September 29, 2013
Sunday, 8:00 p.m.
Letter #297: Certifiably Delicious
After the disappointment of our business class graduation party being postponed last week, I prepared myself for another possible delay while making sure I did everything possible to prepare for the graduation. I reissued passes, reminded staff to order pizza, rescheduled with our volunteer and staff representatives, and made time to get the certificates done.
Gratefully, Mr. Keller (formerly the chaplain, now teaches a computer class) let me use a computer terminal in his classroom for a morning so I could design and print the certificates, since the Law Library computers I normally use for class curriculum and my letters don’t have Microsoft Office installed. He also let me use his certificate paper, due to my unit manager forgetting to order some for me.
Besides certificates for each graduate—57 in all—I printed two additional copies of each one so that the guys could send one home, keep one, and have the other copy placed in their central file. (I know, thoughtful, right?)
Thursday night was the scheduled time for the ceremony, and Mr. Keller suggested I use the chapel that evening, rather than my unit’s multi-purpose room as planned. Awesome! This made for less hassles over the sound equipment which is kept in the chapel. Now to make certain we’d have the “party” element: pizza.
With no pizza on our regular menu and the only opportunity to have pizza is if the prison offers a food sale every three to six months, pizza here is like eating at a fine restaurant for a special occasion. It has a universal appeal combined with a feeling of wonderment and awe in its presence. It truly is the Mother Theresa of foods: pizza can do no wrong, and it accepts you as you are. I just HAD to get pizza.
I had my case manager remind the case manager who is our staff sponsor, Mr. Blake, to get the pizza. When we told him about it, he seemed to not know about it, asking a ton of questions and resisting the idea—until he found out that I teach the classes. “Oh!” he said, nodding his head. “When do you need the pizza?” I thank God that He has allowed me to have favor with staff!
The graduation went better than I’d hoped. All the guys came and sat in the rows of chairs I’d set up to lend a more formal air to the event. Ms. Carr, the school principal, opened with some words of inspiration and commendation for the graduates, and Sister Peggy, the choir, and I performed five songs throughout the evening. I was most looking forward to a beautiful arrangement of “How Great Thou Art/Majesty,” a song that wouldn’t have been appropriate for the GED graduation. But this was my event!
When we finished the song, the guys gave us a standing ovation with many of them yelling out, “More! More!” We really have a great group of men here, and they were genuinely appreciative of the work the choir had put in to be able to accomplish such aggressively difficult songs.
I presented the certificates to the graduates (see sample featured below) while Principal Carr and Sister Peggy shook their hands and congratulated each one. Each guy said a few words—some literally, a few—about how the classes benefitted their lives. Some told me afterward that they were close to tears, others said they felt so honored and hadn’t expected the graduation to be so nice.
This was just the confirmation I needed to hear that my goals had been met. Every man needs to feel as if his work meant something and that his life has worth. And every man loves it when he gets half a pizza to himself.