Hydrocarbons weren’t the only combustion reaction during my Gen-Chem final.
I expected my General Chemistry final to be a number of things. Difficult? Duh. Soul-Crushing? Certainly. Tiring? Totally.
And while it was all of these qualities, the one that stood out the most—the feature that epitomized the experience—was completely unexpected:
My General Chemistry final was camp.
When I first logged into Zoom, I was struck by the number of students who had their cameras on. Hundreds, even more. Every single student bore a stark expression on their face. Pure naïveté; naïveté in its elemental form. Entirely emulating Note 18. Engineers, Pre-meds, and other science majors alike were hopeful for stellar performances, idyllically unaware of what the future held for them.
Personally, I saw no one I knew. The class on-screen—over two hundred students—was unfamiliar. I scanned the gallery view like I was some rich French noblewoman in Early Modern Revolutionary France at the Parisian salon.
First, I saw that many, many people had vinyl records adorning their walls. But as my eyes drifted and lingered, I realized a fair number of my classmates were still on campus. Y’all are soldiers. I salute you.
Soon, we were split into breakout rooms and, like beauty gurus recording their next makeover, demonstrated our commitment to wearing the crown with honor by moving any and all electronics into a bag and placing it behind us. I understand that this was done to ensure that all contrabandous tools—like cell phones or advanced calculators—had known whereabouts. I complied. My backpack sat behind me, visible throughout the entirety of my exam on the bottom corner of my screen. This action was a perfect example of Note 19. Everyone was dead serious. They flashed their phones, watches, and calculators into their Jansport or classic Kånken. And after that, I saw a girl’s arm shake as she lifted her water bottle to sip her drink. I, too, was engrossed in intense focus. The day before, I decreed to my family that I would reign over the household thermostat for that day. No variable within my grasp would be left up to chance.
With haste, we signed the integrity statement and trudged into the test. Unbeknownst to us, Amazon announced connectivity issues starting at 7:35 am. We went about testing as usual, but as we scrolled through the CourseWorks exam, a considerable chunk of the 75 questions did not load. We were left with a small file icon labeled as “[question number].png” and answers A through E. Melioration of the mishappening might have soothed the manic students, but the message chat was blocked to make sure no one could ask questions.
That’s so Note 23: “the essential element is seriousness, a seriousness that fails” (Sontag).
Many of us faced the decree that loomed over us: “No questions allowed. Email the professor and TAs if issues arise——only severe ones, don’t waste our time. Include screenshots as evidence and drain your precious testing window.”
I continued grinding through the exam until I had finished the plurality of questions that loaded. As a Hail Mary, I refreshed my page and met newly processed images for some of the remaining questions. I answered, reloaded, and repeated. Barely a few minutes later, my breakout room was given an angelic reprieve. Due to brave souls that took time out of their exam—where you barely got two minutes for each question—to actually email the department, the exam would be extended twenty minutes. Huzzah!
Like most of my classmates, I adjusted accordingly because I had additional time to check my arithmetic and could respond to questions. I was ready for the punches. And really, the study of matter and how it changes is also about how you change when tested on its matters. Chemistry is improv, my dears, and I was Ryan Stiles.
Or well…for twenty minutes. See, CourseWorks didn’t extend the time. A mere eight minutes before the exam closed we were notified of this issue. ‘We tried everything. Your answers will auto-submit at noon.”
And sure enough, at 11:59 am, each student was notified that there was one minute remaining. We were prompted to “Please submit your answers.” And then were greeted with a ten-second countdown: “Time’s Up!” with the only button clickable being “Ok, fine.” The timer elapsed. The test concluded.
Much like our muted scores, the breakout room was silent. The previously persevering and invigorated zoom gallery now articulated an expression of “what the fuck just happened.” Virtual silence. A considerable number began giggling. That’s it. That was the end of Gen-Chem 1 (unless we will actually get an extension sometime). Slowly, the number of smirking faces grew. Breakout rooms closed and we were ushered into the main call. The virtual silence somehow became loud. A growing number of grins spread across the call. A few kids raised their hand emojis as if that would fix anything. For me, seeing the little characters was when I couldn’t casually hide my smile over the situation. Note 41: “The whole point of Camp is to dethrone the seriousness.” This mighty beast of a final was certainly horrifying, but in a grizzly bear that snapped at the circus while wearing a tutu and makeup and mauled the audience; you can’t help but laugh as it chomps down on your clavicle. The grade is important, but foolishly so. Who cares anymore.
The class remained silent for fifteen minutes. Only a handful trickled off and left the meeting. Then, from the unforeseen workings of the universe, the Zoom call closed: “This meeting has been ended by host.” There was no other communication about the exam, about the potential solution for the ménage à trois of missing questions. We didn’t even get a goodbye. That was that. That was the end.
We did receive a message an hour later and then another five hours after that. It truly was the end, unless something arises from the cyber works. The difficulties will be kept in mind for the scores on the exam, somehow. Oh, and also ‘Have an enjoyable and restful break.’ I viewed it as a diatomic ‘Deuces ⚛️😜.’
This leaves me with one final Sontagian note. Note 58: “The ultimate Camp statement: it’s good because it’s awful”; Gen Chem was good, good because it’s awful, awfully good, and awfully awful. Gaudy at times too, obsessed with its own rules and abashedly gauche.
I hope it stays that way—it’s camp, after all.
Dumpster Fire via Wikimedia Commons