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Guest Blogger: Travels in Booland

Today's guest post is brought your way via my lovely and talented friend Els from Travels in Booland, who is one of many reasons why I'm glad we're not leaving Seattle.

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Comedy or Tragedy?

The thing you have to know is that it really wasn't my fault. It was a wardrobe malfunction.

I graduated from high school in June of 1984. I'd finished my classes back in April, thanks to an independent study in English, but I came back for the big ceremony. And it was BIG: over five hundred people in my class. The high school itself was a storybook-typical "castle on a hill;" graduation took place in its impressive shadow.

I processed across the field behind my friend Allison, just as we'd rehearsed with our class the previous day, hurrying to the bleachers set up on the football field. It had been impressed upon us how important it was to stay in the Right Order. Our town was an unusual and diverse mix for the suburbs: there were dozens of first-generation immigrants in our graduating class, and others who were the first in their families to graduate from high school. This was a big deal, and the Graduation Powers That Be didn't mess around.

Though Allison and I were technically graduating from the Castle on the Hill, neither of us had set foot in its actual halls in the last year or two, except for the occasional science class or school play. We were proud A-Schoolers, students at the small Alternative School satellite housed in a couple of red portables a mile away from the main school.

Aside from a desire to flee the Castle, us 80 or 90 students in the A-school— everyone from teacher-pleasing nerds like me to stoned-out Deadheads to the few flamboyantly gay students—had very little in common. But we stuck together, honor students and near-dropouts, hippies and dorks. The main body of students regarded the A-school with suspicion: we'd rejected them; we were snobs, or maybe druggies, or both. We carried backpacks, called our teachers by their first names, and played Frisbee for gym credit. We were just weird.

I didn't feel weird, though, or even especially alternative, that evening. I was wearing a nice summer dress beneath my billowing white graduation gown, my hair—usually crackling out in a Treat-Williams-esque mane-- brushed and tamed down under the regulation white mortarboard. I even had respectable, if low-heeled, sandals on. I'd won a Community Scholarship, I was going to college, I'd already started my summer job. I felt like the All-American Girl Graduating From the All-American High School.

I was running a little to catch up with Allison when my right foot felt suddenly, oddly, off-balance. I looked down, jolted out of my reverie about the low-hanging sun and the long gowned shadows dancing behind us on the field, and saw that my sandal strap had broken; the sandal dangled uselessly from my foot, dragging as I walked. I snatched it up and carried it the rest of the way to the bleachers.

Once there, I fiddled with the sandal and freaked out. There had to be a way to fix it! I couldn't walk down to receive my diploma in one sandal!

"Just take the other one off," Allison whispered. "I can't!" I moaned. "They'll think I did it on purpose!" In spite of my A-school bravado, I hated getting in trouble. Plus, I wanted that piece of paper in my hand; there were rumors of students in the past who'd refused to wear the graduation gown or had pulled it off in protest, and who had been denied their diplomas.

"Here, look, I'll do it too." Allison shucked off her two perfectly good sandals and kicked them under the bleachers. That act of friendship sealed it: there was nothing else to do. I tossed mine down after hers.

And so the hundreds of spectators that evening saw two defiantly barefoot A-school students, one after another, descending from the bleachers to shake the principal's hand and receive their diplomas.

Twenty years later, I'm perversely proud of it all, but I don't really deserve to be. I wish I could say that Allison's noble gesture emboldened me to an insouciance I'd never before possessed, but it just didn't happen that way. In the post-graduation flurry, every time I heard a muttered comment behind me about "disrespect," "A-school" "hippie" "mocking Graduation"—and in my memory there were a dozen of those, though probably it was really only one or two—I whipped around and whined, "It was an accident! My sandal broke!"

But no one listened. Not even the Principal.

To look at the official graduation photograph, you'd never know anything was amiss. The photo cuts off at the ankle, concealing my bare feet. My panicked mask of a grin looks genuine. The Principal is genially shaking my right hand while expertly bestowing my rolled diploma with his left.

To this day I don't know whether the glint in his eye is suppressed anger or suppressed mirth. But I do remember what he was saying under his practiced graduation-day smile.

"Elswhere Booland," he hissed, pumping my hand, "you ought to be ashamed of yourself."

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Comments

Reads like a little comedy and a little tragedy! Great story!

You really worked for that diploma!

Did you wear these on graduation day?

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