Dispatch from the suspension list

School offenses became a winning pass

Monday, October 26, 2009

Sometimes the remedy for procrastination is a good kick in the seat of the pants.

Not many people can claim they got into college because they were kicked out of high school. I can, but obviously it's not an accomplishment I trumpet on my résumé.

Before I graduated from a public high school in St. Louis, I'd been "indefinitely suspended" four times. On average, once every school year. I wasn't a boneheaded cutup; there was no egregious misconduct -- except, perhaps, the offense that triggered the suspension that propelled me into college. More on that "crime" later.

Here's my rap sheet:

I was kicked out twice for "fighting," though it felt more like getting picked on and beat up.

I was kicked out once for improperly dissecting a frog -- an expulsion more spectacular than many professional fights. Returning to class after one suspension, my lab partner explained the assignment I'd missed: "Clean" and "mount" our formaldehyde-drenched frog. So I quickly began cleaning the frog, stripping its organs and flesh with my scalpel.

Passing our workbench, the biology teacher exploded. "What are you doing, Harris?" he shrieked. "Did you find the gluteus? The latissimus dorsi? The longissimus dorsi?"

No, but I knew they were lower and upper back muscles.

"You mutilated that frog!" he screamed. "Get out!" A few minutes later, a burly security guard frog-marched me to the principal, who suspended me on a technicality: loitering in the hall during class without a pass.

The fourth -- and final -- time, I was kicked out for procrastination. That's the offense that drew the suspension that got me into college. It's easy to see how.

Early one morning my senior year, the class guidance counselor summoned me to her office.

"Two weeks ago," she said, "I asked you to fill out applications to three different colleges. Did you do it?"

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company