Thanks to former Salt Lake City Mayor Ted Wilson, who was on the graduation committee, I made it out of high school (Skyline) in 1971.
The last day of school — which I didn’t attend — was a huge stepping-off point in my life. I was free of “the system” that had imprisoned me for 12 years.
Never again would I permit myself to be at the mercy of such dull masters. From that moment on, my life would be lived on my terms. Freedom would be savored every minute.
I know, I know. It’s OK to laugh. The Old Man did when the Army got me the next year.
My parents made me go to the graduation ceremony. They wanted to see me perp-walk across the stage and switch the blue-and-gold turkey wattle thing from one side of my cap to the other.
I can’t blame them. They had never believed that I would actually graduate. Neither did I, so it seemed fair that I make this small concession for all I had put them through.
Ugh. It was worse than church. There were — or so it seemed — 511,752 in my graduating class. It dragged on for hours.
Other than the cap and gown, I don’t remember there being a graduation dress code. I vaguely recall Mom giving me a tie for pictures, but I’m pretty sure that I wore it around my waist under my gown.
“Robert L. Kirby Jr.”
I walked out into the lights, ambled across the stage, and was handed my empty diploma case and ushered off into the rest of my life.
Oh, I had some rebellious intentions of putting my own stamp on the occasion, like grabbing my fake diploma, turning to the crowd with a peace sign and shouting, “Marijuana!” or “Get out of Vietnam!”
I didn’t. Mostly because I just wanted it to be over, but also because there was every possibility the Old Man would have charged the stage and killed me, making my graduation entirely moot.
Forty-seven years later, I realize ceremonies are necessary for some people. I also realize that they have to be managed to keep them from degenerating into chaos.
Certain things shouldn’t be tolerated at ceremonies, particularly political statements, product endorsements, Halloween masks, gang signs and nudity.
For example, earlier this week West Point graduate Spenser Rapone was given an other-than-honorable discharge from the Army after he posted pictures of himself with “Communism Will Win” penned inside his cap on his 2016 graduation day.
Yeah, that wasn’t a good idea. Makes you wonder how anyone who would do that without expecting major blowback was smart enough to get into West Point in the first place.
Then there’s Utah’s Finehafo’ou Malohifo’ou, a Westlake High School graduate who was told he wouldn’t be able to participate in his graduation walk if he didn’t remove the ta’ovala cloth he was wearing as part of his Tongan heritage.
The small woven mat was completely covered up by his standard graduation gown, but a routine search revealed it, and he was ordered to take it off. Malohifo’ou complied because, like mine, his parents were in the audience to see him graduate.
Presumably the offensive cloth went into the contraband pile of alcohol, fireworks, drugs, air horns, sex toys, political placards and small animals discovered under the gowns of other graduates.
Really? We can’t find some small measure of tolerance in letting people be proud of their heritage without frisking them and forcing them to remove it? It’s come to that?
Hell, no wonder we’re yanking families apart at the border.