It’s impossible to miss the orange and blue “OPRFHS 2020 Graduate” signs around Oak Park these days. On almost every block, they serve as hollow reminders of a ritual that should have been. Thanks, coronavirus pandemic.
It’s not fair, but of course we all know what our parents have told us about fairness. Still, I can’t help but feel bad for young people these days and the rites of passage they’re missing. I imagine it would be hard to get excited about a drive-by parking lot ceremony even with Elgar blasting from a makeshift PA. And your mortarboard would go about 6 inches before banging on the minivan roof.
Speaking of Elgar, each time we hear his Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 we’re transported back to our own commencement day. The class of 2020 will sadly remember a graduation that wasn’t. I remember my OPRF High School graduation fondly, though there was a twist to it.
It was June 12, 1980, back in the days of red roses and white gowns for the girls, and dark suits for the boys. I borrowed the family Chevy Citation (short-lived GM model) to pick up my friends and fellow grads-in-waiting: Kurt, Larry and Mac. We had to be at OPRF an hour or so prior to the 6 p.m. start time.
We parked on Elmwood Avenue and walked along Ontario Street toward the school’s main entrance. Lost in our excitement, we jabbered about our post-ceremony plans. And we were oblivious to the dark sedan roaring east on Ontario, even when it came to an abrupt stop at the alley.
Before we knew it, a couple of cream pies sailed through the air toward us. Larry got the worst of it, a direct hit with significant splatter. I got some of Baker’s Square’s best on my pant leg. Kurt and Mac escaped any mess. We’d been blindsided, left stunned and baffled.
What happened next was really strange. A woman in the yard of an adjacent two-flat saw the whole thing. She ran over to us and I’m thinking, Oh, maybe she’ll help us wipe off. No such luck. Instead she chastised us and ranted that if we hadn’t dressed so nicely it wouldn’t have been so bad. Huh?
We proceeded to the Student Center where faculty distributed the roses for the girls and boutonnieres for the boys. It was hard to miss the remnants of whipped cream on Larry’s navy blue suit coat.
“Oh my, what happened to you? Oh, and you too?”
I remember Mrs. Dalstrom and Mrs. Saecker being most helpful to us. I’m sure they were trying to process our predicament, but they didn’t hesitate to assist us in getting cleaned up.
Then we were off to our assigned places in line. I recall being quite distracted in the procession. I wasn’t thinking of my family watching from the stadium, or what my diploma looked like, or the after-parties. Who were those jerks with the pies? (We later found out who it was and heard that each of the culprits was a fellow senior, denied walking in graduation due to various infractions or academic failures.)
It was a glorious summer evening fit for an OPRF outdoor graduation. The rest of it went off without incident. We departed the football field to Delibes’ March and Procession of Bacchus.
As I reflect on that weird ceremonial prelude, I wonder if it was foreshadowing the general adversity one encounters moving closer to adulthood. But I must dismiss that. COVID-19 and all it’s wrought is not a blot of pie on your suit. The reality is that the class of 2020 is dealing with greater adversity.
It’s so hard for them to ponder this now, but they’ll be better for it. And better days are ahead.
Anthony Gargiulo Jr. is an Oak Park resident and OPRF graduate, class of 1980.