Sixth Grade Boy
The ‘80s were ending and so was the school year. Life should have been great. I was in the parking lot of Mary Eyre Elementary facing the entire student body. To my left sat the Principal and next to her Miss Mary Eyre herself, our schools namesake. She must have been in her 90s according to the school’s archaic website (it looks like it was made only a couple years after I left).
Sommer Ivie sat to my right – my neighbor and my first girlfriend. Though we sat in front of our classmates as a shining example of a sixth-grade power couple, at that moment we were more like Bill and Hillary (political marriage of convenience) than Michelle and Barrack. I was the school’s first Student Body President (take that George Washington) and Sommer was elected Secretary. Being voted Sixth Grade Girl and Boy should have been the cherry on our popularity sundae.
However, there was trouble in paradise. Not only had Sommer broken up with me, but she boldy held Dave Stueve’s hand while walking around the track during recess. Public hand-holding! What is this, Seventh Grade?
Still, I held my head high. Dave was out in the crowd and I was about to deliver a speech that would echo through the ages. It was a cross between a graduation speech and a passionate call to service and school glory.
Penned by Cicero, delivered by Lincoln, MLK, and JFK’s love child – these great words would leave my peers in tears, my teachers calling the Statesman Journal, “We’ve found our nation’s next great leader. Get to Buffalo Drive now!” Most importantly, these wise remarks would save my reputation and reverse the sting of young love’s first wound. I would rise above petty heartache to display courage, wisdom and maturity. This Sixth Grade Boy would become a Sixth Grade Man right before their eyes.
I stepped to the microphone with a hint of fear, but mostly confidence and expectation. As the first words rose from the well of my soul a great sound arose in challenge. I looked out to see Ricky and Marc giggling and pointing at their ears. They couldn’t hear a word. Why? Over my shoulder the garbage men had determined that my date with history was also the perfect time to collect trash from the dumpsters and trash cans lining the street. I looked at Ms. Britt, my mentor and great champion. Should I stop? Wait? No, she motioned for me to soldier on. I did and the restless crowd, eager for a Field Day of games and fun tuned out. In their defense, the only thing they could hear was the metal clang of garbage men at work and the hydraluic lift of their mighty truck.
Not unlike the Native American from that recycling commercial, a single tear escaped my eye as I prepared to deliver my great line. This was my oratorial coup de grace. Determined that my borrowed-brilliance would not be overwhelmed by garbage, I gathered my vocal strength and belted out my bold exhortation.
In closing I say to you – Ask not what your school can do for you, but what you can do for your school.
Okay, not stunned silence, but “We didn’t hear a word you said and are totally bored” silence.
My shoulders slumped down à la Charlie Brown as I was ushered over to the dignitaries. Mrs. Campbell, our principal, gave me a hug, which only brought up more tears at my spectacular grandiloquent failure. She directed me to lean down to the seated, frail Miss Mary Eyre.
I reached out to shake her hand and she closed a second hand over mine. She said “Congratulations.” I mumbled a thank you. As I turned to leave, Miss Mary Eyre gripped my hand tighter and yanked me in close. Straining to get as close to my ear as possible in order to be heard over the garbage collection and the din of 500 elementary students chattering, she spoke.
“Well, aren’t you a young Jack Kennedy?
I think so.”
My tears of shame instantly transformed to those of joy. There was no greater U.S. President than JFK in our Catholic, Democratic household. My eloquence was lost on my peers, but not on this wise Elder – the very woman for whom our school was named.
Let others have the frivolity of hand-holding and young love. I was a young JFK. I was Sixth Grade Boy.