It is quite possible that I could have wound up higher on the honor roll for graduation had I not despondently let my grades slip after the Navy turned me down. I just did not care. I quit taking books home with me and spent more evenings at Gearhart’s, down talking to Patty, or going to a movie.
There was only a part of a semester to go, however, and I coasted though as sixteenth on the honor roll in a class of 289 students—not quite as good as old Dick had done the previous year, but I was not ashamed of it either.
Even though I was nowhere near being valedictorian or salutatorian for the class of ’39, I did wind up as a commencement speaker. Each class elected on individual to give an address as class representative. They elected me—I know not on what grounds except for the play and some successes I had on debating teams and in Friday assemblies. It was very gratifying.
All the student commencement speakers were require to write their own speeches, based on a selected theme. In retrospect, I think I realy blew it. When my mother passed away three years ago, I found a copy of the manuscript of my commencement address, titled “Control of Life”, among her effects. It ran to several single-spaced typed pages and is so pompous and pedantic that I would be very surprised if it did not put some of the audience to sleep. Hopefully, my delivery may have kept most awake.
Even after the Navy turned me down, I had continued to keep track of developments in by then what was known as “the War in Europe”. I knew, even on the day of commencement, that I had written the wrong speech. I should have expanded on the theme of my “Mice or Men?” editorial and dwelt on what was going to be expected of the class of ’39, but I did not have the guts. It would never have been approved by the faculty anyway.
While I sat on the auditorium stage during the commencement exercises waiting my turn at the podium, I was wishing I had done something more like that. What I had written was empty, hollow, and meaningless. Had I been more experienced as a public speaker at the tie, I would have opened by saying that Phyllis Conover down in the front row (my prompter) could put away her copy of my address because I had something different to say.
I sat there, unhappy that I apparently had no control of my own life, and unable to come up with the words for the feeling boiling within me. When it came my turn at the podium, I started my opening greeting and from there the memorized words came automatically. I ploughed doggedly through my stilted phrases, then sat down to await the awarding of our diplomas.
When Mr. DeYoung handed me my red leather covered diploma he smirked what was apparently intended to be a benign smile. My time at Vancouver High School became history except for fond memories and a few relationships that have endured to this day.