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Me and My Uncle Sam, June 18, 1987. Source: Donald Earl Collins

Twenty-three years on, as the British would say. To think that it’s been that long since the Class of ’87’s graduation from Mount Vernon High School. Wow. I’ve talked about various aspects of the last days of my time at MVHS, in Humanities and in Mount Vernon already. This one’s only about the actual ceremony.

My high school graduation ceremony at Memorial Field in South Side Mount Vernon went well enough, except it didn’t. It was a hot, hot mid-June day, about eighty-seven triple-H degrees. It was likely hotter for the guys, as many parents — my mother included — made us wear suits underneath our heat-absorbing burgundy polyester gowns. The girls, at least, wore yellow, the other school color for caps and gowns. It was a good day all right. Except that an eighty-eight year-old White guy stole the show. George Gibson graduated with our class, having fulfilled his requirements for a high school diploma some seven decades later than the kids from his generation. At least the few who made it to high school back then, as most kids in early twentieth-century never made it past middle school.

My father Jimme showed up to the ceremony drunk as a skunk. My mother and my Uncle Sam, whom I hadn’t seen in almost three years, had to keep him from insulting the other parents. In retrospect, in might’ve been good to take him Capozzola, Prattella and Estelle Abel’s way. Valedictorian and salutatorian got the opportunity to represent our class on stage, each giving overworked  and unimpressive speeches. That wasn’t bad, for they had stolen the show the week before at MVHS’ Honors Convocation. That was the good thing about the old White guy. Local TV news covered Gibson instead of the Class of ’87’s top two students, which I laughed about when I watched the 11 o’clock news later that evening.

The picture with me and my Uncle Sam was the first non-school related picture I had taken in something like eight or nine years. Who knew that it’d be the last picture taken of me in Mount Vernon for the next two decades? If I’d known that twenty-three years ago, I would’ve bought a camera that spring, at least before graduation.

After throwing our burgundy and yellow caps in the air, we went over to our now former classmates — who were now friends, lovers, acquaintances, and in some cases, foes — to say good-bye, to embrace and hug, to cry and scream and dance and twirl around in the air with. Afterward, I walked home, minus family and friends, trying to make sense of the moment. Not fully realizing that the moment we threw our caps in the air, Mount Vernon was no long my home, and I was no longer welcome.