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Watched Over by a Heavenly Proctor

She couldn’t concentrate amid the chaos of her professor's kids, but everything she needed to ace the test was right there on his desk.

By Roberta Messner, Huntington, West Virginia

As appeared in

“Nuh-uh! You did! I’m going to tell!”

I blotted up the spill as best I could and ordered them to settle down. “I’ve got a test to take,” I said. “I need to concentrate.”

I stomped back into the kitchen with the soggy paper towels. I heard a quiet voice behind me. “Things are always getting broken since Mama left,” one of the boys said.

Suddenly my exam didn’t seem so important. “I’ll fix you some more grape juice,” I said. “Why don’t you see what’s on TV? Or we could play catch outside?”

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The day flew by. When I wasn’t cheering up the boys, I was comforting their cranky sister. Finally I could put it off no longer. I gave myself two hours and started my exam.

Right away the phone rang with a message for Professor Gain. Then a salesman appeared at the door. I’d barely sat back down when the phone rang again. The baby started to cry.

Ringing phones, crying babies, doorbells...it all swirled around in my head blocking out anything about infections. Clostridium perfringens? I read off my exam when I got back to the kitchen table. I tried to answer an easier question, pressed too hard and snapped the point off my pencil. Great, I thought.

I could see my A average slipping away. All that studying for nothing. It wasn’t fair! The other students were being tested in a quiet classroom.

I marched into Professor Gain’s office in search of another pencil. I spotted one on the desk, right next to...

The class textbook. Everything I needed to ace my test was right there. Clostridium perfringens? The textbook could tell me what it was.

I stepped closer to the book, then looked quickly over my shoulder. I was sure I’d felt someone come in the room. But there was no one there. Nobody was watching. Nobody would know if I took just a peek.

I turned back to the textbook and stared. Spread out over the cover I was sure I could see the outline of a bright, glistening hand. The hand pressed the book shut so I couldn’t open it and a voice seemed to speak to my heart, “You must take this test on your own, Roberta.”

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Shaken, I went back to the kitchen. I finished the test as best I could on my own. That evening I called Professor Gain for the results. “You missed an A by two points, but you’ll get a B-plus for the course,” he said.

I banged my fist against my knee. Darn that clostridium perfringens! “It’s not fair!” I said. “I couldn’t think straight! And there was a textbook in the next room. I could have cheated!”

My hand flew to my mouth. Had I just told my professor I was thinking of cheating? Professor Gain took a while to reply.

“Of course you could have cheated,” he said. “But you didn’t, Roberta. That’s called integrity.”

Forty years later, I never think about that B-plus. But I went on to specialize in infection prevention, teaching hospital staff the importance of washing their hands—even when no one is watching to make sure they do it.

Professor Gain said it was integrity that kept me from cheating that day. But I know I have an angel to thank too.


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