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Why I so fondly remember my 1974 graduation

By John Toth

The Bulletin

I walked down the aisle, wearing my cap and gown, thinking of how the summer was just starting and would last forever.

It was a small vocational/technical urban high school. Our graduating class was made up of only about 200 students. A week before the ceremony, I was called into the counselor’s office, along with nine other seniors.

We were each handed a piece of paper folded up with a number written on the inside. The principal came into the room and congratulated us. I still had no clue what all this was about.

“You are the top 10 graduates of the class of 1974,” he said, shaking our hands. Then he asked us to unfold the piece of paper. The number represented our rankings.

I made it into the top 10? That was pretty amazing. We started unfolding the piece of paper handed to us. I took my time. I was guaranteed a top spot, otherwise I would not be here. But which spot?

Four years earlier, I got into this school without taking a test. My English wasn’t good enough.

The vocational program didn’t require an entrance exam. I wanted to be enrolled in a school other than just a regular high school. I wanted to learn at least a trade, but my main goal was to make it into the technical-engineering program.

I did just that after one semester. While I enjoyed soldering wires together, doing metal work and running a small printing press, I really wanted to be in pre-engineering.

It took a while, but after lengthy conversations with my counselor, he paved the way for me to switch to that program.

 I didn’t have to take any tests. He recommended me, and the principal agreed to do it. What’s the worst that could happen? I could always switch back, if I wanted to.

That wasn’t in my plans. I talked way too hard and long to get into this program.

Mr. Schiff, the English teacher who had a full class and didn’t really want another student, didn’t see it my way. He told me that I would probably fail his class. In broken English, I replied: ‘I don’t think so.”

He was tough, but he let me do book reports for extra credit, and I did a bunch of them. He didn’t fail me. I passed with a “B-plus”. It should have been an “A”, but I ran out of time to turn in more book reports.

I tried to talk him into giving me an “A”, but he wouldn’t budge.

“I was wrong about you, Mr. Toth,” he said on the last day of the semester. “You’ll do alright.”

I did, and also I had a great time in high school. The 1970s was a great time to grow up, and I enjoyed it to the fullest. I ran for the student council and won.

We organized a walkout one day right after lunch to protest - something. I can’t remember what it was, but the students were not hard to convince.

This was a very small part of my high school days, although a lot of fun. For the most part, we were busy studying to get ready for college.

All that studying paid off. I sat in the counselor’s office waiting to unfold my piece of paper with my number on it. One of my best friends just opened his. He was No. 1. He was going to give a speech at graduation. Then it was my turn.

I slowly opened the piece of paper. No. 7.

Not too bad for an immigrant boy who went through three countries and had to learn two new languages in 12 years of public schooling. I was satisfied.

That night I showed my mother the piece of paper and explained what it meant. It was just a piece of folded up paper. I could have written it myself and told her a fib. She knew that I wouldn’t fake something like that.

We hugged, and she wiped the tears from her eyes. “It was all worth it,” she said, “All worth it.”

We both knew what she meant.


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