Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
April 18, 2021

Hopkins junior presents for his breakout room that never spoke to one another

By CAMARA OFF | April 1, 2021

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APRIL FOOL’S: This article was published as part of The News-Letter’s annual April Fool’s edition, an attempt at adding some humor to a newspaper that is normally very serious about its reporting.

On Tuesday, junior Alex Smith assumed that his Zoom lecture would be like any other. 

However, multiple Zoom witnesses report that, at approximately 10:08 a.m., the professor abruptly stopped sharing his screen. He then announced that the class would be going into breakout rooms for 10 minutes to discuss the question he had just shown on the slides. Even though anyone watching the recording would see nothing but a sea of black screens with cameras off (including the professor’s), it was clear that a wave of anxiety was building amid the students who were actually paying attention. 

“Immediately, the class GroupMe just starts blowing up. I noticed because I had to mute the class GroupMe so I could keep browsing Twitter uninterrupted,” Smith said in a super non-glitchy Microsoft Teams interview with The News-Letter. “No one knew what the question he referred to was.” 

Smith was quickly put into Breakout Room 1, which Baltimore is currently attempting to name a historical site. 

Once Smith was in the breakout room, everyone had their cameras and microphones off. All proceeded as usual, so he decided to pour another bowl of cereal. 

Sophomore Emily Gonzalez, who was also in Breakout Room 1, reported in an email to The News-Letter that she tried to get the group to consider the question at hand, but was ultimately unsuccessful. 

“I unmuted my microphone to say ‘Hey, guys,’ and then muted myself again. No one responded,” Gonzalez wrote. “I stopped after that because I didn’t even know what our discussion question was.”

Senior Richard Li reported in a Google Meet with The News-Letter that he was not aware he had been assigned to Breakout Room 1. He had been refreshing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s travel website to see where he could take a graduation trip. He only started to pay attention again once the three were called back from the breakout room to the main session. 

“I don’t like breakout rooms. America is one and indivisible, and the entire concept of a breakout room is against such a notion,” Li said. “That’s why I never participate — out of protest.” 

Smith still expected the lecture to go on as normal when he returned to the main session. However, the professor announced that all groups would need a representative to present their main conclusions, starting with Breakout Room 1. Smith remembers putting down his cereal and wondering what to do. 

“At first, I didn’t remember what breakout room I was in, but then I was pretty sure that he was referring to my group,” Smith said. 

Gonzalez and Li were both aware that their group had been called on, and both reported that they simply did not know what to say.

A review of the recording’s chat history shows that around this time Gonzalez wrote, “sry my speakers broke I cant hear anything :(”

Renowned literature professor Joseph Campbell writes in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces that every hero experiences a call to action at some point. That may very well be exactly what happened to Smith within the next few minutes. Smith could feel his hand shaking as he went to unmute the microphone. Even if he did not know the question, he was all in to save his group’s image.

“Sure, I didn’t know what the question was, but I’ve been to enough Buttered Niblets shows to know how improv works,” Smith said.

Eyewitnesses state that, for the next five or 10 minutes, Smith delivered a long monologue about how productive the group session had been. A transcript of the lecture recording shows that Smith used the terms “structural inequity” and “sustainable activism” three separate times, each with no context. Eventually, Smith’s explanation concluded with the group’s main point that they agreed on: “Everyone is basically the same.”

Another classmate, junior Lisa Schwartz, recounts a feeling of awe when the professor bought Smith’s presentation.

“We all knew that he had made it all up, but the professor actually turned on his camera to wipe a tear from the corner of his eye. And this is a Physics class,” Schwartz said. 

Records show that Smith continued his charade for the duration of the class by disagreeing vehemently with other presenters through chat messages such as “Incorrect” and “This Slate article says otherwise.” 

In an email sent to students after class, the professor announced that, because he was so impressed with the class discussion, he would be instituting breakout rooms every class. It looks like Smith will get ample time to exercise his heroic power. 

Li remarked that what Smith did for Breakout Room 1 is truly a testament to the strength of the Blue Jay community. 

“I don’t know if you can print a quote like this, but he really was a true homie,” Li said. 

Smith is currently entertaining a book deal funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Agora Institute on the audacity of heroism.

“A lot of people have been calling me a hero lately, but I think we all have what it takes to do what I did,” Smith remarked humbly. 

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