Tonight as I was encouraging my 8-year-old daughter to put on her PJs so we could read and study “math facts” (12 divided by 4 = 3), she whispered rather loudly and with great enthusiasm: “Celie and I have a secret handshake.” Celie is Gracie’s best friend in all of 3rd grade. “What is it?” I began quietly recalling the many “secret codes” my grade school friends and I created, excluding our brothers, sisters and parents from our thoughts and conversations. My daughter scolded me. “I’m not telling! It’s a secret. Duh, mom.”


The beauty of secret language and private symbols is that they serve many communicative functions. In the Communication and Journalism Department we are offering a new class this year, COJO111: Communication and Citizenship. I’m lucky enough to be teaching it with three of my dynamic COJO colleagues. In our course we are experimenting with a secret code — a simple hand gesture — to foster a symbolic community of learners, communicate with efficiency and greet each other in public with no more than the flutter of a hand. We also are hoping our code will help each of us identify others as a “member” of COJO 111. Why would we need a hand signal? Don’t I know and recognize my own students? I will, but it might take a little bit longer this semester because COJO 111 is a “super-section” with 140 students all taught together in a highly energized classroom. So far, it’s been most fun seeing how our secret code is playing itself out as our COJO 111 bond develops.

For example, last Wednesday I walked back from South campus after learning budget training and saw a student, who flashed me the secret hand gesture. I yell out “Hey, 111! You’re Aaron, row 3, right? How are you?” He chuckled and we chatted a bit.

Friday night I was at a local watering hole when I saw a server who looked familiar. She smiled intently in my direction and then, a bit shyly but happily, executed the secret code. I returned the friendly gesture. It opened a conversation about how her semester is going (“excellent”), tips (“not bad!”) and what she thought about our first day at our community-based learning site (“so exciting!”). She assured me our regular server would be with us soon. Whew. All of this secret hand-gesturing fueled my appetite.
Just today I’m strolling with my daughter and her best friend Celie over to the grill to treat ourselves to a some soft-serve yogurt (“excellent”). Out of the corner of my eye I see a student in COJO 111. Although she is many yards away and walking in the opposite direction I – like a crazy school kid — yell out “Jackyln. COJO 111!” She responds by raising her hand with the secret symbol. My daughter and her friend ask: “What did she just do?” I scolded them: “I’m not telling. It’s a secret.”

You want to know the secret code for COJO 111? Sorry. You’ll have to enroll. It’s a secret. Duh.
Two faculty members, Drs. Connery and Wyatt, are shushing rather than revealing the secret

Two of the COJO 111 professors, Drs. Wyatt and Connery, are sworn to secrecy.

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3 Responses

  1. Tom, Little Canada

    When I was growing up we played touch football virtually every night in the fall. One friend and I had a special play. If we were on the same team, we knew we could always count on “purple-28”. We would spend hours playing catch and we nearly perfected “purple-28”. Today, 25 years later, I can call that friend in Nebraska (where he currently lives) and complete that pass. We learned the play while watching our beloved Vikings many years ago. What was it? I can’t share that, the alumni game is coming up. Duh!

  2. Liz Zupfer, St. Paul

    In a world that seems increasingly characterized by isolation due to busy-ness and panic-du-jour, it’s great to see community building. You go, COJO 111!

  3. Emily, St. Paul

    I remember coming up with a secret language in middle school and how only my friends and I knew it. We felt very cool.
    Makes me wish I could enroll for 111 and join the cool kids club now!