Well, it’s a new month…May! That means I have been writing this blog for four months already. Hard to believe! I started this blog in hopes that it would help me deal with the overwhelming sadness I felt over my Mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s and resulting death. Writing the weekly stories has helped me more than I can say, and I hope that all my visitors and followers have received some sense of solace, comfort, or inspiration, as well as a laugh or two…Since May is pretty much known as the “graduation” month, this week’s story will have to address that particular topic. So, we begin…
I graduated from high school in 1970. Now before you get out your calculator to figure out my age, I need to let you know that I was a child prodigy and five years old at the time…It was a time of social unrest and “upheaval” in our little town (as the media played it up to be). 1970 was the first year of mandated integration, and both the “white” and “black” high schools had been merged that year. The graduating class of 1970 was so large that it was moved from the usual venue of our high school auditorium to that of the football stadium. (Just as an aside, I would like to comment that on the first day of school that year, they had called in the National Guard, Highway Patrol Troopers, and various other “police” organizations, to make certain that we students would be “orderly” on that historic event – the “joining,” if you will, of two diverse high schools. I think we surprised the nation in that there were NO horrible events like some other cities and states, not in the South, such as riots and bus burnings. We simply went to school that day, and each day thereafter. I just wanted that down for the record….)
While growing up, my parents never put any pressure on me to be an “A” student. They had instilled such a desire in me for success, that I applied more pressure on myself than they ever did. As luck would have it, I had a “natural” ability to learn, so studying was never too difficult for me. Bringing home a “B” was very rare, and when that did happen, I was more upset than my folks.
Upon graduation, if a student had attained a certain grade point average for the entire four years of high school, they were given a designation of graduating “With Distinction.” The student did not know if they had attained that accomplishment until the night of graduation, when their name was called to receive the diploma. Although my Mother had NEVER said a word about this, I knew, deep in my heart, that she wanted to hear my name, graduating “With Distinction.” I was so nervous that night! We had practiced earlier in the day at the football stadium. We would approach the stage, row by row, and as they called our name, we would walk across, place one hand over the other to shake the Board of Education President’s hand, while receiving our diploma with the other hand…pause…look at the camera for the official photograph, and walk off the stage.
I was almost hyperventilating as I stepped closer and closer to the stage. I was praying the whole time, “Please, Dear God, I don’t think I have really asked for a lot in my life, but could you please let me graduate “with distinction?” I made it up the stairs, knowing that my name would be next. And then I heard…”Catherine Rebecca Selman, With Distinction!” I almost exploded with joy, so proud that this was something I had given to my parents. I hastily walked across the stage, where the Board of Education President stood. I shook his hand, and reached for my diploma…therein was the problem. They could NOT find my diploma! I stood there for the longest time with my hand out, waiting patiently for anyone to put that coveted document in my hand. I finally put my hand down by my side, kept the biggest smile on my face, and under my breath asked, “Do you want me to just walk on to the other side until you find it?” By this time, ALL of the officials of the Board of Education were frantically searching for my diploma. The President said, “No, just wait right here. We WILL find it!” The stadium was so quiet, you could have heard a pin drop. You could just feel the pity pouring out from everyone in the audience. I’m standing there and realize that at any moment, I am about to burst into maniacal laughter, thinking, “if this just doesn’t take the cake…here I have worked so hard to graduate with distinction, and they cannot even find me a diploma!” The absurdity of the situation was just about to get the best of me, and I could no longer abide the audiences’ pity and concern. So realizing that I was about to “lose it,” I turned to my class, lifted my hands in a questioning manner, and shrugged my shoulders…as if to say, “what’s a girl to do?” When I did that, the entire audience burst into the laughter that was bubbling up inside me. We all had a good laugh!
As we were laughing, and still watching the Board feverishly search for my diploma, the young lady who had received her diploma before me, came back over and gave them “her” diploma…which turned out to actually be mine. They had given her my diploma by mistake. She was so upset and crying…and I was thinking, “why are you crying?…at least you GOT a diploma…it was mine, but at least you got one…” They finally awarded me the “lost” diploma, I shook hands again, smiled for the photographer, and got a standing ovation…Later, so many people told me that “if it had to happen to anyone, we’re glad it was you!” I had no idea how many times I would hear that, and similar statements, throughout the rest of my life.
I actually teach individuals how to develop “humor skills.” The first skill is the “ability to see the absurdity of your situation.” My philosophy is that there is not much that you can’t recover from if you possess the appropriate life skills…and humor is definitely one of those skills. So my advice to all graduates this month, is to see the humor in life, the absurdity of your situations, and know that you can, and will persevere and succeed. The choices are all up to you…you can control the direction of your life. I am no longer that “child prodigy,” but I continue to practice those life skills that have served me so well. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…