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Truant Seniors in State of Animated Suspension

Scranton High School seniors Joey Daniel, left, and Colin Saltry, show their excuses that Sen. Barack Obama wrote after they skipped class Monday to see him.
Scranton High School seniors Joey Daniel, left, and Colin Saltry, show their excuses that Sen. Barack Obama wrote after they skipped class Monday to see him. (By Butch Comegys -- The Scranton Times-tribune)

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By Kevin Merida
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 24, 2008

SCRANTON, Pa. -- Campaign offices were dismantled, volunteers and staff fled to other primary states, and the candidates, of course, were long gone. But some messes stayed behind.

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On Wednesday, at Scranton High School, there was the business of what to do about seniors Colin Saltry and Joey Daniel, who skipped a couple of classes to see Barack Obama eat waffles at the Glider Diner Monday morning and were promptly suspended upon their return. This spontaneous act of truancy turned them into minor media celebs and Topic B at Irish bars and ballfields across this city. The fact that they are student leaders -- Saltry is class president, Daniel is VP -- made the infraction even more buzzworthy.

Our story begins at gym class, first period Monday morning. Saltry and Daniel were walking the outdoor track and noticed a motorcade pull up at the diner across the street. Good bet: a presidential candidate visiting the day before the Keystone State primary. They went to investigate, their first no-no. Here's the official one-sentence rule on truancy, from the school Web site: "Students are not allowed to leave school property at any time during the school day."

But upon discovering Obama was at Glider's, the boys talked their way in through the media entrance and soon were in actual conversation with the Illinois senator. Daniel told Obama he was planning to study philosophy next year at the University of Scranton, even though he considered it a useless major. Obama was encouraging. "Well, a life unexamined is one not worth living," Daniel remembers Obama telling him. Daniel became so comfortable chatting with the candidate, he decided to go first-name with his new dawg. "Barack, I'm pretty sure I'll be suspended for being here, so I'll probably campaign for you all day [Tuesday]."

Amused, Obama wrote each of the 18-year-olds a signed note: "Excuse Joey!" and "Excuse Colin!"

At 1 p.m., the boys were called down to the principal's office. According to Daniel, Principal Bryan McGraw looked at the notes and just hung his head in frustration. He slapped the pair with one-day suspensions. Daniel said the principal later told his mother that Obama "has no authority in the Scranton School District." McGraw could not be reached for comment. A woman at the high school referred questions to the superintendent's office, and calls there were unreturned.

By primary day, the class officers were at a suburban polling location working the vote for their man, Obama stickers covering the insignias of their Ralph Lauren Polo shirts. In between talking to voters and campaign volunteers, they did a live interview with MSNBC, Daniel having contacted his cousin, a producer for the network. "It's not what you know," said Saltry, "it's who you know."

Did they regret bolting school without permission?

"We are sorry," Saltry said.

"There could have been better courses of action," Daniel added. "But would I do it again? In a heartbeat."

Daniel seemed to be the live-free-or-die guy in the tandem, a tad wilder, perhaps, than Saltry. Daniel certainly had the racier look: pink shorts and sandals, moppy black rock-star hair. Saltry was wearing a white shirt and blue-and-white striped tie. Clean-cut, rosy-cheeked with glasses -- but with Rick James's "Super Freak" on his voicemail, it should be noted. As a pair, they were so in sync as they went through their tale, their timing so perfect finishing each other's thoughts, that someone asked if they were related.

"We're not related," Saltry said, "but we're going to be politically burned together." In fact, Saltry added, he expected the worst. "I'm in the process of being impeached as class president," he predicted. "I'll know Wednesday if I'm still president."

Other than gym, Daniel had missed an art class, Saltry had skipped English and therefore had missed a test -- a test, in part, on "The Stranger," a novel by the late French-Algerian philosopher Albert Camus. This brought a few groans from the assembled local pols and campaign volunteers, including a New York high school teacher. But Saltry was quick with the comeback. He had met Barack Obama, and Camus was no Barack Obama.

"We're all about the future and not the past," Saltry deadpanned. "Existentialism is dead."

Back in school Wednesday, the pair reported different experiences. Teachers were supportive and understanding, said Daniel, and some students even proposed a moneymaking T-shirt campaign. The boys' faces would be on the front, along with a photo of their Obama notes and the word, "Truants." How cool. As for Saltry, he met with the principal -- "a pleasant conversation" -- and was feeling more and more remorse.

"He was just doing his job," Saltry said of McGraw. "I'd hate to see him painted as a tyrant." After all, Saltry had signed an agreement as class president not to bring shame on Scranton High. Under the agreement, he said, a suspension is grounds for removal from office.

"I wouldn't be surprised if I was removed," said Saltry, who added that he, his parents and McGraw were scheduled to meet on Thursday to discuss the matter further. "I don't know why I should receive special treatment -- regardless if I'm the class president or the class clown."


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