My 57th Recommendation Letter This Week

Sometimes, saying nothing because you can't say something nice isn't an option, David Galef suggests.
February 23, 2005

                 [insert fancy university logo here]


                                                               Two Weeks Past Deadline

To the Admissions Committee, I think:

I wish to recommend Daryl Smith for entry into your graduate program, and I have twenty more of these goddamned letters to write. Daryl is easily one of the best twenty students I recall teaching this semester, and I've probably written recommendations for seventeen of them already. Daryl was in one of my composition classes, I feel sure of that, since that's all they let me teach.

Though class discussion occasionally flagged -- full disclosure: it was like a tomb in there -- Daryl always had something to say, even when it wasn't worth saying. As they put it in classes still devoted to Big Theory (and yeah, I know some of the terminology), he thickened the texture of discourse. When the students were discussing how to make a convincing argument, for instance, Daryl made a contribution whose substance I can't possibly recall, not with a 4/4 load plus summer session, but it stuck in my mind, I can tell you. Or maybe it was someone else.

What I can tell you from looking at my notes is that Daryn is engaged, considerate, and other labels that should indicate to the reader of this letter that Daryn really isn't that ight-bray. Student may not have waived right to view this letter. When it came time to hand in his final paper, Daryn came through with a study on something or other that he should have sent me another copy of, or how the hell am I supposed to mention the title?

I hear from Devon's résumé that he's a member of Sigma Tau Chi -- maybe Pi? -- and has completed forty hours of community service, probably for some utterly minor offense. He belongs to some religious charitable organization that has absolutely no bearing on his candidacy, and his summer jobs at Burger King show a capacity for hard work, maybe. I predict he'll go far. And why not? When has a prediction like that ever cost me anything? Who reads recommendation letters anymore, anyway? They count only if the recommender is a Big Name, which I never will be, or oppositely if the letter really stinks or is from the applicant's probation officer or uncle.

Best end with some boilerplate. Any institution that accepts Derwood will definitely have gained another student.


Adjunct Instructor #49
U of All People


David Galef is a professor of English and administrator of the M.F.A. program in creative writing at the University of Mississippi. His latest book is the short story collection Laugh Track (2002).


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