‘Pomp and Circumstance’
The circa 1956 “Peanuts” comic strip features Schroeder at his piano with Snoopy perched atop the instrument. The dog is so moved by the music that he soon bursts into tears. In the final panel, Schroeder wryly observes, “Nothing affects an old grad like the playing of ‘Pomp and Circumstance!'”
That particular tune can be heard nowadays in gymnasiums and auditoriums and virtually any large public venue. Graduation season is upon us.
I can empathize with Snoopy. A lump forms in my throat whenever I hear the regal strains of “Pomp and Circumstance.” Having it played in my honor just once is apparently enough to evoke this response, even though I nearly didn’t make it to my high school graduation.
Ever since I was a tyke, I wanted to be a farmer like Dad. I reckoned that farmers didn’t need much education beyond being able to read a feed bag or tally bushels. I figured that I would have enough schooling by the end of third grade.
But my parents insisted that I attend all of grade school and all of high school. I didn’t have enough education to make a cogent argument against their insistence that I needed an education.
So I dutifully attended classes, exuding the same level of enthusiasm as a member of a chain gang. When I began high school, I was able to make out the dim outlines of my escape.
I learned that there were bare minimums that had to be met to graduate from high school. After doing a bit of math (I guess education has its benefits after all!), I discovered that I could be done with high school in just three years. School administrators advised against taking this route, but that was like prison guards telling an inmate to ignore an unlocked door.
Halfway through my junior year, it seemed certain that my plan was going to work. I had passing grades (a “D” was every bit as good as an “A” in my book) and my academic career appeared to be on a smooth glideslope to its final destination.
Never a fan of regimentation, I began to view school with ever-increasing disregard. My goal was to become a self-employed farmer and I already knew that I had enough education to hire me. For what it’s worth, I later learned that being self-employed isn’t all that. My boss was often a jerk. He was stingy with my wages and he frequently forced me to work long hours without overtime pay. There were numerous times when I was this close to telling him off, but I didn’t want to hurt his feelings.
My unserious attitude about school affected my attendance. I began to skip classes I deemed unimportant. Chief among them was Crafts.
Our high school’s principal, Mr. Grebner, took umbrage at my scofflaw attitude regarding class attendance. He would prowl the hallways, looking for a chance to catch me goofing off instead of learning the fine art of macramé. My endeavors to elude him were countered by his fervent efforts to collar me. Our relationship was similar to the one between Javert and Jean Valjean.
I would inevitably get nabbed and be frog-marched to Mr. Grebner’s office where I’d be forced to sit through a lecture about how I needed to Buckle Down and Get Serious. I slouched in the chair, striving to exude an aura that said, “I don’t care!” After all, I’d be blowing this joint in a few short weeks.
And as I skipped all those Crafts classes, Mrs. Hoffelt, our Crafts teacher, quietly kept score.
Imagine my shock when I got what was supposed to be my final report card and saw that I’d received a big fat “F” for Crafts! It was a total disaster. This meant that I would have to attend a whole extra semester of high school!
I dutifully enrolled for the fall semester. I attended the minimum number of classes and put forth the minimum amount of effort to pass. When the semester ended, so did my academic career. At last I could concentrate on becoming a farmer! This would prove to be about as easy as threading a sewing needle with a tow rope, but I digress.
I rejoined my classmates for our May graduation ceremony. As Mr. Grebner handed me my diploma, he peered at me over the top of his glasses and arched an eyebrow. An unspoken understanding passed between us.
Much to my surprise, I got a bit misty-eyed as I walked off the stage. Maybe I really cared about education after all. Or maybe it was just that darned “Pomp and Circumstance.”