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 …
South Miami Senior High School – August 1982 – June 1983
Graduation – the final frontier. All of us who have gone through high school have experienced the agony and ecstasy of that last year of high school – the seemingly endless and frustrating classes, the almost-as-endless celebrating of the upperclassmen and the frightening prospect of life after high school.
Yes, all things, good and bad, have an end…and a new beginning.
On or around the 30th of August in 1982, after another voluntary six-week stay in summer school and a short break, my last year of high school began.
No, there wasn’t an angelic host singing the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah or a bolt of lightning to herald my long-awaited transformation from mere mortal to the exalted position of High School Senior.
Instead, there was the usual (and dull) routine of waking up in the wee hours of the morning to catch the 6:30 express to school and going to homeroom to pick up my schedule. And – in a horrible Kafkaesque fashion – my senior year started with yet another schedule-related snafu.
This time around, I arrived at South Miami on time and was handed my schedule by one of the guidance department assistants after standing in line by the main lobby. I hoped to see that I had been placed in the elective classes I had chosen at the end of my junior year, especially Mixed Chorus and Newspaper Editing and Production. Wanting to see what my first period class was, I looked at the white and blue computer printout in my hand – and nearly fainted.
I looked at my schedule with disbelieving eyes. The school’s computer, apparently unaware that I had taken American Government with Mr. Cummings in summer school, had placed me in Mr. Brooks’ first period American Government class.
Aghast, I walked into the Guidance Department office and asked to see my counselor, Ms. Pamela Anderson.
“Wonderful,” I grumbled at the hapless Ms. Anderson. “I sign up for American Government in summer so I don’t go crazy with all the homework during my senior year and you’ve put me there again?”
My counselor gave me a sheepish look. I had taken (and passed) two difficult and mandatory social studies classes in the summer to make room in my schedule for Art, Newspaper Production, and Mixed Chorus. Clearly, someone in the guidance department had blundered.
Er, yes, Alex, I see in the records that you attended summer school and earned passing grades in Economics and Government. So…what would you like to take instead?”
What do you have?”
Drama or math.”
I picked drama – stage fright is preferable to trying to figure out algebraic equations early in the morning, or at least it was for me. (Inexplicably, while Ms. Anderson was rejiggering my schedule, I asked her to place me in an algebra class for sixth period. I didn’t have to; the 1982-83 school year was the last one in which only two years of high school level mathematics were required for graduation. I later regretted signing up for Algebra I; it was the only high school course that I failed.)
I won’t delve too much into my experiences in drama except to say that (a) I’m great at line reading but not so great at memorizing and delivering lines without a script, and (b) I met one of my best friends, Juan Carlos Hernandez, in that class. He was, and still is, a gifted actor with great comedic timing and versatility.
Meanwhile, the school paper (The Serpent’s Tale), which had been dormant during my junior year, was now back in production. I briefly considered applying for the editor-in-chief position, but I changed my mind after thinking the matter through. Instead, I asked for my old job as editor of the Entertainment section. My request, thankfully, was granted.
Sadly, Mr. Gary Bridge decided over the summer to not return as faculty advisor to the newspaper and yearbook staffs. A new journalism teacher, Ms. Muriel Everton, was hired as a replacement. She was a smart, friendly, and hard-working teacher, but for some reason her teaching techniques didn’t impress me.
Because only a few of us were old hands from the 1980-81 staff, it seemed to me that the 1982-83 Serpent’s Tale had more than its fair share of growing pains.
Our first issue, due out in September, did not materialize until October.
The pages were usually designed for the page editors by the production manager and the editor. (I think I was able to design a science fiction-themed double truck late in the school year; even then, my design was changed to fit an ad and a “jump” from a Page One news story.)
The staff lacked coordination, and some students simply didn’t want to write stories.
For me, the new incarnation of the school paper wasn’t as nightmarish an experience as my year in the De Capello staff had been. Still, there were times when I wondered if the long wait to be back on a newspaper staff had been worth it.
As for the rest of my curricular activities, I had a reasonably good year – I did well in most of my classes, except (of course) in algebra, which was beyond my limited mathematical comprehension.
Although I’m no expert on cerebral palsy, I think that the brain injury that caused my physical disability may have caused collateral damage to the part of my brain related to computational skills and logical thinking. I have always had trouble with math; I can understand enough basic arithmetic to handle money responsibly and make measurements, so it’s not like I am incapable of understanding numbers. But it took me years to understand multiplication, and long division is still a tough challenge for me. So, even though no one has given me a diagnosis, I believe I have a serious learning disability.
I passed Ms. Sallie DeWitt’s English 4 class and Ms, Robin Lemo’s Art class with Bs, and I earned As in Newspaper Production and Mixed Chorus. I also earned a B in Naema Perry’s first period Drama class. (In the immortal words of a fellow thespian, “drama class was a trip and a half.”)
Oh, yes. As a member of the Cobra Media Productions club, I was also the floor director for South Miami Senior High’s televised morning announcements. My job was to listen to the director’s prompts from the studio booth and “cue” the on-air talent. Basically, if the director wanted the student to look at one of the two cameras, I’d point to either Camera A or Camera B.
Suddenly, or so it seemed at the time, the months flew swiftly by. May and June of 1983 arrived.
It was time for laughter, yearbooks, class T-shirts, caps and gowns, Grad Nite and prom tickets, tuxedos and dresses, Senior Week and Awards Day.
And finally, it was a time of parting…of letting go.
Even if I wasn’t psychologically ready, I had to pack up my few mementos and clip file, grab my diploma, and get on with my life.
This June marked the 33rd anniversary of my high school graduation. At home, in my closet, are three battered yearbooks, a set of Micky Mouse ears with a graduation-style tassel, and a box full of old Serpent’s Tale issues and other mementos.
And, of course, I have my memories.