I came across this article today, and it brought back the memory of how I was almost denied graduation.
My sister was here last week, and we somehow got on the very same topic. We grew up in a very, very remote town in upstate New York. In our community, everybody knew everybody else, and the principal at our high school was beloved, easy-going, light-hearted, and overall just a kind person. He retired at the end of my junior year, and there was a bit of controversy and gossip around our new principal. Though I missed Mr. C, I was pretty neutral about the new guy, and even enjoyed interviewing him for our school paper.
Senior year was a rough time for me. Shortly after the year began, my family went through a series of deaths, much like in 2000, which took me out of school for a few days. It was also at this time that my then-boyfriend decided that dealing with that was too much for him, and he peaced out after nearly a year of us being together. He broke up with me in a text message. I was pretty destroyed.
Though there wasn’t much of a local music scene to speak of, I was actively involved in music, which also took me out of town from time to time. I tried to stay mindful of the days I was missing, but my grades were not suffering in the least, so I didn’t see it as being that much of an issue. As the year was beginning to wind down, a friend and I left school early on a Friday to head down to New Jersey for Bamboozle. We probably missed school Monday, but I forget. I’m going to assume that we did.
I went back to school elated from being out of town and all of the fun we had had. I was in my 7th period calculus class when a call came in that I was wanted in the office. I left the room unconcerned, just happy for a chance to escape. When I got to the office, I was surprised to find my guidance counselor – a very sweet and fun guy whose office I saw much of during that hellish year – was sitting at the conference table with the principal. They sat me down and the principal informed me that I had been absent for 20 days, and as such, was in jeopardy of not graduating, and having to repeat my senior year. I’m not a very confrontational person, and I don’t recall arguing much, but I pointed out that my grades were just fine. I’m not sure if I actually said it aloud, but I was thinking to myself that so, so many students in the past had gone over the mark, but still graduated without any problem.
My guidance counselor gently pointed out that I had had a series of unfortunate events occur at the beginning of the school year, which had caused me to miss a good chunk of those days. The principal took the “rules are rules” stance, something that our previous principal never, ever stood by. I tried not to cry as I thought about what it would be like to remain in high school another year. I had hated school since the very first day of kindergarten. I still resented the fact that my parents didn’t let me skip the 3rd grade as the school had advised them to let me do. I declared to myself that I would rather drop out than spend another year there.
Prom was the coming weekend, and my principal informed me that I was not to leave early on that day, even though prom students were allowed to leave at 10:30, as our prom took place on Friday night. I protested, saying that I had already made my hair appointment, I had to get ready, etc. He stood his ground – it was not an excused absence this year, though it had been in all the years previous.
I still remember prom day clearly. I sat in the cafeteria during study hall with my cousin, who told me that she thought she might be pregnant. (She was. Her son is adorable). I watched as the entire body of junior and seniors left school at 10:30, with the exception of me. I ate lunch alone. I went to my 5th period class and my teacher walked in, told me he hadn’t had anything planned for the day, and that I could just hang out and do as I pleased. It was torturous, but at least I got some pleasure reading in.
I went to prom that night and the principal smirked at me and made remarks that I forget now. When I walked the stage to get my diploma a month later, he said to me “See? You did it.” Man, it took everything I had to grin and thank him as he shook my hand and offered his congratulations.
I was just so happy to get out of that hellhole. That was only the first of many occurrences that have made me realize that traditional education is just not for me…