The Emperor and I
During the Olympics I was assigned to be the driver for the Emperor of Bernieland. Apparently there was a small republic somewhere amid the wreckage of the former Soviet Union that didn't send any athletes but wanted to be a part of the world community anyhow. I was a bit suspicious, since the Emperor himself usually wore torn jeans and a Van Halen t-shirt, and sometimes his accent shifted from French to German, but since he always picked up the tab at Arby's, I didn't complain.
So one day the Emperor, who insisted I call him Bern, decided he wanted to tour the campus. He knew I was LDS, so he asked me to take him over to the institute. Bern's a pretty direct guy, and he didn't waste time with a lot of chit chat.
"Why do you go here, kid? " he asked, "What's the attraction? Do people come to socialize? Is it the cafeteria? Or are they there for good, hard, religion? What's this place for?"
I thought for a second. "The Institute provides a forum for religious instruction and spiritual enhancement for college students through a variety of formal classes and social activities."
"Baloney," said Bern, "Why did you first come here?"
"A cute girl talked me into it."
"A cute girl?"
"She had a great accent. Texan."
Bern nodded. "So you came for dating opportunities."
"No, I came for sanity."
The Emperor gave me a blank stare. I elaborated.
"Well, one of the great things about the Institute is that it's a stress-free environment. It's a learning opportunity without the added pressure of mid-terms or finals."
Bern raised an eyebrow, "I see."
"With cute girls to boot."
Bern folded his arms on his chest. "So this is sanity?"
Another pause. "Let me put it this way. "When my work load used to get too big, I figured I'd free up more time by skipping Institute. But eventually I found that the spiritual boost I got from Institute made it easier to get through the work I had to do on campus. Sanity."
"Do you think you're getting a real educational experience here?"
"The first day I went to my Doctrines of the Gospel class, within five minutes we were talking about how the Light of Christ fills the immensity of space."
Another blank stare.
"Yes." I said.
"OK, fine." Said Bern, "But do you think everyone gets the same thing out of institute that you do?"
"They can get whatever they want to get out of it. If they go home and study the stuff they hear about in class, they learn about the gospel. If they go to meet people, they meet people. Some of them just need to get away from their boring accounting classes."
Bern fingered a small collector's pin shaped like Wilford Brimley's head.
I continued, "The Institute gives some people an identity. When I was an undergrad, I figured that out of 25,000 students, 24,986 commuted. That left twelve in the dorms, plus one guy that had a little fridge built into his law library desk."
"Who's the last one?"
"Rick Majerus. He's a basketball coach."
"I know him, " said Bern, "he's very big in my country."
A smug smile crossed my face. "So do you think Bernieland will send any athletes in 2006?"
"I doubt it, " Bern said quickly, "you were saying something about identity?"
"Yeah. It's hard to get to know people when they all drive home at the end of the day. Institute gives people a place to hang out, to get involved. I mean, I write a column for the Institute newspaper."
"Huh." Said the Emperor thoughtfully, "So the Institute is whatever the student needs it to be. You should put all that in one of your columns. I should have taken notes for you."
"That's alright, Bern. I tape all of my conversations."