One of my favorite questions that I always answer with a another question is, “What year did you graduate high school?” My answer is always the same, “Which time?” To my knowledge, no one before me had ever graduated from Lake Central more than once. Furthermore, they’ve since taken precautions to ensure that no one else will ever duplicate the feat. It was perhaps one of my finest teenage pranks.
Found here is a narrative of the whole graduation ordeal that I had written back in 2003 for display on my first website.
This could very well be one of my best stunts ever. It was certainly one of the least planned adventures I’ve ever embarked on. Here’s the background info: I graduated from Lake Central High School (St. John, Indiana) in 1994. I was very active in the various bands at the high school (marching band, concert band, jazz band, pep band, rubber band, head band, etc…) so my pool of friends transverses many different classes and ages. As it so happened, some of my best friends were a year younger than I.
I was sitting at the table, having dinner with one of my best friends, Bill. The year was 1995. The month was… probably June. The day was… whatever day it was on. (You can’t expect me to remember everything!) It was exactly one year after I had graduated high school, and now it was Bill’s turn. I was planning on attending the commencement ceremony to watch him and many of my other friends graduate that night. When a strange thought breezed through the empty space between my ears…
Since I had already been through the graduation process once before, I was already familiar with the format. There were approximately 600 people graduating, so its pretty easy to slip between the cracks. They give you a color coded card that day with your name on it. You show up for the at the Star Plaza Theater for the commencement ceremony. Then you sign in, and form into groups according to the color of your card, which categorized you by your last name. (Last names starting with A-D had one color, E-G had a different color card, etc…) Each group is then seated in Celebrity Circle, and the ceremony begins. They dismiss you by rows, and you get in line back stage. When it’s your turn in line, you hand your card to the announcer. He reads your name from the card. You walk across the stage, shake the principal’s hand, and they hand you an empty diploma cover. (It’s like a little hardcover that your diploma slips into) That’s all there is to it.
Bill was showing me the card that had been issued to him earlier that day. It was a florescent colored 4″ x 7″ card. On the card was a computer printed 1″ x 3″ label with his name on it. “Wow!” I said. “Do you know how easy it would be to make one of these?” Suddenly, the little light bulb in my head went from extremely dim to somewhat less dim. It was at that moment, that my legendary prank was conceived.
Not even really thinking about what I was saying, I said to Bill, “It would be so easy to just make one of those cards, get in line, and graduate again!” Then I actually contemplated the thought. Bill and I took one look at each other, smiled, and the plan was in motion!
Mind you, this was one hour before commencement started, so we had a lot to do, and no time to do it. First thing I had to do was make a phone call. I needed to acquire a tassel for my cap that had ’95 on it instead of ’94! My buddy Jim Robertson, who was smart enough to earn himself a fancy yellow tassel, was happy to loan me his standard blue and white tassel. The next phone call was to my girlfriend, who was also graduating that night. I don’t think she believed I could actually pull it off…
Next task was to find a card that was the right color. Luckily, Bill and I are in the same category of the alphabet, to all I had to do was find one that matched his card. Off to Walgreens we went. After searching through about 99 different greeting cards, we finally found one that had a blank page that matched the color we needed.
Then we were off to my house. I had to try to reproduce the label on the card, and make it look official. One glance at Bill’s label assured me that would not be a hard task. They used the standard Windows Arial font. I happened to have some labels at home, so I loaded them into my printer, and printed off a few labels with my name on them.
I threw on some dress clothes, grabbed my old cap and gown from my previous graduation, grabbed the materials to forge my card, and ran out the door. I assembled my forged card in the car on the way over there. On the way, we passed Jim’s parents, who were of course, on their way to the same place. I tried to show them the card through the window, but I don’t think they understood what we were doing. They just smiled and drove on. They’d eventually get the joke!
We arrived at the Star Plaza Theater, and made our way back stage to form into groups. I made it a point to skip the registration process, as I don’t think they’d have found my name on their list! I talked to a bunch of friends while we were standing in line, and of course, the most popular reaction was, “You’re CRAZY!” Indeed I am… and proud of it!
Eventually, Bill and I found ourselves in line with Andy French and Al Frye. As they were seating us in the auditorium, poor Billy ended up on the end of a row of seats, and had to sit way the hell down at the beginning of the next row. That left me sitting right on the aisle! NO WAY! Someone would recognize me for sure! I quickly switched seats with Andy, so I was a little less visible. The nerves were starting to set in. I was beginning to realize just how crazy this was. Here I am, in the middle of the wrong class, about to go walk across the stage in front of everyone and have this announcer call my name! Oh well… to late to back out now! What will everyone think when some dude in a blue cap and gown just gets up and walks out of the theater? No, I had to go through with it. Besides, what are they going to do to me? Not give me my 1995 diploma?
The lights dimmed, and the ceremony began. One by one, the ushers started dismissing rows of graduates to get in line back stage. Some of the people just walked calmly across the stage, while others did anything from taking a bow to feigning a fall and tumbling across the stage. One thought kept a smile on my face: No matter what they’re doing up there, they’re still just doing it for the FIRST time!
The butterflies really set in when they dismissed our row to head back stage. Well, this is it. There’s certainly no backing out now. I followed our row out of the auditorium and tried not to be noticed. No such luck.
The first person to recognize me was Mrs. Boyer. I was good friends with her daughter, Trishanne, whom I had graduated with last year, so she knew damned well that I wasn’t supposed to be there! Luckily for me, she’s got a good sense of humor. She looked up and casually said hello, then realized I was a little out of place and asked, “What are you doing here?” I simply told her I was graduating, to which her smiling response was, “Dave… You’re such an idiot!” Meanwhile, the other staff member standing next to her was a bit baffled. I heard her explain the joke, and the two erupted into laughter as we continued down the hall.
The next obstacle: Mrs. Byers. Her son, Jason, was in the band, and she was one of those very active band moms. She always chaperoned bus trips, went with us during band camp, etc… She, unfortunately, doesn’t have the same sense of humor that myself and Mrs. Boyer share. I thought she’d ruin it for sure. She recognized Alan and I and came over to talk to us. She was all smiles as she congratulated us, and even took a picture of us together. No, she didn’t have the sense of humor, and fortunately for me, she didn’t have that great of a memory either! (I wish I could get a copy of that picture!)
I’m almost at the front line! Just a few people ahead of me is Mr. Linger, the guidance counselor. He was announcing the graduate’s names as they walk across the stage. I knew that he wouldn’t recognize me, as he wasn’t my guidance counselor… but wait! Who’s that standing right next to him? OH SHIT! It’s Mrs. Wright! My guidance counselor! She was standing right up there, shaking everyone’s hand and congratulating them before they get called to walk across stage! She’s going to recognize me for sure!
Ok Dave, — Stay calm! Remember… what’s the worst that could happen? They won’t give me my 1995 diploma, right? Then again, this is Lake Central! They may have 30 bodyguards appear from out of the woodwork, tackle me, and take turns pounding on me! (perhaps that’s a bit exaggerated, but remember – at this point, my adrenaline has kicked in, and my mind is running in overdrive!) Well… just as before, it’s to late to back out now! I turned around, and made sure that when I passed her, my back was to her. IT WORKED! Score one for being anonymous! (It’s pretty easy in such a large school!) She didn’t say a word to me! Now it’s my turn…
I can see the stage! The bright lights glaring down, or should I say heat lamps! I hand my forgery of a card to Mr. Linger. As the person before me is finishing his walk across the stage, Mr. Linger leans forward to me and says, “Isom?”
Oh my god! Did he figure me out! Not hardly! He was trying to make sure he had the pronunciation correct. (Whew!) The room was silent. The lights were blinding. The air was getting a little thick… Then – I hear it over the loudspeakers…
I stepped out from behind the curtains. This was the moment I had been preparing myself for the entire night. (or at least the last couple hours) I gave a signature “Dave salute” to the crowd on my way over to the principal. Time seemed to stand still for that brief moment. I can still hear every little sound as I passed in front of the spectators there that night. There were a few people that will clap for anyone and everyone who’s name is called. Then there was the rest of the crowd, many of which didn’t know me – didn’t care – and didn’t applaud, many of which did know me, and were so confused that they just sat there dumbfounded, trying to figure out what in the world is going on! “Well that looks like Dave. Didn’t he graduate last year? Maybe not… Maybe we just didn’t see him much this past year…” Then I heard the unmistakable, roaring laugh of Mrs. Klemm. (Dave Klemm’s mom) I guess she figured it out!
I shook the hand of Mr. Trijillo or Mr. Armadillo, or however the hel you spell that. I shook the hands of all the rest of the various bureaucratic school system big wigs and listened to their words of congratulations with a smile. Then I was handed my empty diploma cover (they always told us “you haven’t graduated until you receive your diploma in the mail, so behave” — obviously!) and took my seat again back in the auditorium.
Whew! I’d done it! I’d successfully crashed commencement, and graduated for a second time! A feat that, to my knowledge, had never been done, and has never been duplicated. I had pulled it off. Now I can relax, and wait for the ceremony to end. On my way out, one of the ushers stopped me as we were exiting, and shook my hand. She said, “Congratulations (people say that an awful lot around graduates), what was your name again?” Then she said, “Didn’t you graduate last year?” “Of course not! That’s ridiculous!” to which her response was, “Pretty slick!” I think she figured me out! I then proceeded to make my way out of the auditorium. When I hit the doors to the lobby, there must have been about 30 screaming people all crowded around the doorway in an arc. “DAVE! You’re crazy!” All I could do was smile. Then Brian Thomas approached me, shook my hand and said, “How do you walk?” I was a bit confused. I walk just like everyone else… I think. Then he clarified. “How do you walk with balls that big!!!”
I hung around for a little while to talk to everyone, until I heard that some of the staff had figured out what I had done, also. Apparently they were trying to find me. Oh yeah… look for the guy in dress clothes and a blue graduation gown. There’s only 300 of us. (oops… 301!)
And so is the story of my 2nd graduation. I unfortunately couldn’t convince my parents to throw me another graduation party. I really could have used the extra cash! To this day, I don’t think I’ve done anything to top that moment. It lives on as a legend in the memories of my friends and their parents, but I didn’t really realize just how legendary an act it was, until one day 2 years later…
I was working for the Town of Dyer Public Works Department as summer help with a few other Dyer residents, when one day during lunch, I waked up on one of the kids telling a story to a bunch of the other part-time workers. The story started sounding familiar to me, when I realized that he was telling the story of my 2nd graduation! The real trick was, he didn’t know it was me! I sat, and listened to him tell the entire story. (He did quite a good job) Then, when he was done, I asked him, “Do you remember what the guy’s name was?” He scratched his head a minute and said, “No, I can’t remember.” So I asked him, “Could it have been Dave Isom?” “YEAH! That’s it! Dave Iso — HOLY SHIT! That was you!” There’s nothing quite as satisfying than having a complete stranger immortalize you in a story, right in front of you, and he doesn’t even realize he’s doing it!
Apparently, the year after I pulled this stunt, they were looking for me. They put embossed seals on the color coded cards, etc… I guess they thought I might try it again. The fact is, I did have plans to graduate a third time. That, by itself wouldn’t have been all that impressive. The trick was, I had really long hair back then. I was going to have someone give me a total makeover, borrow a white cap and gown, and graduate as a woman! They’d never have caught me then! Unfortunately, I never did get the planning of that one together soon enough, and before I knew it, the opportunity had passed. Oh well… I’ll just have to put my devious energies into something else!