Peeling Back the Sheepskins


Ah…it’s graduation season and the youth of America is chomping at the bit to snag that sheepskin and move on to the next chapter in life–whether it’s college, a career or rearranging the parents’ basement for long-term mooching in lieu of revenue-producing endeavors.

My favorite graduation was when I was sprung loose from high school. It was 1969 and not one of the 1,735 graduates at Martin Van Buren High School in Queens Village, NY could swear on a Bible they didn’t, at one time, stupidly say to someone, “heh heh..I’m in the Class of ’69.” Yeah..we were Beavis and Butthead years before the animated slackers manifested the description of the show in its disclaimer as “dumb, crude, ugly, thoughtless, sexist, self-destructive fools.” Yay MVB Class of ’69!

Anyway, with 1,735 graduates that’s a lot of bored teenagers to schlep on and off the stage as their names are called, but Mom Nature did us a solid. Our graduation was held outside in a park. Rain threatened and the thick, gray clouds overhead promised to make that threat real. With that in mind the principal and others wisely decided to can the roll call and stage/perp walk. They referenced the rainy forecast and gleefully announced, “in light of the expected storm…you’re all graduated! Move your tassel over and head for one of the picnic tables where your diploma is sitting in alphabetized piles. Find yours and run! Congratulations…and get going! It’s gonna pour!”

Graduation in 30 minutes flat. Four years of hard work ends in a 15 second sprint. Always wished I was tall enough to make the track team.

My next favorite graduation came many years later when I was working for CNN as Detroit Bureau Chief and correspondent. The great staff in my bureau discovered that in the small Upper Peninsula town of Calumet the local high school’s graduation would be feature not one, or even two, valedictorians….but 8! So we arranged to travel up there on a little puddle jumper that would get us part of the way up there to Houghton, Michigan, then drive the rest of the way. We hit the ground running once we arrived, shot profiles and interviews with each of the 8 honored students then covered the evening graduation, which took a long time because there were 8 valedictory speeches! It was late by the time we were done, but then we had to pull an all-nighter to get the piece written and edited in time to make the morning shows.

This, of course, meant the creative process being fueled by junk food and beer and our tired and cranky, and beer-infused shooter constantly harping on me to get the damn script done. “You done with the effin’ script yet? I’m tired and we’re running out of beer!” Yup…got it done, he shook off the buzz and got it done and fed to Atlanta in time to make air.  I think it turned out pretty well. I’ll let you be the judge of that.

I would have loved to see what would have happened, though, if they had held it outside that night. Looked like rain.



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