1977 Contest Winner


“Seemingly out of nowhere, this civilization sprang up sometime around 600 B.C.” Professor Terry’s words crackled like lightning on the girl sitting seven rows back in his History of the American Southwest class. She usually dozed during this period, but for the first time in her five weeks of junior college, Robin was totally awake. There! He was writing the date on the board—600 B.C. The figures looked like neon lights on a dark landscape. She looked around to see if anyone else had noticed. No, they all appeared completely nonchalant. I must be the only Mormon in the room, she thought. Her attention returned to Professor Terry who paced in front of his desk as he described various artifacts and their possible functions. “I wonder if he could be a member,” she thought, as the lecture drifted farther and farther from the subject of the appearance of the mysterious civilization. “Why wasn’t I paying more attention?” she continued, making a mental note to do better. When the bell announced the end of class, Robin gathered up her books and made her way to the front of the room where the instructor was marking some lecture notes.

“Professor Terry?”

He looked up, gave her a quick smile, and said, “Yes?”

“Is it just a coincidence that the date you’ve written there is the same one that figures so prominently in the Book of Mormon?” she began, gesturing toward the date still written on the board. “And the way that culture just sprang up out of nowhere. …”

The professor’s amicable expression dissolved instantly.

“Here we go again,” he said impatiently. “You Mormons try to explain all this in terms of another culture.”

“But sir, the date … I mean, it’s such a coincidence. …”

“I know, Nephites and Lamanites and all that. You people just refuse to acknowledge that the American Indians could have developed such an advanced culture without outside help, without inheriting it from somewhere else. It’s a racist notion!” He bristled with annoyance now. “Something tells me he’s not a Mormon,” Robin thought.

“Yes, uh, well, do you know of any more books I could read on the subject?” she asked in her most ingratiating tone. She knew she probably wouldn’t get around to reading them, but she thought it wouldn’t hurt to ask anyway. She was right. Professor Terry smiled condescendingly and wrote down some titles on a piece of paper.

“Here,” he said, handing the paper to her. “Now you’re a nice Mormon girl, and I certainly wouldn’t want to change that.”

“Thank you.” Robin turned and left the room. “I suppose I should have told him that I know the Church is true,” she thought, “but how could I with him going on and on like that? I think maybe I’ll look up some of those books that support the Book of Mormon with real evidence. Professor Terry doesn’t even know there is any evidence. Then the next time this happens, I’ll be prepared.”

That evening, Robin was resting in front of the television when her mother got home from Primary. “I guess I’d better go help her with supper,” she thought, when she heard pots and pans being rattled in the kitchen.

Just then her mother’s voice called above the noise, “Robbie, honey, did you have a chance to type those papers for me? I have to take them with me in the morning.”

“Oh, I forgot, Mom. I’ll do it after supper, okay?” It seemed like there was always something waiting to be done.

Later that night Robin lay down on her bed and started reading a novel for her English class. Halfway through the third chapter, her eyes began to close. She closed the book, switched off the lamp, and succumbed to her sleepiness. Then a faint tap, tap, tapping intruded on her oblivious slumber. She raised her head. There it was again. Tap, tap, tap. The typewriter! Oh no! Her mother was typing the forgotten papers. “Oh, Mom, I’m sorry,” she thought to herself. “I’ll remember next time.” She buried her head in her pillow but couldn’t escape the typewriter keys that hammered her conscience senseless.

Midterm exams came up very quickly. Professor Terry handed out the freshly mimeographed pages that still smelled faintly of ink. Robin took hers a little apprehensively and started on the first section. These questions were multiple choice, and she was sure of most of the answers, so she felt confident as she turned to the second page. At the top was an essay question that stopped her cold: Describe the possible origins of the American Indian, basing your answer on presently known facts. “Oh no,” she thought, “I forgot all about researching this.”

As she sat there, stunned, all of Professor Terry’s evidence and opinions kept running through her head. She could not think of one fact to support her own belief. The clock showed five minutes had passed, and still Robin debated. “If I don’t hurry up, I won’t get to the end of the test,” she thought. “Besides, if I show his viewpoint, Professor Terry will see that I really do know the material and that I can answer his way if necessary. After all, he knows very well what I really believe.”

Robin wrote a whole page, including everything from parallel evolution to the Bering Strait theory. With relief, she moved on to the rest of the exam, completing the last question as the bell rang. “Boy, what you have to go through to get a grade,” she thought, and she dropped her exam on the table with the rest.

Monday afternoon, a week later, Robin got to class a little early. Professor Terry had said that he would probably pass back the midterms today, and she was anxious to see how he had reacted to hers. As the other students came in and took their seats, she thought how few of them she really knew. “This isn’t like high school,” she mused. “There doesn’t seem to be much time to get to know people once you’re in college.” Just then the professor entered the room, carrying the stack of examinations.

“Good afternoon,” he said, placing the papers on the desk. “I am quite encouraged after correcting your exams because, on the whole, they’re quite good. Of course, some are better than others.” The class laughed nervously. “I would like to read a few of the better responses to the essay question.” As he began reading, Robin heard his words with disbelief. They were her own. Professor Terry’s voice resounded through the lecture hall. She wanted to stop him, but she couldn’t move. “Out of all of those papers, why mine?” she thought. She sat motionless and watched as 42 people listened to the wrong answer.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Gini Shurtleff