School uniforms? Never!
Even though the baccalaureate service is six months hence, I identify with the Samuel Johnson observation that when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.
Perhaps the feeling of a rope approaching my neck is due to the occasion and related factors. As to the former, I’ve been asked to address the graduating class of my high school. As for the latter, I’ve attended numerous baccalaureate services and their related graduation ceremonies and retain little (outside of memories of boredom) from any of them.
Yes, I recall the first such ceremony in Memorial High School’s history. Spring of 1964. A retired admiral, like thousands before him and tens of thousands after, told the story of the humble bumblebee. And, as any engineer will tell you, aerodynamically he cannot fly. Yet he does. We were then, presumably, to live our lives like the humble bumblebee.
My first college graduation was notable for having a man named Elvis deliver the graduation charge. This was Elvis Stahr and the president of another Big Ten university, which made us all suspicious that the 10 conference presidents were passing themselves around as graduation speakers that year.
My strongest memories of baccalaureates were that they were in churches, uncomfortable and as dull as listening to your aunt explain the ins and outs of cross-stitching.
To avoid such missteps, I have been pondering the prospect of an overarching theme that today’s high school seniors could relate to — and upon visiting the old alma mater, it was as plain as the clothes on the students’ backs. (And fronts.)
School uniforms. Change.
For those who will soon receive monthly Social Security checks (or direct deposits), the Cold War was warm. The atomic age was less the thought of bountiful energy as envisioned by Walt Disney’s Tomorrowland, and more about the duck-and-cover (“Get under that desk, young man!”) reality of the Communist threat to annihilate us with an alphabetical bomb.
That, no doubt, is one of the reasons why my sophomore Edison High School history class was required to read J. Edgar Hoover’s “Masters of Deceit.” (We were told years later it was not written by J. Edgar, but was ghost-written by his minions.)
Two things stick out from that class taught by Coach Tom Langham. One, the dirty Russkies impressed conformity and depressed individuality by forcing their impressionable youth to wear uniforms to school. Oh, the horror of it all. Children as young as, golly, 5 or 6, forced to dress alike — stripped of their God-given individuality and forced to dress in lock-step within that dreaded Communist society.
It would never happen here! No, we valued the individual. We would never give in to forced conformity for whatever reason.
And then, horror upon horror, the Communists imposed dreaded final tests for high school students that would determine their future and fate. Based upon one round of testing, a child would either be on a pathway to success or doomed to a life of futility. High-stakes testing at its zenith. Never, ever in the United States. No, real American students were respected for their individual talents, and if Einstein couldn’t diagram a sentence, he damned well could split an atom.
I can see my speech now:
“And now, my dear graduates, look around and see that for the past year you’ve been uniformed and high-stakes tested — oh, and my best wishes to those who couldn’t pass the math exam. Had there been one when I was in your seat, I’d still be in your seat. But for the rest of you, remember this: change is inevitable. Ain’t nothing etched in stone.”
Or, maybe I’ll just pass out this column.