Some decisions you just never live down. Try as I might, all attempts at self-redemption have done nothing more than plunge my mutilated reputation further into the cold grave I dug for myself. Nevertheless, it was my decision. That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.
I graduated twice from my university. Never let it be said that I do things only half-way! Neither time had I planned to attend commencement as I considered it a bunch of long boring speeches and a longer boringer list of names of my fellow classmates. The university annually turns out about 2,000 graduates. The college within the university from whence I graduated had over 200, most of whom I didn’t really even know.
For both graduation ceremonies, however, I received a special invitation to attend and present. I am certain these invitations came only after they couldn’t secure much more notable graduates to do so. And I’m a glutton for punishment! I wouldn’t, for the life of me, turn down such honors. The first time, the Dean gave up the time allotted for his speech to play a short film I had made. They tried to impress upon me how great an honor this was. “The Dean,” they articulated, “is using his time to show your film” in lieu of waxing eloquent with the students and parents. “This simply isn’t done,” they said.
“O-K,…” I responded. What do you want me to say? “Thank you?”
Now I realize, of course, that he was taking a lot of the credit for producing such talented workforce-ready graduates even though I had met him all of once for about 3 minutes prior to this. Oh well,… Meh! Whatever. I know his intentions were valid and yes, I took it as a compliment that he gave up his chance to pontificate to the imprisoned masses because he thought my film could say it better. — Score one for the Crab!
Then, I was asked to present at the second graduation that year in August, representing my peers in my study emphasis. Again, I think they snagged me only because they knew I would turn them down. And it went well. The university took that creation as well and claimed it for their own. Again,… whatever.
Now that I think about it, this is precisely why I shred the bi-annual pleas to “give back to the university” by donating generously. I have given. I created. They took the credit… and the money. I figure I’ve done my part quite generously, as a matter of fact. And, I’m still trying to atone for one day’s bad decision.
Here it is…
I had been cast in a short film and not until the first day of shooting did I look at my calendar and realize that I was also scheduled to speak to a room full of incoming Freshman that same day. I explained my dilemma to the incredibly understanding producer of the project and he arranged for me to take leave of the set right smack-dab in the middle of the shooting day. For anyone who knows filmmaking, you know what a generous gesture this is.
“This is great,” I thought! “Somebody up there loves me. Now I honor both commitments and won’t let anyone down.” But what I didn’t reckon on is the mess I’d look after vanities fixed me up for the role. (I was playing a homeless vagrant.) Nor did I have time to drive home to change into something just a bit more appropriate for an incoming Freshman convocation. I had on tattered jeans (slightly large with an artificially-plumped caboose), an oversized shirt that was also distressed and filthied. My hair, which I had been growing out for another upcoming role, was an absolute travesty, having been teased and spritzed and allowed to dry without conditioner… etc. Oh, it was… memorable. I had a couple of teeth blacked out, dark circles under my eyes, and the appearance of long-standing grime all over my face.
The producer had asked that I please not mess with the makeup as there wouldn’t be time to re-apply it when I returned to set. It was a mad-dash from downtown to campus anyway, just to make it in time for my portion of the presentation. And it would be a mad-dash back to set afterward.
Dilemma: (1) Ignore the express request of my benevolent producer and make myself look half-way presentable for these young impressionable minds just entering the marbled halls of my Alma Mater; or (2) risk offending the College Dean and Department Reps by showing up… like I drug myself out of the gutter this morning.
This entire situation becomes exponentially more hilarious when you realize that the university in reference is known for being highly conservative, with a strict dress code to boot. The university has been voted more than once as the most “stone cold sober university in America.” The dress code they call, “The Honor Code,” and dress standards are only a small part of it.
Picture, if you will, a theatre full of about 300 cherubic-faced Freshmen. On the stage, behind a platform with a pulpit, sits a line of about a dozen department dignitaries. All are dressed very smartly in their “welcome to the university” suits and ties (dresses and heels for the women). The program is already underway. Fortunately, I called ahead and notified the Dean’s secretary of my dilemma, and that I would probably be arriving a tad late and need to leave as soon as I was done.
Peeking out from an offstage curtain, I waved at the secretary who handed a quick note to the Dean, notifying him of my arrival. I sunk back into the shadows a bit as he introduced me. Ugh! I am not all these things he’s saying about me and certainly not TODAY! “Stop talking, Dean!” I think as my face flushes… I am SO going to hell for this.
As the applause erupts, welcoming me onstage, I appear from the wings and make my way toward the podium. At this point, there is NOTHING to do but to simply “go with it.” As I feel the hardcore stares of disapproval vituperate over me, I do the only thing I can think to do to dispel the hostility. I begin bowing incessantly like Fraulein Schweiger (the first soloist of the choir of St. Agathe’s Church in Murbach), from “The Sound of Music,” throwing kisses into the audience, toward the Dean, tripping over myself – literally. Ah-h-h… They’re laughing. That’s good.
Now, I suppose I need to continue to be insanely clever and make my appearance into some kind of visual aid to prove a point…
I got nothin’. But, like a good little improvist, I start where I stand. “I just wanted to see if any of you noticed any Honor Code violations today?”
And we’re off! I spoke for my allotted ten minutes and gave some great advice along with some funny anecdotes, if I do say so myself. My guess is, even if none of them heard me, they’ll have a tough time forgetting the Vagabond Honor-Code-breaker who spoke to them at their Freshman Orientation.
Of course, the university has never asked me back to speak at any presentations since. I’m really OK with that.