Early December days normally do not provide reason for cheerfulness, and the weather is not something to celebrate. The days are getting shorter, the weather colder, and the trees are completely barren of foliage. Were it not for the excitement of the approaching holidays, December would be the most depressing month of the year.

At least it was Friday. Fridays are almost always good if you work for a living and are free for the weekends. Some would say that, being a college professor, I don’t really work for a living. I do have a flexible schedule that makes it appear like I don’t work as hard, and the people who determine my salary are obviously of this opinion. Where were they when I finished writing an exam at 4 AM on this Friday morning?

Before going to bed that morning I sent e-mails to the four students in my class who had solid “A” averages telling them that, if they wished, they could be excused from taking the final exam. It is my philosophy that serious hard work should be rewarded. If someone works hard and is successful in life, they often get to retire early. If they spend too much time having fun, like I’ve done with my life, they will have to do what I will have to do and work until they are in their 70’s. At least that’s what my financial plan is telling me.

One of my many favorite students (most professors have favorites, but many won't admit it) had an “A” average until last week when she failed to submit a homework assignment. She had emailed me about it and I knew she was working on it, but being a working senior, she had “intervening variables” as the statistics folks like to say. She had just gotten laid off from her part-time job and, on the day the assignment was due, her car would not start and had to be towed. This just proves that the lessons of life are not free either, but perhaps more easily remembered. In any event she did not make my short list of students I was excusing from the exam.

After my second class on Friday this student of the school of hard knocks knocked hard on my office door. The word had gotten out about my short list of people excused from the exam, and she wanted to talk. It was not unexpected, and I had already reviewed this possible scenario the previous night. I also knew that I was going to excuse her from the exam, but she didn’t know it. I listened to her appeal, weighed her arguments, and enjoyed the banter. I finally pretended to change my mind, gave her the “A” and excused her from the final. Hard won victories are more appreciated than easy victories. I had done her a favor by pretending to be difficult, and she left my office a very happy woman, which also made me happy.

A few minutes later another of my favorite students on the 'excused list' came by my office with a Christmas gift for me as a way of thanking me for not having to study for my final exam. I had been unaware that his father had passed away two days prior.

At 5 PM a former student of mine came by my office and we decided to go over to the student center pub for a few drinks (coke for me and a beer for her.) It was crowed and noisy. A rock group was performing on the small stage, and the place was filling with students excited that the last week of classes had just ended. Mike, the bartender, waved off my money when I tried to pay for the drinks.

Drinking with someone when you can’t hear what they are saying is not a particularly pleasant experience so we left and drove down to a local tavern that was also noisy, but no music. There we had dinner and another round of drinks. We sat and talked for an hour or so, and when it was time to go, the waitress came over holding the bill and whispered in my ear, “I made an error so your dinner is free.” I left her a $10 tip, said goodbye to my friend, and headed home.

On the way home I reflected on the events of the day, each of which made me smile. Arriving home after a good day is always anticlimactic. I didn’t want it to end, so I decided to go see a movie. The next showing of “Behind Enemy Lines” started at 10:15 PM so I jumped back in my truck and headed for the theater. Working behind the ticket window was the lady who always seems to be there when I go to a movie. No one was behind me so we chatted briefly and she said she had recently been promoted to assistant manager. Then she handed me my ticket and returned my money, saying, “I ‘comped’ your ticket.”

Perhaps there was a holiday spirit on this particular Friday, even though it wasn’t a holiday. It was Pearl Harbor Day, but I don’t think that had anything to do with it. I might well be the next person to be laid off from my job and have to have my truck towed, but on this day the lessons of life were all good – and all of them will be remembered.