Friday, March 5, 2010

The Life and Times of Cardinal Gibbons High School

Poop is hilarious. Like most teenage boys, and yes I am comfortable referring to a fifteen or sixteen year old person as a boy, I found crap or anything feces related absolutely hilarious. Blame it on genetics, maturity, gender or whatever you want, but it’s true. I do have a point to this...

February 11, 2000 was just another day in my second semester of my second year at Cardinal Gibbons High School. I was not a particularly good student but I usually held my own (i.e. I usually passed my classes with 3-5 points to spare). A lack of a solid work ethic and maturity placed me right in the middle of the dozen or so honors students I sat with in Mr. Jauquet's religion class. Roughly thirty minutes into Mr. J’s Religion class is when the following announcement was made: “Faculty and Students... All students, faculty and staff are to remain in their current classroom or area until further notice”.

The brief announcement was quickly made and wrapped by our principal Mr. Gary Meyerl. Whispers and talk of what could possibly be happening was interrupted by Mr. Jauquet who insisted that he should keep teaching. Like the other students, I could hardly pay attention to the now extended curriculum that day. Our middle age religion teacher carried on like a man on a mission teaching the gospel of Mark as the group of fifteen year old sophomores theorized what was going on in the halls around them.

Who knows if anyone else thought it but my first thoughts were of Columbine. The Columbine massacre had only happened ten months prior and left everyone saddened if not on edge. However, it did not take long for me to put that thought out of my neurotic teenage head. Gibbons had its problems but nothing that extreme. Not to mention, with a student population less than three hundred, there is no way shootings or any other wide spread violence could have happened without us finding out by now.

Jauquet eventually gave up teaching that day. Students talked openly about the possibilities of what had been referred to by some as a “hostage situation”. Broken pipes, medical emergencies, or even a surprise Field Day/Pizza party all came up as strong contenders. To a teenage boy being isolated in a small classroom for an hour and forty-five minutes was worse than being stranded on a deserted island (Watch ABC’s Lost for further parallels and comparisons).

The worst part for me was not being able to go to the bathroom. I was the kid that went to the restroom during every class. To this day I have a problem being in groups that have more than six people. A mild case of social anxiety and an even more extreme fear of being called on by a teacher or superior to speak has always made my throat dry up and caused my brain to go blank. On better days, I would leave class simply to break up the monotony known as "high school". Unfortunately on this day I genuinely had to go to the bathroom. With the school in death-con five/lockdown mode, this was not going to happen.

Roughly two hours and one sore bladder into the said “lock down”, the overdue follow up announcement was made. Our principal proclaimed the release of all prisoners (students) from their holding cells (classrooms). He went over the newly amended class and lunch schedule (thank God) for the day and informed us there would be an assembly to discuss what had happened.

Despite my fear of crowds, I loved assemblies. They were usually at the end of the day, and always meant classes would be shortened or canceled. After an Austin Powers like trip to the bathroom and a much needed lunch break, I anxiously attended the program. The pending end of the school day and curiosity factor of the day’s events made this visit to the crowded and dumpy Gibbons’ Auditorium extra special.

Like every other period, the assembly started with a prayer. I half heartedly participated throwing out random but fitting phrases such as “God”, “Lord”, and “Jesus Christ” until the prayer concluded with a simple “Amen”. It was time for Mr. Meyerl to address his students and explain the days' events. The forty-something brown haired man thanked us for meeting and also for our patience in the eyes of a tough situation. “Get on with it” I thought to myself (a thought that I imagine most other people shared).

An obviously uncomfortable Meyerl went on to say: “Today, I gather you here to talk about the delays and why many of you were forced to stay in your classrooms. It was an unfortunate day”. He paused for what seemed forever, before he explained: “Today, the first floor stairwell was covered in what appeared to be feces”. Most students and faculty for that matter could not help but laugh. A response he did not take very well.

After silencing the crowd, he went on to explain that four students pulled a prank with a substance that “looked, smelled and had the texture of real human or animal feces”. Just in case you missed that, I will repeat. He said the substance had the “texture of real human on animal feces”. Now if this were an open forum, I would have asked: “How did you know the 'texture' of the feces? Did you touch real feces then the fake feces to compare the two? Sub-question: Was there a taste test involved?” That would have possibly catapulted me to legendary status in High School for at least a week.

Mr. Meyerl finished his statement and the assembly ended. A letter was sent home explaining the incident and how two students bought the realistic fake poop at a novelty store in Marley Station Mall. The letter also talked about pending disciplinary action, which eventually led to the expelling of two of my classmates.

The expulsion of the two young students actually angered a lot of people. Sure it was stupid and disrupted the lives of staff and students for a few hours, but it did not hurt anyone. Suspension? Sure. Kicking two dumb teenage boys out of school and killing their futures? Absolutely not. In a culture of Christ, forgiveness and second chances, expulsion for these actions in a school run by the catholic church (an organization that forgave the guy who shot the Pope and countless pedophiles within the priesthood) still baffles me.

Time was relative in High School. Each day seemed to move slower than the day before it, but the next two years flew by very quickly. Despite the expulsion and the passage of time, the boys and prank were not forgotten. It was occasionally referenced in the remaining years and used as anecdotes in many pupils’ senior yearbooks. I thought of the incident myself when I pulled my own feces related prank (which most people still do not know about to this day) on Graduation day in 2002.

After High School I went to college and eventually found a job that I adore. I have a house with my fiancé and can truly say I am proud of the man that I have become. I have had many differences with my past, many of which have been with Cardinal Gibbons High School. But to say it had nothing to do with the man I am in 2010 would be a lie.

A lot of my friends have decided to take the loss of CG, and look at it like the loss of a family member. Being more than seven years removed from High School it is nearly impossible for me to do that. Most of the staff is gone and I have lost touch with many people throughout the years but for my time there, I spent more hours with those students and teachers than my own family. I can however look at Cardinal Gibbons as my second home from the fall of 1998 through the spring of 2002.

Like it or not I was a Crusader. To say my path since High School has been interesting is an understatement and for better or worse would not have happened if it weren’t for the four years I spent at Gibbons. Most of the meaningful relationships I have today stem directly or indirectly from my days at the senior high school on 3225 Wilkens Avenue in Baltimore. The school itself may close but those relationships will not.

When the Archdiocese of Baltimore decided to close down Cardinal Gibbons, it caused anger among many. I feel deeply for those families who now have to look for news schools and regroup with little time left in their son’s high school career. The fact that many parents and students have to take a break from college visits and preparation to look for and adapt to a new high school school this fall is certainly not right or fair. I wish those young men and their families an easy transition but more importantly I hope for a lack of cynicism. Hopefully when the dust settles it is easier to realize that great things happen when they are least expected. It is a clichĂ© for a wonderful reason…It is true. Our greatest triumphs, successes and surprises come out of the darkest times. I am also a great believer that some of the best human qualities came out of great loss and sadness.

The end of Cardinal Gibbons High School is a sad day for many. For me, it may not equal the loss of a family member but it is the loss of something that for better or worse represented a huge chunk of mine and many other guys’ journeys. The boy in me misses the innocence of hanging out with his friends, playing in bands and pranks involving defecation. The man in me appreciates the ride and how it aided and affected so many great things that have happened since. I hope others can look back and feel the same way.

James Cardinal Gibbons pray for us (If you believe in that stuff),
Mike Finazzo

P.S. At age 25…Poop is still hilarious.