Life is like a dance.


When I went to college, I expect my ultimate goal was graduation — but what I got was beyond my fondest imagination. This was the realization of my life’s dreams. And yet, the manifestation of my reality was not what I expected or even comprehended. How could that be?

I suppose because I was focused on studying communications at the time, I didn’t follow the typical selection of classes, which meant the majority of my major involved writing papers, composing lengthy prose, and working for a time at The Daily Universe, the school’s student paper and writing laboratory. The editors, writers, photographers, and copy editors are all students, some paid, some reporting for a journalism class. The opinion pieces in the paper are overseen by an editorial board that includes student staff, professional staff, university professors, and local professionals.

So when I became a senior and was finishing the completion of classes for graduation, I realized that I had somehow overlooked freshman English. With the volume of writing I had done, I thought it was just a formality to go back and take this class. I had to complete it in order to graduate, so I registered for this course my senior year. I had no idea what I was getting into.


I was married by that time, and what I thought was going to be an elementary lesson of common principles I already used every day turned out to be a semester-long struggle to maintain a passing grade. The tests weren’t the problem. I aced them. It was the compositions. I barely pulled passing grades the entire semester. I couldn’t understand. I concluded that the instructor had it out for me, or maybe I didn’t fathom her teaching style or expectations. My wife sympathetically listened to my complaints.


Then I learned the final examination was going to be an hour-long writing assignment in class. “The paper you will be asked to write will be a culmination of everything you have learned this semester, and since it will have significant impact on your final grade, a different instructor will be grading your paper.”

I remember the day of the final examination. My palms were sweaty as I took my seat in the classroom. We were instructed not to turn the papers over until directed to do so by the teacher. “You will have until the top of the hour. I will announce verbally once we have reached one-half-hour mark, then fifteen before the top of the hour, and finally with five minutes remaining. When I say time’s up, you are to put your pencils down and stand beside your seat. I will collect the papers and class will be dismissed.”


dance dancing“Ready? Begin.” 

I turned the paper over and read the instructions. We were given three possible topics from which we could choose to write. One of the choices was essentially to tell about the similarities and differences of your parents and how these characteristics made their marriage work. The other two options, I can’t remember.

So I made my decision and chose this topic, then I began to write.


My college education had also given me the opportunity to take a few dance classes for PE credit. They weren’t particularly eventful, but from them I learned that this discipline requires the participants to be in harmony and demonstrate courage, resilience, and devotion—just like marriage.  

I realized through this process that my parents’ lives and love had spilled out on the dance floor in the form of a happy home, children they cherished, and lives of courage, love, trust, and consideration.


So the following week I went to class, where we were to receive our scores for the exam. Best I can remember that for some reason, I arrived that day after the class had already started. I took my paper from the front of the room on the way to my seat. The students were discussing with the teacher their scores and wanted to know if this test was being graded on the curve.


“If the person that got the highest score wants to make that known, it’s up to him.” Suddenly everyone was looking at me, waiting for a response.

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“Me?” I stammered, after a long, uncomfortable pause. 

I looked down at my paper and, for the first time, noticed the beautiful letter “A” scrawled in red pen across the top of the score sheet. It turns out that it was the highest score awarded that semester. I asked if I could have my paper back, but university policy required that examination pages were not returned to the students. I asked the department chair, but the answer was the same.

So a few years later, I rewrote the paper for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. The thing is that I am still learning “the dance”—not from instructors in a university class setting, but from experts in the University of Life.

Life is a test, and I still have a lot to learn, but it is much better going through our time here with good examples, a Great Instructor, and a partner you love. That is the reason for the dance in the first place.

When you get the choice, I hope you dance.

About Walter Penning
In 1989, Walter Penning formed a consultancy based in Salt Lake City and empowered his clients by streamlining processes and building a loyal, lifetime customer base with great customer service. His true passion is found in his family. He says the best decision he ever made was to marry his sweetheart and have children. The wonderful family she has given him and her constant love, support, and patience amid life's challenges is his panacea.

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