A Minor Mutiny

Forty-five years ago tomorrow, I walked across a barely raised stage in St. Cloud State’s Halenbeck Hall, wearing a purple gown and mortarboard with braided black and orange honor cords draped around my neck, and graduated from St. Cloud Technical High School with the rest of the Class of 1971.

There were about 450 of us finishing up our high school years that evening; on another evening that week – I forget if it were earlier or later – the 450 or so members of the first graduating class of St. Cloud Apollo High School would make the same walk.

I don’t think I saw high school graduation as a major event; it was another step along an educational path that would continue in about three months when I started my freshman year at St. Cloud State. But I imagine that for, oh, maybe a third to a half of my classmates, graduation from Tech High was where education stopped, and their entry to the world of work began the next morning or perhaps the following Monday.

Well, in a sense, so did my entry to that world, too, as it was the following Monday when I reported to the Maintenance Building at St. Cloud State to begin what became a summer of lawn mowing and janitorial work (especially scrubbing floors). But that was a temporary gig, and I know that for some of my classmates, full-time permanent work began shortly after graduation. So for them, the graduation ceremony might have felt like a rite of passage; for me, it was just one more thing to get through.

There’s only one thing I really remember about the ceremony. The Concert Choir performed, with we gowned seniors making our ways from the long ranks of chairs to join the juniors – who would be seniors in less than ninety or so minutes – on the risers near the stage. There, we completed a minor mutiny in which we thwarted the plans of our director. The gentle rebellion began a few days earlier after the spring choir concert, during which the sophomore choir – it had a more formal name that I’ve long forgotten – sang “A Wonderful Day Like Today” from the 1965 Broadway musical The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley.

We in the Concert Choir loved the tune when we heard the sophomores sing it. When we met for rehearsal the next day, about five days before graduation (I think), many of balked at practicing the piece that our director, Mr. Ames, had selected for us to perform at the ceremony. It was stodgy and serious, and we wanted to sing instead “A Wonderful Day Like Today.” I think our wishes surprised him, but he wasn’t at all resistant. All he wanted to know was if we’d work hard to learn the Broadway tune well enough to sing it for graduation.

We did work hard, work that wasn’t at all a burden because we loved the song and wanted to perform it well, which we did. And looking back this morning, maybe there was an object lesson in there for us as we headed to the world of work, either in the next few days or after more years of education: If you love what you’re doing, it doesn’t always seem like work.

Here’s the song as performed by Sammy Davis, Jr., on his 1965 album Sammy’s Back On Broadway.

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