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May 23

The commencement speech I can’t remember. From my archives first published in The Examiner, an eastern Jackson County Missouri daily.

graduation girlIt is graduation time, and therefore, inspirational speeches about how to live one’s life are profluent. I am feeling nostalgic about mine.

From Dr. Seuss to Steve Jobs, there is plenty of advice to be absorbed at commencements.

Great speeches, great quotes, great words by which to guide a young graduate’s life.

But do we pay attention to the speaker? I wish I had.

I am certain that our commencement address was inspirational, if not prophetic, but I didn’t hear a word.

I would settle for recalling the title of our commencement address back in 1965, but alas, I cannot remember much about that evening.

Well yes, there is one thing–my shoe. You see, I was consumed with looking for my suddenly missing brand new, white high heel pump, not with listening to the speaker.

Here’s what happened.

The new shoe rubbed my foot so badly that I slipped it off during the speaker’s address. Voila! Just like that it disappeared and stayed gone throughout the senior class president’s speech, the announcement of our class flower and colors and through special numbers by the junior class girls vocal group and our award-winning high school trumpet trio.

I panicked but continued to smile and to keep a brave face on despite my outright terror at the idea of walking across the stage with only one high heel shoe and having to hobble lopsided.

I whispered, begging to my neighbors on stage, “Please, find my left high heel pump. Hurry.”

It was going to be my turn soon to walk across the stage and shake hands with our superintendent who would not think it funny at all that I had only one shoe.

Additionally, there would be my mother to contend with later, and I didn’t even want to entertain that thought.

What should I do, I worried? Kick off the other shoe and walk barefoot across the stage? It was 1965 and we didn’t do such things then. That didn’t start happening until the 90s, did it?

I pleaded with my friends in the back row, but they thought the whole thing hilarious and believed that I probably had it coming anyway.

The sneaky complicit ones in the back row watched this spectacle play out delighting in the fact that the shoe bandit was slick. No one in the audience saw the heist, or so they later said. The senior girls remained mum, while some senior boys, Robert, Steve, Harvey and Stephen in particular, pretended they knew the identity of the culprit.

One of them told me it was Hugh.

Hugh shook his head no, but he did produce the shoe and pass it down the aisle just in time for me to walk across the stage to receive my diploma. I laughed, my friends laughed, and everyone thought it was great fun.

The shoe caper was history, I thought.

Epilogue: Last year I attended my 45th high school class reunion. Sitting across the banquet table from me was a classmate I hadn’t seen in years. He said hello and grinned, chuckling to himself, “You don’t recognize me, do you? I’m Hugh.”

“Hugh,” I asked, “Hugh of the graduation shoe caper that almost got me in big trouble?”

“What do you mean,” he said. “I didn’t take your shoe. I’m the one who got it back for you in the nick of time. I saved the day.”

“Steve told me you took it,” I said incredulously.

“Do you mean that for 45 years you blamed me for taking your shoe when it was probably Steve along,” Hugh laughed.

“By the way,” he continued, “Do you happen to remember the name of our commencement speaker and what he said? I can’t remember a thing. I was too busy trying to rescue your shoe.”