Friday, May 8, 2015

Pink Slipped

Almost every student has a nightmare that features a door marked “Principal’s Office.” I managed to avoid that door (except for one unhappy incident in the third grade) until I was about to graduate from seminary.

The dreaded pink slip appeared in my mailbox just a few weeks before graduation day. “See the dean” was all it said. Frankly terrified of this austere and serious man, I was extremely nervous when I knocked at his door and was granted permission to enter his inner sanctum.

As was his custom, he got straight to the point. “I would like to ask you to give your testimony at the graduation ceremony.” The relief that came with the realization that I hadn’t committed some terrible sin was replaced with the horrible thought of standing in front of a thousand people, dropping my cue cards, and forgetting what I was supposed to say. However, I would have agreed to just about anything to get out of the room so the conversation was short.

Two days later another pink slip found its way into my mailbox. “See the dean.”

I entered with more confidence this time. After all, he hadn’t devoured me on my first visit.

“The person with the best scholastic and ministry record in the graduation class usually gives the valedictory address, but he has been completing his studies from overseas and obviously won’t be here for the service. You have the second best standing in your class so I would like you to give the address on behalf of your classmates.”

This was all news to me. I had never compared my grades or my service with anyone else in my class. To think that I was even second momentarily stunned me. If giving my testimony had made me nervous, this possibility was many times worse. But how do you turn down the dean? So I agreed.

Several days later, the pink slip reappeared. “See the dean.”

The room felt different when I entered. The dean seemed uncomfortable. Did I detect a look of chagrin on his face? The answer to that was not long in coming.

“The Board of Directors met last night and they feel that since this is a school that is trying to attract men and prepare them for ministry, they think that a man should give the valedictory address. I’m sorry, but would you still be willing to give your testimony?”

It took me years before I thought to be offended at what his statement implied: Seminary wasn’t really intended for girls and I wasn’t the poster girl for attracting boys! But at that precise moment I was quite happy to agree and escape his office.

News travels fast in a small school and it wasn’t long before my classmates knew what had happened in the dean’s office. They felt that I had been treated unfairly but I insisted that it was scary enough to give my testimony and I was happy just to leave the whole thing alone.

A little while later yet another pink slip arrived in my box. “See the dean.” At that point I wondered if I was ever going to graduate! Back to the office I went.

“We have a problem. Every one of the men in your class has refused to give the valedictorian’s address. The only way any of them will agree to do so is if you are allowed to share the honour.”

At another time, in another place, and with another person, I might have held the poor man’s toes to the coals and refused, just to make a point. But I could tell he was already feeling pretty miserable about the whole mess. Later I would remember that, decades before, this man had lost his position in another seminary because he had defended his own wife’s right, as a respected Greek scholar, to teach Biblical languages to men. The discrimination wasn’t his. So I agreed. Two of us would share the podium.

And so it was.

The following year, I received an invitation to the seminary’s graduation service. The valedictorian—only one this time—was a girl.

I smiled.