I was called to the principal’s office four times during high school.
Each time it had a profound and lasting impact on my life.
The first time it was for distributing an “underground” newspaper as a freshman. The second time was for a school newspaper editorial about the need to stop constantly asking the community for money. The third time was to inform me I’d be kicked out of school if I didn’t cease being the campaign manager for student body president who was running as a write-in candidate for the Western Placer Unified School District board. The last time was about my participation in graduation.
The summer before high school Randy Summers — my best friend at the time — and I went bicycling at dawn through Lincoln and the surrounding countryside collecting aluminum cans and discarded bottles. By summer’s end we had collected $1,200 worth of recyclables. I used my half to buy an electric typewriter, stencil cutter, a mimeograph machine, and a case of 8.5 by 14 inch paper.
I had seen the high school paper and I wasn’t impressed. All it had was cars of the week and dating gossip. There was nothing about what student government was doing or not doing.
Mr. Elkus had a stack of my newspapers on his desk when I walked in. His punishment — he took me out of freshman typing and put me in the journalism class that was supposed to be restricted to juniors and seniors.
By my sophomore year not only was I the editor of the school newspaper but I had been hired as the sports editor and photographer for the weekly Lincoln News Messenger that within months had me covering city council meetings as well. My sophomore year I also started as a sports stringer for the daily Roseville Press-Tribune where by my junior year had hired me to cover Rocklin city council and planning commission meetings.
By the start of my junior year, I was back in the principal’s office. This time the principal was Mr. Gilmore and the complaint was I had reduced the student body president to tears who also happened to be the band president. She was offended not just by an editorial suggesting that school clubs should lay off constantly having their hand out in the community for every little desire but also by an accompanying editorial cartoon by Steve Montgomery. It was classic. There were three Lincoln High students — including one in a band uniform — each with a supersized hand reaching out with the caption “Give me, give me, give me.”
Janie, the student body president, saw it as a personal attack. I was asked to apologize. I refused to do so. Nothing happened but who knows. There may be a notation in my permanent record that I don’t play well with others.
The third time was at the end of my junior year. Eighteen-year-olds had just gotten the right to vote. The new student body president Ken Mikaelsen was running for school board. He was a junior and had turned 18 after the filing deadline for the ballot but before the deadline to be a write-in. He asked me to be his campaign manager. I agreed on one condition. He had to run on real issues. So we put together a flyer questioning the validity of math in a proposed school bond and pointed out how the district had two typing classes address and mail pamphlets to voters in clear violation of state law prohibiting the use of school resources in an election.
Mr. Gilmore was still the principal but with him was District Superintendent Orrin Hoffman. Basically Ken was told he would not be playing football and that he’d be stripped of the student body presidency if he continued to run for the school board. The superintendent told me I was just a troublemaker. Ken didn’t back down. He still ran and got 76 votes. He still played football and he wasn’t kicked out as student body president. As for me two years later I was one of the five trustees that served as Mr. Hoffman’s collective boss. I ran for the school board at age 19 and got 886 votes as opposed to 474 for the four-term incumbent.
My fourth and final trip to the principal’s office was in May of my senior year.
A fellow classmate — Maria Ordorica — was going to be the first in her family to graduate from high school but they couldn’t afford the cap and gown. At a class meeting I was able to convince classmates to have the senior class cover the tab from the class treasury. Word got back to us that Mr. Gilmore vetoed the plan. My response was to tell the senior class advisor Mrs. Garrett — and my neighbor across the alley — I would not be participating in the graduation ceremonies if Maria couldn’t be there as well. I had been selected as the outstanding senior boy that is one of the honors Lincoln High at the time made a big fuss about at graduation ceremonies.
I was in the office to be told Mr. Gilmore had changed his mind and that the class would be allowed to purchase the cap and gown. He said there was no reason I shouldn’t be at the ceremonies.
My response: Thanks but it was about principle and not blackmail. The bottom line is I did not attend my high school graduation by choice.
It is safe to say the best education I got in principles during high school was from principals.