Monday, November 23, 2009

Mr. Maney

Mr. Joseph Maney was principal of my New Jersey high school; that was many years ago.

He was an average man; in size, in looks and in dress. But whenever he made one of his rare excursions outside of his office, walking through the halls of the school, dressed in his nondescript suit, with white shirt and tie, the halls were always quiet.

As he passes by us students, no one would ever look at him, and he in return would never directly look at any student. But we all knew he was paying attention to us; and we in turn paid attention to him.

In four years of school attendance, I never heard him confront or berate a student. He never had to. He engendered automatic respect where ever he went.

We were an inner city school; populated by mostly first and second generation sons and daughters of immigrants; "upper poor," as I've sometimes called us. But in spite of what one might expect in students in such schools, trouble was minimal, and the rules of dress codes and behavior was always adhered to; or the student was sent home if he or she broke the rules; to parents who invariably sided with teachers.

If a parent was called in for a school conference, the first thing said to you was: "What did you do?" And if you started to blame the teacher, such as: "Well, the teacher did..." you were cut off with "You must have given them a reason. What did you do?"

In four years, I never heard Mr. Maney talk, except at assemblies. And I don't remember the sound of his voice, even at these occasions.

I do remember the sound of his voice, however, at the two occasions he spoke to me directly, personally and quietly. Both times spoke softly. His accent was simple American. One time was at graduation, and the other time I shall never forget.

I had been called into the office for a personal visit with Mr. Maney. I was a senior, yet I had never been in his office before. It was the Spring of the year, a few months before graduation. As his secretary guided me into his office, I was more curious than worried. After all, I had been an exemplary student, and was never in trouble.

The secretary gestured me to sit, and then she left. My Maney was seated his desk, and I sat in the chair opposite. Finishing off a piece of paperwork, he smiled. nodded, said: "Hello, Clifford." "Hello, Mr. Maney." He smiled at me more broadly, then: A frown creased his forehead. He said: "I've got a problem here that I thought you could help me with. I've just been totalling up the grade point averages for Valedictorian and Salutatorian, and you just miss the mark. Your 96.5 is third behind Carol and Albert." "Yes, I know," I said. "I received the note from your office." "Well, Mr. Maney continued, "Today, in reviewing my work, I noticed that you took both Chemistry and Physics in one semester when only one course was required. You got a "B" in Physics--one of the few "B's" you got in the four years. And according to the rules, since Physics could be considered an additional elective, you don't have to include the Physics grade in your grade point average . And, if you choose to drop Physics from your Grade point average, you would pass Albert in overall average and become Salutatorian. You see my dilemma," he said: He stopped for along moment...then said: "What do you think?"

An even longer pause ensued. I've always been competitive in my life. I've always like winning. I played football and basketball in high school, ran for President of several school clubs and I was Editor of the Senior Yearbook.

Moreover, I've always like public speaking. And the Salutatorian gave a graduation address. Whereas the rest of the graduation group sat onstage behind them, listening.

Mr. Maney stared at me. I stared back. Then: "Mr. Maney," I said. "I didn't take Physics for the grade. I got a "B". That's my fault. I stand with the average I got: 96.5." Mr. Maney nodded. He didn't try to change my mind, or even give me a second chance to reconsider. I was surprised. But not troubled. I had made up mind. (And to this day I always wondered why I made that decision--but I've never regretted it.)

I got up and started out. "Clifford," Mr. Maney said. "All your college applications in?" "Yes," I said. "Well, I haven't completed my references and recommendations yet. I guess I should get cracking." He nodded. I left.

On graduation day, one hundred and thirty of us (at least that's my recollection) were gathered onstage. All the boys were dressed in rented tuxedos, and the girls in graduation dresses. Our proud parents were gathered before is, seated in the auditorium, dressed to the nines, beaming, applauding, often chatting away with each other, many of them with Italian and Greek and Irish and German accents of the countries they had left to some to America.

I gave a speech. I had been informed me a few weeks before by the high school speech teacher, Mr. Morganti, that Mr. Maney had decided I should give a speech apart from the Valedictorian's and Salutatorian's. I could write about anything I wanted. I entitled the speech: "Gone, but Not Forgotten." It was about Abraham Lincoln.

After the speech, as the formal graduation proceedings continued, I spoke to Mr. Maney for the second and final time in my life. When he shook my hand giving me my diploma, he said nothing, but later, when he gave me a few graduation award: "Most Likely to Succeed," he spoke. His obligatory handshake was strong, He locked eyes with me and said: "Deserved, Clifford. Deserved."

In the next few weeks and months I was admitted into every school I applied to. I received scholarships to all of them: Rutgers, Lehigh, Stanford, Cornell and Dartmouth.

I've always wondered what Mr. Maney wrote about me in those recommendations. I'd like to think they are still around, buried somewhere, browning with age, in the archives of the various schools. But I'm afraid to research. The truth is: I'd rather imagine than know.

Mr. Manet is also long gone now. He is buried somewhere in New Jersey, and in my heart and mind.


Blogger Ziyah said...

I love Mr. Maney. I love his integrity, as much as he must have loved yours. I'm pretty sure that's what hit him most of all, when you DIDN'T waver in your decision.

My favorite principle was in grade school, Mr. Peruzi. In my many trips to the office, no matter what he would listen to my side before making a decision. Then usually kept me a while (to save face) by playing tick tack toe. We played a LOT of tick-tack-toe.

6:34 AM  

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