302. The Honor Society

There was one special day each year when some students in my high school were inducted into the National Honor Society. Parents of those who were going
to be inducted were notified in advance, so that they could plan to attend the induction ceremony. But they weren’t supposed to tell us they’d been notified. So I studied my parents’ faces for the week before the ceremony. My mother insisted that she hadn’t received anything, but she was supposed to insist that.
The day of reckoning came. Would my various grades, when averaged together, qualify me for consideration? What about teachers who didn’t like me? Of course, they all claimed to like us all equally, but nobody was fooled by that. And what about gym? National Honor Society members were supposed to be well-rounded, and I’d never gone out for any sports. In fact, physical education was my worst subject. But maybe my involvement in music and drama would make up for that.
I told myself it didn’t really matter if I didn’t get in. True, most of my friends were probably going to get in, but some of them wouldn’t. If I wasn’t inducted, my true friends would still be my friends; only the superficial ones would snub me. But what if I didn’t have as many true friends as I’d thought? Oh, come on! Membership in that society plus twenty-five cents would get me on to the subway in New York City (at that time, the subway fare was twenty-five cents for everyone). But I really wanted to see my parents sitting in the back of the auditorium, smiling proudly.
Getting into that club shouldn’t have meant so much to me. There was already enough to worry about – getting the parts I wanted in plays, being a National Merit Scholar, getting into the college I wanted, and so on. I really didn’t need this. Neither did my friends, who kept checking the back of the room to see whether their parents were there. We should have already known we were worthwhile, intelligent people. We should have learned that way before high school. But we kept checking the back of the auditorium.
Since that day, I’ve gone to college – the one I wanted to go to. I’ve gotten my master’s degree, and several credits beyond it. I’ve gotten a straight A average in graduate school. I’ve written songs that have been sung by famous people, and articles that get read by lots of people. Some of them tell me I’m intelligent and wise. Nobody has asked me, during the past twenty years, whether I was ever inducted into the National Honor Society. I don’t think they consider it very important.
I thought about ending this article the way Frank Stockton ended “The Lady or the Tiger,” leaving you wondering whether I got in. That would be a cute literary device. But I won’t do it. It wouldn’t be nice. I didn’t get in.

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