The boy who defied odds after a 1999 shooting that left his mother dead and left him with cerebral palsy and brain damage is now a happy, adjusted adult who loves to smile and …
“High school is closer to the core of the American experience than anything else I can think of.” ―Kurt Vonnegut
South Miami Senior High School: Late Spring, 1981
The last few weeks of my sophomore year at South Miami were anticlimactic, to say the least, especially after the Spring Concert series in April. I wasn’t a student-athlete because of my cerebral palsy, so I didn’t have anything exciting to do other than to work on the last Serpent’s Tale issue for the school year. From April 17, 1981 till the middle of June, I simply soldiered on along with my fellow underclassmen and watched as the members of the Class of 1981 as they prepared for Senior Week, finals and, finally, graduation.
The end of that first academic year in Cobra Country was an awkward period for me. By joining the school chorus in January, I had reconciled myself to the fact that I was going to attend South Miami High instead of Southwest Miami High till June of 1983.
Nevertheless, the pre-commencement activities for the Class of 1981 still struck a nerve; I knew only a few of the graduating seniors (most of them from either the Serpent’s Tale staff or Ms. Owen’s chorus classes) so I felt like someone crashing someone else’s festive occasion.
As I watched the happy, excited seniors being honored at the annual Awards Day or “teaching” classes during Senior Takeover Day, I missed my friends from Riviera Junior High, most of whom were now students at Southwest.
But, to use an old expression, time heals all wounds, and I no longer felt like a stranger in a strange land. Instead, I realized that my high school had certain charms that “Eagle Country” could not compete with.
For instance, Mary Ann, the girl of my dreams during most of my sophomore year, was in my home room and rode the same school bus that I did, and though the spark of romance didn’t ignite, it was enough to keep my mind off leaving South Miami. You simply don’t abandon your dream girl, even if your relationship is strictly platonic.
And yes, there were the added attractions of writing for the school paper and singing in the Men’s Chorus. I loved both of those electives; I enjoyed writing all kinds of reviews for the Entertainment Section, and I was bowled over when Ms. Owen told me I could join one of the Mixed Choirs during my junior year.
In short, 10th grade went better for me than I had expected. I learned and grew, not only as a student and journalist, but also as a person.
I became a little more self-confident – except maybe in the dating department – and made more friends among fellow students and my teachers.
But it wasn’t always so giddy. For every two gains, it seemed, there was one loss. Two of my friends, including my classmate Paul Dingle, died shortly before the school year ended.
In journalism, I had earned the job of Entertainment Co-Editor, but I had to wait till I was a senior to work on The Serpent’s Tale again. Since there was no school newspaper during the 1981-82 school year, I signed up to work on the DeCapello yearbook instead.
Life, I discovered, is seldom easy…or fair, for that matter.
They used to tell us that these were the best years of our lives.
I was now thinking, “What about the rest of our years?”