Mom, Brigid, and Katie are visiting my cousin’s graduation and award presentation while I pick up Kevin from his morning exams. Between you and me, I despise award ceremonies: too much pomp and circumstance for my taste. Beyond elementary school and kindergarten celebrations (most of my siblings and their friends loved showing off for their parents), what use do they serve? For although the awards themselves laud the achievements and successes of the individual, the ceremony itself too often mires in extravagant spectacle, ambiguous speeches, and donation requests.
“The teachers and staff at St. Anastasia’s would like to congratulate the graduating class for this awesome achievement, and hope that you will remember us as the turning point for your academic and financial careers” Translation: give us money when you succeed in getting some yourself.
Moreover, remaining conscious for the length of the ceremony is often meritorious. Have you ever watched your Dad at a high school or college graduation? My dad consults the program as often as he checks his watch. During Patrick’s college graduation, I found him fast asleep just before the key note speaker approached the podium – disgraceful I know; I thankfully thought ahead and brought my iPod. As a rule the recipient of the honor does not speak and those that do cannot stop. It’s like sitting through a three-hour funeral for someone you have never met.
One such occasion back in high school has forever traumatized me to the dangers of award ceremonies. Those subject-specific awards distributed at each semester to some may be more important than you think.
One morning I had just opened my notebook, savoring those few sweet minutes before the teacher arrived to glance at my chemistry notes. Mrs. Bunce had warned the class the day before of a possible pop quiz on suborbitals and electron configurations, a threat which neither apocalypse nor flood could hope to hinder; Bunce, a strict Indian researcher at one time, employed old school teaching methods to ‘encourage’ her students: often mocking and berating us ‘lazy lumps’ for our poor marks before the entire class. Not wishing another denouement on my poor handwriting and ‘long-winded’ answers (Rule of Thumb: if you’re uncertain, write a volume or two and hope for partial credit) I glanced at a few homework problems when the yell pierced the room.
Near the front of the classroom, the captain of the ‘It’s Academic’ team had punched the chalkboard and appeared to be strangling something in his right hand, now redden and quaking. After several seconds, he opened his clenched fist; whatever effect he had hoped for was not to his liking. A few whispered curses escaped as he stomped from the classroom, dropping a fractured piece of chalk in his wake.
“Watson . . . ?” one of the boys behind me whispered. Amusement played on his voice. “What the hell was that?”
“Don’t know,” Watson replied shaking his head. “Alan asked Floyd about the Spanish award this year and he flipped out. Face blew up; thought he might go ape shit on Alan. Guess he decided against it and punched the chalkboard instead. Tried to palm-crush the chalk into powder, I guess.”
“Impressive,” the other smiled nodding at the fractured chalk left on the floor. “Remember last year when he tried to shoot fireballs out his hand?”
“Ten minutes of uncomfortable grunting and groaning,” Watson shuddered. “Still rumor is old Floyd didn’t get the award this year and . . .” Watson motioned toward the front of the room.
“. . . guess he’s ready to beat down whoever did.”
The blood drained from my face at this point. Mrs. Carter had just announced the winner not less than an hour ago in Spanish class. Among the other language teachers, it was her year to choose and of all her classes, I currently possessed the highest GPA. Now because of the stupid award, the captain of the “It’s Academic” team had chosen to hunt me down like the old man in “Most Dangerous Game.” Perhaps go release his accumulated rage on my fingers after school. Gauging his strength from the undamaged chalk piece, I wasn’t sure whether to cry or laugh.
The following Monday I met Floyd outside Latin class right after the awards ceremony. Somehow my class had awarded me both Spanish and History awards for that semester and I wondered if this new recognition would only accelerate Floyd’s wrath and my ‘beatdown’ (I later learned that the history awards are chosen at random from names tossed in a hat). Thus I was rather surprised when he held out his hand and congratulated me on my achievement (or luck of the draw as it seems).
“You’re not mad . . ?” I asked staring at his outstretched hand like a trout at a worm-baited hook.
“Wha . . ? Oh, yeah, I don’t really care if got the recognition, man. Mrs. Vance told me that I wasn’t going to get the award this year, which I took to mean Alan was going to grab it, the prick. Dude doesn’t know a casa from a casserole.”
I joined the “It’s Academic” team within a month of the incident. Colleges relished applicants with wide and sundry interests, and the club shared my appreciation for the bizarre (and often worthless) niceties of history and science. One day during practice (several hours of buzzers and Jeopardy-style questions and answers) the topic of conjured fireballs interrupted our Wednesday trivia match.
“Yeah,” Floyd agreed crossing his arms. “It’s possible to control almost any element, if you know how. Theoretically at least . . . though it’s easier to channel it through a medium or artifact. Lately I’ve been practicing with swords privately, trying to harness my chi to give the edge more power.”
“Wow.” I was afraid to handle anything sharper than a butter knife.
“. . . if I can draw my chi into the sword, the blade’s cutting power will increase by a factor of ten or twenty, at least.”
“Is that, well . . . necessary?”
“Of course, you have to be ready for anything,” he insisted. “If you’re foolish enough to allow a thief or a vampire into your home, the power to cleave is critical to destroying your enemies and severing their heads. Plus, it’s the only way to kill the undead.”
“Or a silver blade, right?” Again Joss Whedon and his beautiful vampire slayer were foremost in my mind these days. By season three, I spent my AP history classes conjuring stratagems against the next werewolf attack and mind crab infestation — essential testimonials totally ignored by most academic DBQ’s.
“Right! At least until I can learn to master my haidouken. Hey you should really take a look at this show from Japan. I’ve collected the entire series on VHS . . .”
Thus, Floyd became a close friend and I was introduced to Dragonball Z, a gateway drug of sorts into the world of Japanese anime. Of course, the blame — if that is the right word — must rest fully on my shoulders, but it is rather curious to know the origin of your most treasured obsessions. From thence began my long lonely journey into geekdom; a year later I began collecting comic books again (Batman mostly), reading speculative fiction, and buying my first JRPG. Eight years later I spend my Saturday nights alone, splicing together my first digital dragon in Photoshop.
I told you award ceremonies were dangerous.