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The Great Graduation Confrontation

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The Great Graduation Confrontation

A group of Manteca High seniors sign yearbooks.

Photo contributed/


POSTED May 29, 2014 2:06 a.m.

It’s the last week of school for the town’s senior classes. Finals, Disneyland, Senior Fun Days, and Grad Night mark the end of their journeys through high school. Tying off all the loose ends and saying goodbye to faculty and friends. 

I remember my last week like it was yesterday, all my classmates reaping the rewards of four tumultuous years but they were all doing it without me. Yours truly had been given the old heave-ho exactly eight days before graduation. I’m here to warn you, seniors, “It ain’t over til it’s over.”

There is still an unused cap and gown lying around my dad’s house if someone is interested in buying it. The tale I am about to tell is wrought with love, betrayal, unfounded accusations, and self realization. OK, maybe I’m going a little overboard, but it is a cautionary tale to today’s seniors of what not to do at the end. The names of the principal participants will be changed to protect their reputations.

And away we go...

May 15, 1991. Third period English class was taught by student-teacher “Mr. Nehru.” The class was loaded with the cream of the senior class’ English students. Mr. Nehru had taken the reigns from our primary teacher “Mrs. Bo Peep” about halfway through the year. Mrs. Peep often observed the class as she corrected papers during her off period, but for all intents and purposes it was Mr. Nehru’s show. We were off curriculum and having a spirited talk about poetry. I for one cannot stand poetry – not in that I don’t see its beauty – but as a medium or art itself. In my mind, at that time, it was no different than rap music or commercial jingles. “Anybody can do it,” I said. Mr. Nehru was very cool about it and challenged me to write a poem – and he wanted it in five minutes. I accepted and began to scribble. 

Soon I was up in front of the class reciting my poem, “The Mole.” It was short, maybe two stanzas – and guess what – it was good! Mr. Nehru was noticeably pleased, and said as much. It was a great feeling to have a teacher overlook the distraction that I was and give me a pat on the back. And that’s where the story should have ended, but alas it does not.

From the front of the room, as she corrected papers, Mrs. Bo Peep decided to interject. “I’ve heard that somewhere before.” I was a bit angered to say the least, and responded accordingly. She acted as if a long-haired slacker jock was incapable of commanding the English language. The exact exchange that led to the point where she said, “That is someone else’s poem. You’ve plagiarized” is debatable. Let’s be very clear here, I had absolutely not stolen nor borrowed any piece of that poem. (And in truth, I didn’t think it was all that good,) There were many things that an 18-year-old me could tolerate being called: a loudmouth know-it-all, a pompous ass, or an entitled underachieving boob. But plagiarist?! Nope, not on my watch. “I’m sorry that for some reason my ability to put together a few words that rhyme, has somehow caused an affront to your sensibilities, but I can assure you Madame that I am quite capable of formulating more works of art if you need proof.”

• • •

Bad Decision No. 1

Oh man, if I had only actually said those words, instead of “I don’t give a **** what you think.” Yes, that stupidly came from my mouth. Bad Decision No. 1. And we headed to Vice Principal “Mr. Spock’s” office. On the way out, Mr. Nehru gave me a sheepish almost apologetic look, but I had dug my own grave on this one.

To say mine and Mr. Spock’s relationship was volatile is an understatement. The disdain was palpable. So when Mrs. Bo Peep became a bit overwhelmed with emotion at the outset of the meeting, I knew I was in trouble. My contention that she was “shedding crocodile tears” and “wasn’t even teaching the class” only enraged him and was met with classic Spock justice. He opened the door and escorted Mrs. Bo Peep outside to gather herself. He returned and slammed the door behind him. “What kind of man are you?! If we were adults on the streets, we’d go to fisticuffs young man.” In hindsight this is probably when I should’ve tucked tail and shut my mouth, instead of answering with “Fisticuffs? What makes you think a guy that steals poems about moles has a clue what that word means?” He was not amused. Remember the sound an old teapot would make when ready on the stove top, his face had become a physical manifestation of that noise. “Get to your next class and report here at the end of the day to finish our talk with Mrs. Bo Peep.” And away I went.

• • •

Bad Decision No. 2

During first lunch, I ran into close friend Brian Williams, who had this invitation: “I’ve got the boat hooked up to my truck in the back parking lot. We are leaving after second lunch if you want to go skiing.” Of course I wanted to go, so I went to the office, avoiding the sight of Mr. Spock, and checked myself out of school for “court.” I was fully aware of my after-school meeting I’d committed to, but thought I could spin a yarn about a “court proceeding” that had slipped my mind. I’d be just fine. Bad Decision No. 2.

The following morning I was immediately swooped up from my first period class and escorted to his office. “Sorry about missing yesterday’s meeting, I had some business to attend to at the courthouse.” Mr. Spock didn’t hesitate, “Really, cause I called the courthouse to check up on you and you weren’t there.” A mere bump in the road for this seasoned veteran. “I actually went to the Escalon courthouse,” I said. “It was about the Sonora bus egging incident from earlier in the year.” (That in itself is a column all its own.) But he was ready, “I called the Escalon courthouse as well, and the D.A. said your court proceedings ended months ago.” Certainly he couldn’t have done these things and we reached an impasse. He issued the next move: “I will need to speak to at least one of your parents face-to-face before I let you graduate” All I heard was “let you graduate.” I made arrangements to have my mom come down the next morning. 

• • •

Bad Decision No. 3

The thought being why involve dad, the disciplinarian of the two, for what I assumed a mere formality. Bad Decision No. 3. But woohoo, I’m still going to graduate!

 The morning came, and mom and I arrived at his office. I had come clean and prepped her about my skiing excursion. She agreed with much hesitation to go along with the story if needed.

Spock opened with a roundhouse, “Your son has missed more school than almost anyone in his class this year.” For some stupid reason I believed the day would be focused on the plagiarism incident. Mr. Spock had different plans. He unveiled a laundry list of some of my greatest hits over the last few years. Mom was none too pleased. I was losing the room and then he dealt the fatal blow. A stack of “missed school” notes from the last two years, all signed by my mom but not in her handwriting. I actually saw the honesty gene that courses through my mom kick in. The jig was up, and before my mom could finish saying “Maybe the next time Chris decides to miss a meeting to go skiing, he’ll think twice about it,” Mr. Spock moved the day’s deliberations to the sentencing phase. Guilty! 

You know the scene at the end of “A Few Good Men,” the one where Tom Cruise finally gets Jack Nicholson to crack and Cruise has that wry smile on his face? That “I got you look.” Mr. Spock had it in spades – and for a brief moment I actually felt his joy. It must have felt wonderful to be on his end of the outcome. He slid open his desk drawer and pulled out my dismissal papers – papers that were already drawn up. He had his white whale harpooned and on the deck. I had some choice words for both of them on my way out. Ultimately, my dismissal had little or nothing to do with the accusations of poem thievery levied against me, and everything to do with my inability to keep my big mouth shut.

I left school and headed to New Deal Market. At the time, family friend Manuel Sequiera was the manager, and I attempted to talk him into selling me a six-pack. Instead he offered me a job. I think he sensed the hell that awaited me when my dad heard of what happened and figured it would soften the blow. It was an hour later that I ran into dad at home in the kitchen. “You’re home early?” he questioned. “Well I have good news and bad news. Which first?” Good News: “I got a full-time job at New Deal, I start on Monday” Bad News: “I just got kicked out of school.” He didn’t say much. “You chose the wrong parent to go down there” was mentioned a few times, but in truth, I had done it all to myself.

• • •

Lean to pick & chose your battles

 I realize I’ve just written a column geared to give a warning to a group of kids that probably don’t know that newspapers still exist. But if I can impart any words of wisdom, they’d be: Always respect your teachers, no matter how much you dislike or disagree with them. They are there to help, not to hinder. Learn to pick and choose your battles. There’s nothing worse than a snap decision having a long-term effect. And most importantly, you’ll never know it all, and believe me as you age, sometimes not knowing works just fine.

My pearl of wisdom to all the teachers out there, including mom (did I leave that part out of the column?), is to cut a kid a break every once in a while. Too often in the process of teaching life lessons, we forget that some of these lessons are compassion and forgiveness – not just an iron fist. And lastly, be careful of what student’s buttons you decide to push because someday in the not-so-distant future, they may be writing a column for your hometown newspaper. Plagiarism is as nasty a word to a high school senior as it is to someone attempting to make a living as a comic/columnist.

 And finally a sincere apology to Mrs. Bo Peep, Mr. Spock, and my mother. As a high school senior, I hadn’t earned the right to speak to any of you nor anyone the way I did. SORRY. My email is cateicheira@hotmail.com. I’ll be waiting for mine.

And for the record, this column was written completely by Chris Teicheira. Any parts you think “You’ve heard before,” are purely coincidental.

And remember seniors, “It’s not Where ya do, it’s What ya do.”

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