Saturday, June 07, 2014

Still Waiting to Graduate

“Goofy Hat!”  
I heard it while I was walking across the parking lot toward my office.  There’s a gym right across the walkway to my office’s entrance.  A bunch of guys were hanging out one of the side entrances, taking a breather.  They were tall and well built.  Guys who had jobs that allowed them to be at the gym whenever they wanted, like 8:30 in the morning when I arrived at the office.  Or who had enough money so they didn’t have to work.  
You know, “Jocks.”  
I knew they were talking about me.  I have this hat that some people make fun of.  It is camouflage, with a flap in the back that keeps the sun from burning my neck when it’s hot, or the rain from getting down the back of my coat when it rains.  I really like my hat.  It’s become a symbol for me.  When I wear it at the comic book and science fiction conventions I go to, I often get compliments about it.  People there tell me it’s cool, or they marvel at how practical it is.  
But that is a particular group of people.  People who share a lot of the same outlooks on life that I have.  
You’d call them, “Nerds.”  
When I heard the call, I did what had been trained into me after years of experience.  I lowered my head, ignored the person calling out to me and kept walking toward the side entrance to my building.  This is what nerds do when jocks call out to them.  At least, that is what I’d learned to do in High School.  
This week, I remembered what it was like to feel that way.
I graduated from an all boys Catholic high school that was run by the Sacred Hearts order of priests.  In my junior year, my school had one of the best football teams in its region.  Our team’s forte had always been defense, always ranking at the top or near the top in that category.  But that year, they were able to put together a much better offense to go along with that defense.  
As you can guess, the school faculty supported the football team and its players.  The coaches often taught some basic courses at my school, so it was easy for them.  I found out the degree to which this support ran.
That year, somebody broken into the teachers‘ meeting office and stole the answers to a science mid-term.  I don’t know if that person was a member of the football team or not.  He was never identified as far as I can remember.  Whoever he was, in order to disguise the fact he was cheating, he changed a few of the answers.  Enough to lower his score by a few points and still score high enough to get an A.  
He then gave his answer sheet to some other students who were members of the school’s football team, but neglected to tell them he’d included incorrect answers.  
The teachers found out about the break-in and were able to recover the bogus answer sheet.  They didn’t know who it was that had received the answers, but they knew which answers had been changed.  Without telling the students, they proceed with the test and then separated out those tests where the results, correct answers and wrong, matched the bogus answer sheet.  
Six students had test papers that matched the bogus sheets.  All six were players on the football team.  Ironic, that, since at the time the team was 6-0 in divisional play.  
The faculty meet.  A decision was made.  The students in question were “reprimanded” and were allowed to take the test over again.  
There wasn’t a big brouhaha over this.  Mainly the student body shrugged and went on their business.  There was some ill feelings amongst me and my friends.  The general consensus amongst us was that if one of us had decided to cheat...  
Well, in the first place, we were all agreed that none of us NEEDED to cheat because we all actually studied for the test.  But IF one of us had decided, as an experiment in psychology, code breaking or forensics, to cheat, 1) We would have cheated in a far less obvious way and 2) If we had been caught we would have been failed for the term and possibly even expelled from school, because that was what they school rules on cheating said would happen.  
But that didn’t happen to this particular group of cheaters.  And we all knew why.  I expressed this shared belief walking into a classroom with someone from my circle of friends.
“You know,” I said as we squeezed through the entrance to the class just as the students and teacher from the previous class were squeezing out.  “The only reason they were ‘really’ punished is because they were football players, and they get special treat--”  
That “whack” was the sound of someone’s hand hitting the back of my head.  I stumbled forward.  My hand came up to rub my now throbbing skull.  I turned around to find the teacher of the previous class, who was also an assistant coach on the football team, glaring at me.  
“What were you just saying?”  His lips barely parted as he growled out his question.  
“Nothing.”  The answer just popped out.  I didn’t take any time to consider it.  
“That’s what I thought.”  He turned around and marched out.  One of the students leaving the class, wearing a green letterman’s jacket marking him as a member of the football team, snickered at me as he followed the coach out.  
“You know what you should have done?”  
This was later that night, when my group of friends was gathered at someone’s house for our weekly role-playing game session.  I was DMing the game, with a huge, continent sized map that I had hand-drawn spread out across the table.  The speaker was a mutual friend of ours who had started at the High School, but later took the GED and graduated early.  
This particular friend of mine was known for being confrontational, though often in a very cool and positive way.  For instance, this friend, a self-proclaimed agnostic at fourteen, had railed against being forced to sit through the monthly mass our school held, saying that since he was a non-believer, and paying extra tuition because of it, he shouldn’t be forced to attend.  One day, when the student body was being unruly, the principal got up and demanded quiet.  
“Anyone that doesn’t want to be here can get up and leave!” he shouted to the assembled students.
This friend got up and did just that.  From that point on, when mass was held, he was sent to the library to sit and read until the service was over.  
“What’s that?”  I looked up from getting my bags of polyhedral dice out from my backpack.  
“If that coach had hit me like that, I would have turned around and said, ‘I said the football players get special treatment when they cheat.  What are you gonna do about it?’  And if they HAD done something to me, I would have called the newspapers, would’ve gotten an attorney...”  He went on from there, in a very firebrand wielding, revolutionary style.  And he would have done it, too.  I remember regretting missing my chance, as well as wondering if I would have had the guts to go through with it.  
In any event, I didn’t say anything.  The players retook the test.  They all passed, with C’s and D’s I think.  The football team went on to an undefeated season, finishing 12-0 in divisional play, and then winning the championship for our region.  
Right before publishing this, I went online to review some of the history I remembered.  I found dedications to the coaches of that team, stadiums being named after the head coach, the website for my old school.  I made the decision to remove dates and names of the school and the participants.  
Is it because I don’t want another WHACK on the back of my head?  Maybe.  Hopefully, it’s because I want to graduate from the feeling that I’m still in High School.  Not to get away from feeling that I’m the odd man out, or to be counted amongst the “freaks and geeks” of this world.  I’m comfortable with that.  
No.  I want to graduate to a state where, if that WHACK happens again, I’ll turn around and say what I know to be true, and face whatever consequences may happen.  We’ll see.  
PS: Yeah, I know...  I promised an entry on my magic system.  It’s coming.  Soon.  I hope.  


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