Chapter 1: At Flushing High School, 1964 (iv)
The professor who interviewed me said he taught music courses at Columbia. He had grown up in Indiana and was a short, thin guy in his early 40s. I can’t recall much of what was discussed at my interview. I felt very nervous and tongue-tied; although I guess I was polite and pleasant enough not to get screened out. The professor asked me a few questions about my Indiana background, my career plans and my high school band participation. After the interview, I didn’t feel that I had made a good impression. So when my letter of acceptance came that spring from Columbia, I assumed, before I opened the envelope, that it was a letter of rejection.
I didn’t like the elitist notion of an Ivy League, but I assumed that Columbia wished to let people enter it on the basis of merit, regardless of class or racial background, in order to democratize the Ivy League academic world. Unlike CCNY, Columbia provided me with the opportunity to live in a Manhattan dormitory, as well as study in a Manhattan classroom. If Columbia had rejected my application, I would have enrolled at CCNY at 137th Street, commuted from Queens and been economically compelled to live with my parents.
I remember very little of my high school graduation ceremony, which was held in the RKO Keith movie house on Northern Boulevard. I couldn’t wait to get out of my cap and gown. Rona attended as a member of the band that played “Pomp and Circumstances” and I felt sad that it was the last time I would probably see her.
The Social Studies Department chairman, Mr. Kelly, awarded me the class history medal. I assumed that if I couldn’t earn a living as a writer or playwright, I would teach history in high school in the Black community, to students from economically impoverished families.
As far as senior class-ranking was concerned, the school administration had rated me “number 2”. When my transcript from three terms at Broad Ripple High School was mailed to Flushing High School from Indiana, the Broad Ripple High administrators indicated that, under their letter-grading system, an “A” mark equaled a “94 to 100” numerical mark and a “B” letter-grade equaled an “87 to 93” numerical mark. The Flushing administration bureaucrats decided, when determining my four-year high school average and class ranking, to put a “97” down on my transcript for every “A” grade I received at Broad Ripple and a “90” for every “B”. As a result of this bureaucratic transformation of all my “A’s” into “97” and all my “B’s” into “90”, my grade average was magically inflated into the second-highest in the senior class at Flushing.
I felt intellectually amused, but socially embarrassed, by this bureaucratic transformation of my grade average. I first learned of my “super-high” grade average in homeroom one day when I read about it on the front page of the Flushing High School student newspaper. The principal wrote me a special note, however, stating that I was not eligible to give the salutatorian address at the graduation ceremony, despite my “outstanding grade average,” because I had only spent two terms at Flushing High School.
I was relieved that I wasn’t going to be compelled to give a speech at graduation based on a bogus class ranking which was achieved by bureaucratic error. Although I did score 796 on the College Boards’ American History achievement exam, in high school I wasn’t grade-oriented enough to have been able to obtain a salutatorian-type grade average, without the bureaucratic mistake.
James and the Twenty-Seven Bicycles
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