag that you’re with Young History. That’s interesting. I’ve always liked history, almost as much as playing the violin—but not quite as much,” he added jokingly.

Scott immediately felt comfortable conversing with Steve. “Well, we’re almost equal, I guess,” he quipped, “I love to play my digitized tunes, but not as much as I like history.” The two young men laughed. They were in different fields, but they clearly respected each other’s academic accomplishment. Becoming a Young Scholar was a significant achievement. And meeting and participating together in the actual program often created bonds that led to lasting friendships.

“Come on, Scott,” Steve said, “I’m already enrolled at Stebbins. I’ll show you where it’s located.” Once Scott and Steve arrived at the dormitory, the process went rapidly. Scott was assigned a room. He was informed that his roommate for the next two weeks would be a member of Young Physics named Frank Einstein. The name immediately provoked a few giggles that were followed by the obvious query: “Do you think he’s related to THE Einstein?” But since Frank had not yet arrived, they would have to wait for an answer.

Scott’s dorm room was nothing fancy. It consisted of two beds, two desks, some closet space, a small refrigerator, and an attached bathroom. “Not like my room at home,” he confessed to Steve, “but I’m here to work, not entertain guests.” Scott placed his luggage on one of the beds and began sorting through his clothes. “Give me one minute, Steve,” he said. “I want to hang up my coats and shirts or else I’ll be a mass of wrinkles during the next two weeks.”

As he removed the last shirt from his suitcase, Scott noticed an unfamiliar manila envelope. He hadn’t packed it, but his name was written on it. When he opened it Scott found a short personal note from his mother expressing pride in her son’s achievement. It was a private message from a loving and supportive mother.

As a token of her esteem, she included a gift, a very special gift that greatly impressed Scott. Mrs. Tennyson gave him the French coin which Scott remembered well. He had first seen in The History Shoppe when he used it to learn about the French Revolution. Weeks later he found the coin in the weeds of a vacant lot. Scott presented it to his mother as a gift. And now Mrs. Tennyson wrote that she wanted her son to own this historic coin as a good luck piece and a memento of his experiences at the Shoppe.

Scott smiled as he folded the letter and placed it back in the envelope. “Take a look at this, Steve,” he said as he handed to coin to his friend for inspection. “It’s a gift from my mom, a good luck coin.”

“This is impressive, man. It’s from 1791,” Steve remarked as he inspected this piece of money from the early years of the French Revolution. “That was before I was born,” he added jokingly as he returned the coin to Scott. “I hope it brings you lots of luck. Maybe you can let me borrow it every now and then. I can always use good fortune. But, meanwhile, I’m getting hungry.”

“Me, too,” Scott responded energetically. “Let’s get out of here and find some food.”

“I guess colleges don’t have those malt shops like you see in the old feature films, but I’ll bet there’s a pizzeria somewhere in the neighborhood,” Steve said. “All colleges have pizza joints located somewhere nearby.”

The two Young Scholars didn’t walk far from the campus before they spotted Gino’s Trattoria, exactly the type of college restaurant that matched their preconceived notions of higher education cuisine. And when they skimmed the menu, their suspicions were confirmed: several kinds of pasta, sandwiches, and, of course, pizza. Predictably, hamburgers and fries were on the menu, too.

“This may be an Italian restaurant, but I feel like a burger,” Steve remarked. “Here’s one the sounds really exotic: I’m having the hamburger fromage?”

“Fromage? Fromage is the French word for cheese, silly,” said Scott. “You’re ordering a cheeseburger.”

“Oh,” Steve answered sheepishly, “I took Spanish. But I’m still having it.”

The boys placed their orders, and fell back into conversation as they waited for the food to be prepared. As they chatted, a young woman approached their booth. “You’re both Young Scholars,” she said. “I can tell by the name tags you haven’t removed yet. My name is Jenny Ono. I’m part of the Young Literature group.”

Scott and Steve were quick to ask her to join them and the two-way discussion rapidly became a three-way exchange. Moreover, as they sat and talked, then ate, then talked some more, the threesome soon swelled to eight Young Scholars. Scott found himself amid an impressive selection of students from throughout the state.

What struck him most was the intellectual enthusiasm of his fellow students. Everyone was eager to start the program. Jenny Ono was most interested in nineteenth-century Russian literature. Dorothy Bullock of Young Foreign Language was studying Chinese. “Someday, I want to be a businesswoman working between China and the United States. Can you think of anything more exciting?” she asked.

Donnie Bailey, a member of Young History, wanted to study African-American history, particularly the civil rights movement of the 1960s. He was certain there remained much of the period that was still unknown. Eddie Fastwolf, also of Young History, was excited about researching Native American history; a field he felt was also insufficiently studied. Hilda Forrest of Young Chemistry was also an American Indian, but her interest was chemical engineering. She eventually wanted to become a researcher for one of the major petrochemical corporations.

The last to walk in and join their bustling group was Scott’s roommate, Frank Einstein. He introduced himself to the group and promptly got THE question: “Any relation?” two or three people asked simultaneously.

“I’d love to say yes, you’re talking about great-grandpa Al. But, no, I’m no relation,” Frank admitted with exaggerated remorse. “My dad is a car salesman, and his father was a bus driver. I’m the first and only physicist in the family,” he added.

Scott did not say it out loud, but this group of Young Scholars also impressed him by the ease with which everyone got along. He was sure he was going to have a memorable time.

After a few more pizzas and burger fromages washed down with several gallons of diet soft drinks, the impromptu seminar of Young Scholars ended for the evening. “Time to get back to Stebbins,” Hilda said. “We have a big day tomorrow. We find out our assignments. I can’t wait.”

As they poured out of Gino’s, everyone agreed that tomorrow would be memorable. “Well, guys, here we go,” remarked Scott.

Indeed it was a memorable day. With no hesitation, the morning session at Ridge Hall began promptly at 9 o’clock. Following introductory remarks by a few program officials, student assignments were announced. For the most part each Young Scholar was assigned to work with a professor or researcher in his or her area of specialty. Steve Bergson, for example, was assigned to a violin professor who also conducted the State University Symphony Orchestra. Jenny was placed with a Professor of Comparative Languages with a specialty in Dostoevsky. Hilda was dispatched to the university’s world-famous Chemistry Research Center. Dorothy was assigned to a member of the Foreign Languages Department who taught Chinese language and culture. Frank found himself with a Nobel Prize-winning physicist—one of three Nobel laureates at State University—where he would be studying atomic matter.

When the three other members of Young History were assigned to different professors in the Department of History, Scott was convinced and pleased that he would be similarly assigned, probably to someone in Modern U.S. history. Instead, his name was called out by the program moderator who then asked him to remain after the meeting to discuss his assignment in more detail.

When the morning session ended and the students quickly scattered to meet their assigned professors, Scott was confused and increasingly apprehensive. He clutched his lucky coin tightly as he walked to the front of the room, wondering what had gone wrong and why only he had been asked to stay. Based on eleven years of experience in public school, this was not a good sign.

“Mr. Tennyson, we have a problem with assigning you,” began the elderly man who had conducted the morning session.

Scott’s heart fell. “Was everything lost?” he wondered as he squeezed the French Revolution coin even more tightly.

The program official continued. “You see, it’s our policy to assign a Young Scholar to a specific faculty member who will introduce the student to the fundamentals of learning in a particular discipline,” he explained. “In your case, you should be placed with a professor of American history to learn basics such as research techniques, the evaluation of historical evidence, even something about the philosophy of learning. This is because we want bright young students like you to have a running start once you leave high school and begin your college careers.

“But, Mr. Tennyson, to be honest, you confound us,” he added as Scott privately grew increasingly fearful. “What confuses us, frankly, is that we’ve never encountered such as a sophisticated research paper from a Young Scholar as the one you presented yesterday. We don’t think that a regular assignment to work with a history professor would do you much good since you already have the fundamental skills the program seeks to impart.”

“Does this mean you’re asking me to leave the program and go home?” Scott nervously inquired. “Am I being asked to leave because I already can do historical research?”

“Oh, no, no, no, Mr. Tennyson, not at all,” responded the program director. “No, this only means that we had to reassess your assignment. And we’ve never had to do that before.”

He continued, “We needed to find a situation at the university that would maximize your Young History experience. So, we are placing you with Dr. Helen Sargon who is the director of the University’s Museum of History and Culture. Because you showed such sophistication in using historical source materials, we have decided that you would learn best by working with an expert in history and in a facility that is filled with historic artifacts.”

Scott wanted to jump for joy, but he was too cool for that. Instead, he expressed his gratitude to the director, and then headed for the Museum and a meeting with Professor Sargon.

By the warmth of her greeting, Dr. Sargon was as pleased to meet Scott as he was to be working with her. She was a middle-aged woman who spoke with a slight accent, but it was not like the Greek accent Dr. Papadopoulos possessed. Scott couldn’t place it, but it was distinct.

“Good morning, Mr. Tennyson,” she said. “I hope you will find the next two weeks intellectually rewarding, although they tell me you are pretty bright already. But I think we can direct your energies in profitable directions.”

“You flatter me,” Scott answered. He would have loved to tell her why he was so advanced for his age—how he had met Dr. Pop in The History Shoppe—how he analyzed documents that ranged from bubble gum cards and fallout shelter instructions from the Cold War, to the 18th century French coin he was carrying right now—and especially how the Clio machine allowed him to enter old films and examine them from inside.

But Scott could say nothing. He had sworn a life-long oath of silence about the entire experience. In fact, he wondered if Professor Sargon, herself, had shared a similar experience before she became a historian. He recalled Dr. Pop telling him how all historians had this personal initiation early in their lives. But it was something Scott could never verify because he would never mention it, and Dr. Sargon would never admit it even if it were true.

“Well, young man, if you’re ready to go to work, let’s gets the show on the road,” Dr. Sargon declared. “First, let me take you on a tour of our facility. Let’s see where you’ll be working for the next two weeks.” With that she and Scott spent the next hour walking through an amazing collection of art and cultural artifacts.

The collection spanned the centuries. In the Antiquities Room he saw colorful vases from the Golden Age of Greece, statues of Egyptian pharaohs, and cuneiform tables from ancient Mesopotamia. “Here is one of my favorite pieces,” Dr, Sargon explained as she pointed to a small golden medallion in a display case. “This is from the Assyrian Empire about the year 900 B.C. Isn’t it magnificent?,” she added. “I’m of Assyrian ancestry, myself, and just seeing this medallion every day gives me a positive feeling about the culture from which I come, and the work I am doing here,” she remarked.

Scott smiled at what he considered to be a personal confession. “If we could read the hieroglyphics and the symbols on this ancient medal—on all the items in the Museum—I’ll bet we would learn a lot about the societies that created them,” Scott commented. “I’ve done it with comic books and brochures for new cars,” he said, “but they’re not as important as these antiquities.”

“Nonsense, young man, everything has historical meaning. Even the most mundane things may tell us something. We just have to ask the right questions, and interpret the messages,” she responded. “Imagine what we could deduce about the Roman Empire if we possessed comic books from the time of Caesar Augustus? Or sale brochures for new chariots from ancient Egypt?”

“How about tapestries from medieval times? asked Scott. “We could learn from the pictures and designs they contain, couldn’t we? I think they’re similar to comic books.”

“That’s a first-class observation, Scott,” Dr. Sargon responded. “I can see why the Young Scholars program sent you to me. You have a good head on your shoulders, young man. Your high school has taught you well.”

Scott nodded with humility. He appreciated the compliment.

The tour moved through several other rooms with fascinating materials. The young historian liked them all: the American Indian Room; the expansive Americana holdings that spanned several centuries; and the small but important East Asian and African Culture collections. There were others holdings, all impressive to Scott Tennyson. By this time, however, he was beginning to wonder what he might do for two weeks in a museum that was already so well-organized.

“Mr. Tennyson,” said Dr. Sargon sensing Scott’s growing curiosity. “There are two major museum projects that could really use your talents. In either project, we would gain from your input, and you would obtain invaluable exposure to our professional world. So, I’ll leave it up to you which of the two you will pursue as a Young Scholar.”

Scott was most attentive as the Dr. Sargon laid out his choices. “First, we have a large group of archeological remains from Aztec, Mayan, and Inca civilizations. We have masks, pieces of pottery, jewelry, inscriptions, and even some gold trinkets. It would aid us immensely were you to catalogue these items for us.

“That would entail describing each one, measuring, weighing, and photographing—then entering the information into the museum’s computer database. Our pre-Columbian Collection is weak, but that’s only because we haven’t had the opportunity to process the Meso-American and Peruvian artifacts we have in storage.”

“Wow that sounds very interesting and educational. I’ve read a lot about the Aztecs, Incas, and Mayans—even the Toltecs,” said Scott.

“Wonderful, so you could hit the ground running,” remarked Dr. Sargon. “That would be very helpful to us. But, you have another choice. Would you like to hear it?”

“Oh, of course,” answered Scott. “What is the alternative project?”

“The second task is rather unusual, but I think you may be the perfect person for it,” explained Dr. Sargon. “Years ago a wealthy family from another state, Elmer and Violet Henderson, donated their massive archive of cultural items that included thousands of old films, historic sound recordings, and paper materials of all sorts. They’re similar to the cultural artifacts you utilized in writing your research paper. Apparently, Mr. Henderson was the driving force in amassing this collection over three or four decades of buying popular cultural items. It was more than a hobby for them, however. The Hendersons felt these treasures needed to be collected and be preserved for posterity.”

She continued, “That’s why we thought you might like to spend your time at the university trying to organize some of this overwhelming archive of stuff—for want of a better word. Frankly, we don’t know what’s here. It’s been housed in a basement storage room since the university acquired it. We hope that you will be able to tell us something about what we have.”

Scott’s answer came quickly. “Well, I don’t have to think twice,” he announced. “As much as Latin America fascinates me, I have a great interest in using cultural materials as historical documents. So, I’ll choose the second option. I would really enjoy taking on a challenge like that.”

“I kind of thought you would, Scott,” she said. “Let’s break for the lunch hour, and when you come back, I’ll show you where we store the Henderson Collection and then turn you loose.”

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