Friday, April 16, 2010

I haven’t blogged in days and I am starting to get a taste of regret!! So I am back now to toss one onto the net before I head to Maryland for a weekend of drunken debauchery in the form of my high school reunion. I figured that it would be best to write before the weekend, since after the weekend my brain could quite possibly be a bit fuzzy.

The piece of life I am going to share today is about my last day of high school, because it was, in and of itself, a memorable day. Right now my family and classmates are snickering because they of course know what I am referring to. But before we get to the end, a little background would help you along the way.

I have attended many private schools while growing up in Baltimore, MD. I never seemed to fit right into any of the schools I attended. For one reason or another I kept being that lone student with something missing. I was always defined as “different.” During my stint at Garrison Forrest for 7th and 8th grade, my parents and I could see that GFS wasn’t a perfect fit. The academic program is exceptional and challenging. And the expectations put on the students are high. This is all well and good but I was coming to GFS straight out of 3 years spent at a school for dyslexic children as I learned how to learn with the various learning disabilities I had. So because of the challenging academia present at Garrison, I was again having a difficult time succeeding in my studies. Mom and Dad were patient but it was clear to most that a change would have to be made. The search began and I toured schools, sat in for classes and walked many miles of pristine campuses. And finally I found my home at Oldfields School.

Oldfields has a very good program for their students in their “two-track” system. There are classes offered at both the “A and B” track level. The classes were the same, but how the information was covered differed based on the success level of the student. The “B” track classes covered things a bit slower, while the “A” track was typical of most schools. By having this system, if a student started to fall behind in an “A” track course, the advisor would be consulted and the student could be shifted, permanently or temporarily to a “B” track class to catch back up. Or if a “B” track student could excel, they could be moved up to an “A” track class. It was brilliant and my parents and I agreed it was the place for me.

I attended as a boarding student, even though the campus was a mere fifteen minutes from home. But they had a barn, a variety of dorms and 24 hour candy machines!!! Why on Earth would I stay at home???!!! Over the course of my four years I went through all the normal highs and lows that every person experiences in high school. I had first loves from school mixers with boy’s boarding schools. I learned to use a calling card like a pro. (The boy’s schools were all out of state) I rode every semester of every year and only acquired 2 concussions, a broken wrist and a toe. Pretty good for any four year time frame in my life! I succeeded in classes, I struggled in classes and I acted in school plays and sang in the music groups. I experienced all the diversity you could ask for.

Oldfields is a school with many traditions to it, and chief among them has to be the graduation ceremony. The first difference from many high schools is that all of the enrolled students are a part of the graduation day ceremony. We all are to be dressed in ankle length white dresses and carry the appropriate bouquet of flowers; mixed flora for underclassmen, a dozen roses for seniors. Then once all are congregated we are lined up, shortest to tallest underclassmen in pairs, with our bouquets being carried to the outside, then all the seniors one by one, shortest to tallest. Ok great, so now the music from a live orchestral band begins. (5 members I think) We must begin the walk down graduation hill. Oh but did I mention that we’re all barefoot??!! This will play in later. This ceremony is so elaborate that the week prior to graduation we have anywhere from four to seven rehearsals. It seemed to depend on the enrollment’s retention levels as to how many times we needed to practice. The walk down the hill leads to the flat level of grass below where we will initially see the underclassmen make a “V” shape. Then the seniors will file in down the center and make an arch behind the underclassmen. Then the may court will come down and stand or sit on their platform. Then the underclassmen come up to the may court, one pair at a time, now going tallest to shortest, and lay their bouquets before the may court. This takes some time as the underclassmen are about 70 pairs strong. Once the last bouquet is laid, the big ‘shift’ occurs. The underclassmen walk behind as the may court comes off their perch and leads the seniors front and center into a large horseshoe shape. The underclassmen now are in 3 ‘eyebrow’ shaped lines behind the seniors. Oh and there are no chairs for this shindig, you’re on your feet all the time. Except if you’re May queen, and boy did we all envy Wanda!!!

Now comes the easy part, the handing out of the diplomas. Mr. Rogers, our headmaster, calls your name, you walk up, and the plan is “Shake, take, tuck, hug, give.” Shake his hand, take your diploma, tuck it under your arm and hug Mr. R, and then give him the class gift. Our year we did a puzzle of a class picture, and each girl gave the puzzle piece with her image. By now I think you understand why 180 girls had to practice this multiple times. It was easy, but the myriad of things to do required solid knowledge before the big day.

So on my graduation Saturday I had slept terribly, been through about 2 boxes of Kleenex and was less than thrilled to see that 2 of my classmates had bought the same dress as me. I guess it was to be expected, since Laura Ashley was a hugely popular store for my schoolmates, and they only make so many wedding gowns. Oh well. My friend Scott had showed up on business…as a gorilla delivering balloons. I didn’t recognize him and he has never let me live it down. The time to go approached and I sat on the porch in front of old house and waited. I am tall, so I was one of the last to walk down the hill. I negotiated the descent fine, though I wished I’d had sunglasses, it was bright that day. I made it through everything without a blip, until it was time to go get my diploma.

Surely by now, most of you reading this have realized that I am a little ‘different.’ Square peg round hole, and that sort of thing. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I had to do something comical and different. I walked up to Mr. Rogers asking aloud, “Is it signed?” He smiled and nodded. The crowd giggled. I did the whole “Shake, take, tuck, hug, give” and then started to head back to line. But I didn’t walk…I power walked, in a hoop skirt and wedding dress. Then I ran, then I hit the small patch of dew and bare dirt soaked with dew, then I wiped out! *Sigh*

Yep down went the girl dressed, as Andie MacDowell called it in “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” like a ‘meringue.’ The crowd laughed, the next girl had to have her name called a few times and the laughter carried through as I hopped up and literally bounced as I stood in line. I did a hell of a “Tigger” impression, which is odd in that I always preferred Pooh bear.

There have been many parallels drawn how the fall was a foreboding of life to come. How we always must rise and face the crowd after a momentary stumble. How fitting it was for it to be me to fall, since I usually was coming off the backs of various equines over the years. (I actually was the president of the Dusty Bottoms club at Oldfields) And so on, and so forth. It was embarrassing, but never as bad as I thought it’d have been. It’s been brought up a lot in the 20 years since I left. I am still the only person to have fallen down on the flat. Others have bitten dust on the hill, but never on the flat. But then, I never was like everyone else.

And so today I get to go back once again, past the spot of my fame, and I’ll frolic with memories, friends, and a place that was the home that took me from being an outsider to being one of us. There’s a quote from the (second) version of the movie “Sabrina” that I couldn’t find on the internet, go figure. Sabrina talks about how Paris is more her home because she found herself there. I feel the same way about two places on this Earth, and Oldfields is one of them. So I’m off to go home.


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