The Power of Touch

It was the day I impatiently awaited after four years of tests, homework, detention, SAT’s, college preparation, community service, dress codes, uniform sweaters, and all-black shoes: Graduation. It was finally here in all its glorious ruin. After slickly slipping schoolwork’s clutches and excelling at crafting cheat sheets to pass exams without studying, one last hurdle was ironically lodged in-between me and my freedom from the tortuous prison that was High-School. My journalism teacher pulled me aside after class and informed me she offered my services as a lector during Graduation Mass at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, a ceremony that would host four hundred plus people – students, parents, teachers, and clergy included, even the Cardinal. My scholastic penance for avoiding all productive responsibility like Neo did the bullets in the Matrix. It was inevitable.

My stomach was practicing gymnastics the morning beforehand. I felt like I swallowed a grenade. My mind went into the blackest tunnel vision. All I could think about was how I hated having to go through with the reading. I had been a lector in middle school and experienced similar nervous reactions prior to stepping upon the pulpit, but in those cases, mostly, mass would fall on a day when only the dedicated churchgoers and homeless people showed up. It was really just time outside the classroom to flirt with the pretty girl who read the Responsorial Psalm and sat next to me. But, Graduation Mass was in front of a hefty crowd and to make matters worse, I would be the opening act. I thought I was going to step on the stage and melt like a sloppy magic trick. A family squabble in the car ride to the church only intensified my headache which was eating its way into a full-blown migraine.

As everyone settled into the pews and readied their cameras, a giant hush blanketed the cathedral. The school’s vice principal motioned for me to approach the rectory. As we bowed in respect to the massive, haunting crucifix centered at the nose of the architecture, he whispered to me to take my time and that he would place his hand on my shoulder if I needed reassurance that I wasn’t alone. I nodded but thought to myself, “how calming an experience does this guy think his palms are? Maybe he’s been to one too many church services”.

I took my place at the podium and gazed at the crowd ahead. Everyone’s eyes fixed on me. This was it. The moment I dreaded was here. I swallowed what felt like a brick of saliva in my throat as it cleared. I refreshed a few key points in my mind before I opened my mouth: “Enunciate, flow at a steady pace, and look up from time to time to diffuse any notions that you’re an android”. I found the assigned psalm and just as I said the first word, I felt his hand on my left shoulder. It was surprisingly comforting. The fact it didn’t move made me feel secure, that I was there for a purpose, and everyone now knew it. This wasn’t an exercise in degradation as my self-conscious nature had insisted. It was a celebration’s beginning, one that brought so many families together. It was about much more than me that morning. It was about us, the graduating class of 2010, and the proud people who came to see us and place their supportive hands on our shoulders to help ease the pressure. Retrospectively, as I regret my inactivity and corner cutting as a scholar, I realize there was one valuable opportunity I did not squander, a memory that burns brightly till this day, gracing that stage.

I read flawlessly. As I walked back through the pew to my assigned seat, my classmate looked over his shoulder from a row forward. “Good shit, Johnson.” I smiled and responded, “Good looks”. It was over. I had survived. I had actually performed well. The stomach throbbing was gone and my thoughts had slowed down to their normal pace. What my mind made into a horror, a peaceful touch restored to its dignified form.

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Alma Mater

Thank you, Mr. Sullivan.

Good evening alumni, staff, and students.

Honestly, I never saw myself stepping back into this building. I never saw a reason to. I remember my time here vividly and there aren’t many happy memories for me to share with you all. But, I think you’ve heard enough of that anyway. My story is different. However, it’s just as poignant.

I wasn’t a stand-out student. I wasn’t an athlete. I was easily one of the most forgettable people to ever stroll these hallways. I was a ghost by choice. I hated this place. I hated my classmates. I hated the homework and tests. The teachers sucked by association. If my father wouldn’t have driven me every day, I would’ve been expelled for truancy. There’s no doubt in my mind.

Not what you’ve heard from others who have graced this podium before, right?

I’m going to shoot it to you straight. This place blows. Those of you who feel that way are not alone. There’s nothing wrong with you. Allow me to explain.

Firstly, I’m sure I don’t have to remind you all that there aren’t any girls here. And I will give credit where it’s due – my fascination with Mrs. Haren’s tremendous breasts got me through English class and the voluptuous posterior of the lunch-lady who worked the register pleased me to no end. Either way, you’ll spend most of your time surrounded by immature teenage guys. Everywhere you look in this place, there’s a pair of testicles looking back at you. It sucks.

“Not another one!”

I remember standing outside after dismissal and two women strolled by with a carriage in tow. They gazed at me awkwardly and began muttering among themselves. I heard something to the effect of, “No. He’s not gay. My man used to go to an all-boys school.”

How delightful.

The selling point is that the lack of women will set up a better scholastic environment making it easier to focus on studies. My parents fell for that line. But, it’s bullshit, anyway. School should prepare you for life. And in life, there are way more women than men. Look it up. You’ll have to take my word for it until then because the nightlife scene will abundantly show you otherwise.  Even still, you’ll need to know how to speak and perform in front of women. I left this place with no idea how to do so. I lost all ability to relate to them since they were never around. My life outside of school didn’t grant me the opportunity. I relied on school for more than book smarts. It was my only way into the social scene. An all-boys school robbed me of that necessity. Hence, I became one of those Darwinian guys who couldn’t have a female friend he wasn’t engrossed by the thought of plowing. These characteristics make it very easy to unintentionally ostracize the fairer sex. So, the next four years were utterly terrible in that regard.

Then, there’s the preparation for college. Granted, I didn’t excite any of my teachers into informing me on the essentials of college life. I was a C- student who coasted through everything. Everything. Why waste time talking to a kid who wasn’t paying attention?

“Is Mr.Johnson sleeping back there? Is that a fucking pillow?”

But, I remember the lectures and speeches we all sat through. Principal Sullivan over here pushed the Ivy League colleges in our face. According to him, SUNY and CUNY schools were inferior. I’m here to tell you after four years in college and a bulging debt of $50,000, he’s full of shit. It just makes him look like that much more of a principal if a higher percentage of his students enroll in expensive, fluffy institutions. I’m sure you’ve heard his numbers during orientation. “This many were accepted here, this many get accepted here. Graduation rate is such and such…”

Douche bag.

I’ve met people who have gone to college and graduated free of debt. Scholarships and grants were more than enough to cover the cost. They were high-school underachievers just like me. However, I took out multiple loans each semester for four years at a private college and didn’t even graduate. So, don’t listen to him. He doesn’t give a fuck about you. Go to a college that won’t burden you for the rest of your life and take advantage of the extracurricular activities and connections which can help you land that coveted post-graduate job. It isn’t rocket science. I wish someone explained that notion to me while I was here.

These four years greatly affect your future. I hope I’ve shared all the crucial information you need to leave this place with a better sense of the man you want to become. I didn’t.  This place threw me off track. But, there’s a silver lining in every cloud. And I think this is the reason.

Good night.

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