Back in the 1980’s the high school where I worked touted the finest fine arts facility in west Texas. As the Director of Fine Arts, I felt an obligation to make sure the facility was used not only for school activities but for community enrichment as well. In order for that to occur, we trained a crew of high school students that was charged with “making the magic happen.” We called them the “Blackshirts” because they dressed in black and worked mostly out of sight behind the scenes.
The young men and women who wore the black shirts took a lot of pride in their work. They built sets, designed and created costumes, ran very sophisticated high tech light and sound systems and hosted groups as disparate as symphony orchestras and ballet companies, and Mexican Indian folk groups and Mariachi bands. Because of our state-of-the-art facilities we also hosted UIL band, choir, art and one-act play contests. One year we hosted three separate high school one-act play contests which were all adjudicated by a judge from Bee County College in south Texas.
Our fine arts programs attracted many “at-risk” youth. If they did not particularly enjoy singing, dancing or acting, they were drawn to work behind the curtains doing the myriad of things that needed to be tended to. They were given adult responsibilities and for the most part they rose to the challenges that that offered. One student in particular excelled in running the complex light and sound boards in the booth at the rear of the 1,234-seat theatre. He was charged with training and overseeing each of the student tech crews that came to support their schools’ one-act plays.
The judge from Bee County College watched the young man perform his duties with soberness and skill. When the week of events finally ended and all the accolades had been awarded to the top plays and performers, the judge approached the young technician and offered him a full scholarship, all expenses paid including housing, books and tuition, if he would enroll in her theatre program. She even promised him a paying job. There was only one minor problem—he didn’t qualify for college.
You see, this fellow was one of those at-risk kids who was old enough to be a senior in high school but because of the bad choices he had made along the way, he had the academic credits usually accumulated by a sophomore—maybe. Up to that point, school had not seemed very important to him. With great sorrow he approached his mentors, Technical Director Don Rominsky, and Theatre Teacher Troy Herbort, and told them about the offer that he had no choice but to turn down.
“Perhaps not,” said his mentors. “We can’t tell you to drop out of high school, but if you were to drop out, you could prepare for and take the GED exam which, if you passed it, would allow you to enroll in college. Otherwise you will be in high school a couple of years after all your classmates have graduated and the offer might not still be there.” How ironic was that? In order to go to college he might have to drop out of high school.
After consulting with counselors, teachers, his parents and others, the young man dropped out of school and immediately began studying those areas of the curriculum in which he was lacking in order to attempt to pass the exams. For the first time in his life learning had meaning. Well, to make the story short, he earned the GED credits that he needed—sometimes having to re-test more than once—and he was accepted the following school year at Bee County College. The last I heard of him, he was gainfully employed in a medical facility as a registered nurse.
I remember the day that young man walked into my office after getting his test results. With a great deal of pride, he announced to me almost incredulously, “Mister, It looks like I’m going to college!” Nobody else in his family had ever done that. We both got a little choked up.
This student was fortunate indeed to have people around him who cared—who cared in spite of his checkered past. They were willing to give him an even break. How many times have each of us been “rescued” by someone who cared? He was also blessed to find something that he could enjoy doing and about which he could be passionate.
Richard L. Evans said, “Don’t let life discourage you: Everyone who got where he is had to begin where he was.” “We are not endeavoring to get ahead of others,” said Hugh B. Brown, “but to surpass ourselves.” “Decide what you want to be,” said John A. Widstoe. “Pay the price and be what you want to be.”