Eleven years ago today, June 4, 1989, I graduated from high school. It was a Sunday, like today. It was sunny, like today. (huh, did you ever think about Sunday and realize that it contains the word sun, and wonder whether there's some connection between the word sun and the concept of God, then get to thinking of Louis XIV, the Sun King, and ponder the relationship of monarchs to God, and wonder whether it's all connected in some way that you never learned about in school?)
Looking back on that day, I don't recall all of its details. I don't remember feeling that it was eventful at the time, and its memory carries no substantial weight for me. I don't remember waking up that morning, or how I got to graduation. I don't recall receiving my diploma, but I can close my eyes and see the photographer's small proof of a photo of the headmaster handing me my diploma, and from there I can concoct a memory of the event. And into that fabricated memory, I can paste the three emotions that remain with me to this day:
frustration: attempting to pin that awkward bright blue mortarboard to my head, I jabbed myself with bobby pins. It wouldn't sit right, it slid off, it tugged at my hair, it angled itself, no matter how I tried, in such a way as to make me appear ugly, stupid, dumb. All the things you don't want to look when everyone's watching you. All the thing you don't want to look on this big day, your High School Graduation.
confusion: as Liz Walker, news anchor for WBZ TV, channel 4, walked to the podium to address our class, and someone yelled out "Digger!" or, as she heard it, "Nigger!" The story whispered hurriedly between us in our seats was that Digger was ______'s nickname (whose, I now forget) and that he was finally graduating after seven years. The fact that he was taking his seat, and his friends saw fit to yell to him, at the exact moment that Ms. Walker took the stage, was merely coincidental, and unfortunate. Ms. Walker did not see it that way, and abandoned her prepared words to rail against racism and encourage the class of '89 to rise above this sort of behavior and mentality.
mortification: the next morning when I awoke to the morning news cast detailing the racist attack on Liz Walker at my graduation. And the radio announcer said it over and over again, Brookline High School, class of '89, for all the radio listeners to hear, all over eastern Massachusetts. My class, after four years, summed up simply as a class of racists.