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The Academic Circle of Life & Excellent Usage of Commas

by Laura Yeager

There is a great circle of life that occurs at the university.

Years ago, when I was in graduate school at Iowa State University, I was studying with Jane Smiley.  I had won a fellowship (The Pearl Hogrefe Creative Writing Fellowship) for my first year of study; to finance my second year of school, I was given a teaching assistantship.  Essentially, in addition to taking classes I taught two college writing classes.

Jane was also my thesis advisor, so she read all of my writing.  She noticed that I did not know the rules for punctuating restrictive and non-restrictive elements.  She told me that if I didn’t learn the rules, they might have to take away my teaching assistantship.  (I think she really wanted me to understand grammar, and she thought it was important that all of the teaching assistants be versed in proper punctuation.)

Immediately after she told me this, I began to weep.

Not used to a 23-year-old woman crying like a baby in her office, Jane got a little flustered.

“Oh, Laura, don’t worry.  I’ll help you learn the rules.  We won’t take away your assistantship.”

During her lunch hours, Jane typed up restrictive/non-restrictive

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