Posts Tagged ‘high school graduation’


Thursday, June 26th, 2014

By Jeffrey Page

My grandniece Olivia graduated from high school in Fair Lawn this week. I bore witness, except for the several moments when I realized I’d tuned out the speeches and was thinking back to the day I graduated from Forest Hills High School in Queens.

The beaming Olivia, a terrific young scholar, seemed happy and excited by the business of the day. She looked great. Most important she has a positive view of her future, which is an important way to experience life after high school.

My experience was different.

There were so many seniors in the Forest Hills commencement in Forest Park, and the line was so long (alphabetical order) that some of us P’s, R’s, S’s, and T’s snuck out to the street and smoked. We were very cool.

I accepted my diploma, shook someone’s hand and asked my mother if we could leave now. I surrendered my rented gown and mortarboard and realized that my sense of dread centered on three questions I couldn’t answer.

With mandatory school now over forever, what would I do tomorrow? What would I do next Tuesday? And with no appreciable skills what would I do with the rest of my life now that I’d sort of ensured that no college would have me and that without more education, I was doomed to a hand-to-mouth existence. That’s how it sounded in those days: No sheepskin? You’re dead.

Any college admissions officer quickly would see how awful a student I’d been. Let me rephrase that; I was a dolt. I had amassed a catalogue of lousy grades, an embarrassing grade on my math SAT (though a fairly decent one on the language part), and no community work to speak of. I even had a teacher who wanted to bet me 50 cents I’d fail a Spanish Regents exam. I’m not blaming her for anything except being a needless irritant on whatever degree of self-confidence I possessed.

Essentially, I had spent four years at Forest Hills doing very little aside from reading novels and newspapers, and now I was being cut loose. I was happy to know the alarm clock would not be set that night and that I wouldn’t have to start thinking up excuses for not having done various homework assignments. But I was scared. All my questions boiled down to one: What happens next? And I had no idea

I took some menial jobs and learned how boring the work life could be. I registered for a few night courses at Queens College. I read Hemingway and Joyce, Emily Dickinson and Dylan Thomas, Shakespeare and others, and realized these people were my education.

Sometimes things have a way of working out.

I applied for a job as a copyboy at The New York Post and learned how to sharpen pencils and take coffee and sandwich orders from the editors and reporters. I also wrote some small headlines. That was pretty boring, too but it was the start of a happy newspaper life. I reported crime stories in Jersey City for the Jersey Journal. I covered Sullivan County for The Times Herald-Record. And I covered transportation for The Record of Hackensack.

What a way to make a living: Find interesting people and extraordinary situations and write those stories in a way that encouraged readers to go all the way to the end of the tale.

One more thing. That Spanish Regents test?

I got a 75.