Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Greatest Gift My Father Ever Gave Me

Before my high school graduation, the officials who were in charge of the ceremony logistics made it very clear to the graduating seniors that we were to walk in and out in two straight lines and that we were not to throw our caps into the air. They were very vehement about wanting to maintain an air of decorum throughout all of the proceedings. As class Salutatorian, I walked at the head of the class next to my friend Christa, who was Valedictorian. We followed the rules as we processed in, during our speeches (we both addressed the class), and throughout the distribution of the diplomas. But halfway through the march out, we could contain our exuberance no longer. With great joy befitting the culmination of the years of hard work and studying, we tore off our mortarboards and tossed them into the air, and breaking ranks, we sprinted to the exit.

The local newspaper ran a headline about the “bedlam” that had ensued, although the article that accompanied it was clearly sympathetic to our youthful high spirits. But the school administrators were apoplectic. In subsequent years, graduates received fake diplomas during the ceremony that could only be exchanged for the real thing if the class behaved well throughout graduation. And my father, who owned the small commercial printing business which had printed school materials for decades, no longer received orders from the school district, as punishment for siring such a “troublemaker.” Despite the impact on his finances (which I didn't know about for years), my dad proudly told everyone he knew about the incident, proclaiming with glee that his daughter has “spunk.” His delight in rearing a strong, rules-be-damned woman was truly the greatest gift he could ever give me. At a time when many girls were taught to be quiet and demure, he encouraged me to be bold, demonstrative and courageous. I’ll always be grateful.

Note: A version of this post is included in the anthology Songs of Ourselves, published by Blue Heron Book Works.

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