Stuck in the Hot Seat

Hot, tingly cheeks and clammy palms are sensations directly associated with humiliation. Saying or doing the wrong thing in front of a group of people can be mortifying. Although these situations are never ideal, they are a part of life and everyone experiences them at some point; learning to take them with stride is a journey, and also an essential life skill.

“Public speaking is definitely in my top three sources of anxiety,” said Calvin Zaviski, a student at Michigan State University. “I’ve even dropped a class before because a 10 minute speech was on the syllabus.”

Being humiliated in the classroom is a common nightmare among college students. What pupils often fail to realize is that their professors are humans with emotions, too. No one is immune to humiliation; even the most confident people get embarrassed once in a while.

“I had a psych professor that split his pants right down the center one day in class,” said Madeline Traynor, an MSU junior. “After that day in class, I was much more comfortable answering questions and presenting, because it’s hard to be intimidated by someone you’ve seen so vulnerable.”

Hearing others’ embarrassing accounts makes it easier to laugh at yourself, especially when the victim is not someone that is easily humiliated.

Rob LaDuca, chemistry professor and Associate Dean of Administration and Academic Governance of Lyman Briggs College, prepared to teach roughly 400 students in his general chemistry lecture. What he did not prepare for was to put himself in a position that would be somewhat embarrassing for every person in that room.

Clad in his usual Hawaiian shirt and slacks, LaDuca began a visual explanation of the gas laws and their properties using a latex balloon.

“I had just grabbed a pink one out of the bag randomly,” said LaDuca.

Little did he know, that the girlish hue would be the icing on the cake of his demise.

“I demonstrated Avogadro’s Law by inflating the balloon by simply blowing into it,” LaDuca said. “That law states that volume increases with more molecules of gas…kind of a duh.”

With the balloon bulging in his hand, he tied off the end.           Boyle’s Law was up next, which states that the volume of a gas decreases if pressure increases. The idea was to squash the balloon in his hands so hard that it would explode, or so he thought.

“I pressed and pressed and pressed but the balloon did not pop,” he said.

As he began to feel those tingles in his cheeks, the class became a little more interested in the lecture. The sight of a grown man struggling to pop a pink balloon sparked the interest of even the most zoned-out student. Soon the class rallied behind their professor, cheering him on to defeat the evil little rubber orb.

“A student yelled out ‘Sit on it!’ I said ‘Okay,’ and went around to the front of the lecture table, put the balloon under my butt, and sat down hard,” LaDuca said.

Everyone braced themselves for the “Pop!” that was long overdue. The balloon had a different agenda. The devious air bladder managed to maneuver itself in such a way that it escaped the direct pressure of its captor’s body weight.

“A long, pink protuberance with the little nub on the tip spurted out from between my legs,” he said. “I was so embarrassed.”

The class fell silent for a brief second as everyone processed what they were looking at. The look of pure shock was replicated across every face in the room, evident by the abundance of gaping mouths.

“The class died laughing with this view of their instructor having a foot-long balloon schlong between his legs,” LaDuca said.

Everyone deals with humiliation differently. Some people embrace it and join in the laughter, where some freeze and shut down. Being the personable, vibrant teacher that he is, LaDuca did not shrink in the spotlight. Rather, he became more human in his pupils’ eyes.

“Most students were laughing, but I saw a couple turning red and with their hands over their mouths so I did apologize,” the professor said.

LaDuca repositioned his wire-rimmed glasses and shook out his dark, shaggy hair. He giggled along with his pupils at his own misfortune. Eventually he was able to regain control of the class and carry on as if he hadn’t just accidentally shown the class much more than they had bargained for.

Instead of cracking under pressure and losing control of the class, LaDuca was able to make the most out of his situation. A lot can be learned from people that are able to laugh at themselves. Having a humorous outlook is a big step towards making the most out of every situation and truly enjoying life.

Public speaking is a major phobia for many people. Everyone feels humiliated at some point in time, and in the moment it is easy to feel isolated. Even the most confident people have their embarrassing moments; it is how they deal with them that sets them apart.

LaDuca, a man who would not be considered easy to embarrass, took the experience in stride. He rose above the humiliation and made an example of how to deal with a public speaking demonstration gone wrong.

“The moral?” said LaDuca, “Don’t sit on tough balloons. It will make it look like a [expletive removed].”

*photo taken from


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