Class of 1969
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” — Samuel Beckett
In 1969 I graduated from Saint Raphael Academy in my hometown of Pawtucket, Rhode Island — I was last in my class. The road to this ranking was rife with academic failure; school was not something I cared for at all, and my teachers knew this. By ninth grade it was strongly suggested — by the Principal of my Catholic junior high school — that I go to work in a factory in downtown Pawtucket. “You could have a career there,” she said. I was failing most of my subjects and had a terrible attitude. Subsequently, against my teacher’s judgement I enrolled at Tolman High School, and took college-bound courses. My parents were not helicopter parents — this term hadn’t entered the lexicon yet — they were baffled parents, and just watched their son figure out his deal. It’s the greatest gift they could’ve ever given their wise ass kid.
At Tolman, in my sophomore year, something kicked in. I shifted my focus to reading good books and writing — these disciplines made sense to me. I also did some theatre, music and sports, chased some girls, and pulled off some decent grades. In the spring of that pivotal year, I put on a suit jacket and tie, stuffed $250 of my saved summer cash — from cooking at Aunt Carrie’s in Point Judith — into an envelope, and walked into the Principal’s office at Saint Raphael Academy. I put a year’s tuition on Brother Edward’s desk, and told him I wanted to attend this school. He looked at the envelope, and then he looked at me square. “Are you serious,” he asked. “Yes, I am,” I said. As per his request, the next day I had my transcripts from Tolman and bang, I was officially enrolled for my junior year. Nota Bene: I had taken the entrance exam to this school, and was not accepted. My only recourse was cash, grades, and a chat with the Principal. As a result, I ended up going to this school with some very bright and capable guys, and I earned my class rank; paid for with my own dime. And, I’m proud of it. This year will be our 50ith reunion.
The recent admission’s scandal has me shaking my head with disgust. The audacity and sense of entitlement and superiority of the parents of these students has no boundary nor moral constraint. Moreover, they have done a terrible disservice to their kids. Perhaps Beckett’s quote doesn’t ring true to these parents — maybe they’ve never read him — and the other orchestrators of this scandal. Maybe these children weren’t allowed to fail, nor dare say the word aloud. The saddest thing about this scandal is that there was probably an enterprising, studious and capable student who got bounced from a spot, because of a mediocre kid’s parent’s inability to simply let the kid make a sincere effort to cut their own path in the world. The quote “I want to go to game day, and party,” was made by the daughter of a husband and wife who got caught in the scandal. This young lady is known as an “Influencer,” or a trendsetter, which basically means she has a following on social media, and can sell some product. There is no academic link; it’s marketing 101 for a corporation to sell their wares. Currently, this young lady is basically a pariah as a result of her parent’s intentions for her college experience.
I came up in a working-class town with working class parents. There wasn’t any sense of entitlement; however, there was a sense that you need to work hard and hustle for something better — if you want something better. The guys I rolled with had nothing given to them and we all knew it was on us to make our life happen and pursue a direction to develop and grow. We would be embarrassed if our parents stuck their nose in the good, the bad, and the ugly of our business. My folks were old school and imbued us with a sense of finding our own motivation — it wasn’t their life. What I do remember is my dad saying: “You need to read to get a better take on things, and if you don’t know a word, then look it up.” This was all I needed from this guy, along with an occasional “attaboy” when it was rightfully deserved. I passed this this sense of hustle to my own children because it seemed to work — especially for a knucklehead like me.
“Hey dad, how much money is in my college fund,” asked my daughter Emily, one day. “A what fund?” I asked trying to contain my laughter. “You know, the money you’re saving for my college education. Lots of kids have a college fund,” she said. I told my daughter, “Here’s the deal, if you want to go college, well, that’s on you. Don’t get me wrong, if you earn and deserve my help, you’ll get a bump now and then, but the long term debt is on you. I’m not financing your future; life doesn’t work that way, at least in my world it doesn’t.” The contract was simple. You want something? Then go earn it and make it happen. And, she did just that, and I’m proud of her.
Life is not easy and no one owes us anything. So, we might need stumble and fail now and then, but that’s what life is. I think Samuel Beckett nailed it with the aforementioned quote. Finally, when I go to the reunion with the Class of 1969, it will not be lost on me how I failed my way right in to the company of this fine group of men.