Reflections on my last few weeks of high school

Reflections on my last few weeks of high school

If you didn’t grow up Catholic, odds are you’re not familiar with something called an “Examination of Conscience,” which was an elevated term for counting up your sins before you confessed them.

Based on the Ten Commandments, it involved taking an inventory of your offenses before entering the confessional, a kind of internal pep talk, one that stressed honesty, up to a certain point.

It was one thing to talk openly about taking the Lord’s name in vain or admitting you found a mimeographed copy of a history test in a trash can and circulated it among your friends; it was quite another to go into detail about impure thoughts or praying that a particularly nasty nun would slip on the ice and break a leg.

To be truthful, I can’t really remember the last time I went to confession, but I’m pretty sure it had to be before I started my college career at Notre Dame. Ironically, all it took for me to question my faith was to study at a respected Catholic university.

So I’m thinking it had to be around the time of my high school graduation. That was 50 years ago, which means millions of brain cells have leapt from my jet plane of a mind without parachutes, leaving me vulnerable to exaggeration, if not downright mendacity.

Thus, in the hour or so before I sat down to write this epistle, I conducted a version of conscience examination, pressing down on the details to the best of my ability, in order to offer you a Top Ten list, based on memories from the last few weeks of my senior year.

Here we go:

10. Baccalaureate: I have almost zero recollection of this event, aside from the fact that it took place outdoors on a fine spring Sunday and that it had a certain bland Protestant flavor to it.

Grade: I’ll give it a C, for Christian charity.

9. Senior Skip Day: The fact that I agreed to take part in this only after attending my morning classes speaks volumes. I mean you’re either in or you’re out, no splitting the baby allowed, so what happened had a bit of poetic justice to it. A bunch of us piled into a friend’s sharp orange and black Barracuda and tooled to the root beer stand, where the carhop accidentally tipped the tray of coneys and beverages into the front seat, causing much gnashing of teeth.

Grade: A straight-up D, for us being dumbasses.

8. The Farewell Assembly/Class Prophecy: As a senior with a modicum of writing talent, I agreed to help construct the script for a presentation in front of the assembled student body. As I recall, we got together only once, a meeting that revolved around inside jokes or bad puns, neither of which were meant for public consumption. On the plus side, it was decided that as a grand finale, a guy would ride his motorcycle into the gym, which added chaos.

Grade: B-minus, for having some brass balls.

7. Senior Class Trip: In years to come, other graduating classes went to Montego Bay or Marrakesh, or so I’ve been told, but who knows if that’s true. Suffice it to say that we voted, collectively, for Cedar Point, a fairly famous amusement park located up around Lake Erie. Riding the Blue Streak was fine, but the group I was running with got bored easily. As we waited in line to board another thrill ride, one of our number fired a sno-cone at the crowd standing below, where it struck a classmate right in the head. Yuck.

Grade: A filthy E — even lower than an F — for just embarrassing.

6. Yearbook List of Activities: I have no idea how it happened, but when the yearbook was published and I checked my name in a special index at the end, I was astonished to see that all I had to my credit was two years on the school newspaper staff. That was it. Now I’m not saying I was a stud athlete, but I did play a couple of years of JV baseball. No mention, either of my time spent as part of the radio station crew, the times I made the honor roll, membership in the Varsity D Club or the many nocturnal excursions I abetted as we broke into gyms to shoot hoops. Well, I didn’t expect that last one to count, but still, I was so abashed at my faint legacy I didn’t ask a single classmate to sign my yearbook.

Grade: An F, for being a freaking failure, at least in those pages.

5. The Final Edition of the Paper: Again, I don’t actually know how it happened that my name and the college I would attend in the fall failed to appear in print, but the fact is that it didn’t. It was probably just an oversight, but considering I was on the staff and had written hundreds of inches of copy, including two columns for every edition, it still stung. Even if I was admitted to ND late, it was still in time to make the paper, and since I’d also gained admission to Ohio Wesleyan, Miami and Wittenberg, some school could have accompanied my name. But that’s life, right?

Grade: I’m saying I earned an A … Notre Dame? Really? Nothing?

4. The Prom: I’ll make this short and sweet. I could have gone, should have gone but decided not to go. Let the record show that.

Grade: An I, for incomplete … and for being an idiot.

3. Graduating Indoors: I understand erring on the side of caution, and there was probably a chance of rain, but as it turned out, everyone — graduates, parents, faculty, families — got squeezed into the gymnasium that humid evening in June. There was no air-conditioning, of course, and the sense of claustrophobic boredom was so intense I remember nearly nothing about the ceremony, which ought to have been held in the stadium, out in the fresh air.

Grade: C-minus. One of those things that could have been avoided.

2. The Post-Graduation Party: I expected very little and got even less. Always awkward socially in high school (and beyond), I never had much fun going to those get-togethers where loud music, mostly Black Sabbath and Deep Purple, with a little James Gang, was playing and kids coupled up in darkened corners, but I agreed to “make the scene” when my best friend offered to drive. Mistake. Big mistake. He took off with a girl he was sweet on, leaving me to walk home, some 2 or 3 miles, all alone and kicking myself.

Grade: D-minus … not an F, only because I knew better all along.

1. National Honor Society: OK, I realize it was 50 years ago and, alright, I understand that life isn’t always fair, but being blackballed from the NHS — if that’s what happened — stays with me as a reminder of how petty and cruel high school could be. I do not want to make this all about me, though, because I’m certain I’m not the only one to have had the credentials for serious consideration only to be shunned. What I will say is I’ll never forget the feeling of isolation, sitting there at the honors assembly, surrounded by my friends as one by one their names were called and I shrunk into the shadows. Class rank? Had that. Extracurriculars? Had those too. Good guy, never caused much trouble, went to confession at least once a month? Yep. Never got to wear those gold cords, never felt special, just another graduate.

Grade: R … as in living well is the best revenge.

Mike Dewey can be reached at or 6211 Cardinal, New Bern, NC 28560. He invites you to join the fun on his Facebook page, where high school memories live on and on.

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