Skylar: Out, Out Damned Spotlight
Convocation was supposed to start at noon, and because the chapel didn’t have air-conditioning and the gym was, well, a gym, the ceremony was set up on the grass out in Hamilton Quad with a makeshift stage and lots of white folding chairs.
But I wasn’t sitting in the folding chairs with the rest of my classmates and their pastel-clad parents. I was on the stage, unfortunately trying to keep everyone in the front row from getting a free peep show (okay, thong), and wishing I’d worn a longer skirt. I was the senior honoree, which was supposedly a Very Big Deal, because it meant I was ranked first in the incoming senior class and was getting tapped as the most likely candidate for valedictorian. Senior honoree was always a boy, and my presence on that stage, never mind the length of my skirt, was an unknown variable that many students were eagerly trying to solve.
Actually, the first-ranked boy in my class was Charley Morton, and I would have rather let him sit on the stage and take the award. I didn’t want it. It was probably going to be a certificate. Hilliard Preparatory School couldn’t have come up with something useful, like a gift card to Barnes & Noble? Or a Prada bag?
I glanced at the girl who was sitting on my left, this junior I’d never spoken to in my life, and said, “What do you think’s the holdup? This ceremony is taking longer than a download of Janice Weiner’s blog.”
Random fact: Janice Weiner (presumably drunk at the time, though I shudder to guess her intentions if she had been sober) had posted half a dozen “lingerie model” pics of herself on her blog over spring break of our junior year. Someone saw them in her blog and sent the link as a mass email to everyone with an @Hilliard.edu e-mail account. Such a scandal.
The girl I’d spoken to didn’t say anything, so I sat there staring at my watch for the next three minutes until the first curl of music drifted through the quad. Some assholes, the same reckless upperclassmen who thought it was terrifically witty to hoot in assembly during the year, clapped and yelled in approval. The marching band, in their stiff white uniforms, traveled slowly forward as they blared the school song sans words.
As the band played, the door to Lerner Hall opened and the faculty who were staying on for summer session poured out in their ceremonial robes, caps and hoods, which were probably still dirty from commencement two weeks ago. Mr. Bloom’s robe definitely had a stain on the right shoulder. I wanted to give him a bar of soap and a squirt bottle of Febreze, then explain the difference.
Everyone’s parents shifted in their seats so they could see the colors on each teacher’s hood and determine whether or not they approved of the degree, school, and major. Most of the students watched the faculty procession for a different reason: to see which teachers weren’t doing summer session, and to see which teachers were new.
As if the information wasn’t on the school Web site or in the crinkled programs on their laps.
As Headmaster Bell welcomed the “esteemed guests, distinguished faculty, and current Hilliard students” to the first day of summer session, I totally couldn’t focus. It was so hot out, and everyone was staring at the stage, which meant that Contention 1:
They were staring in my general direction, soSubpoint A:
Chances were some of them were staring at me,Subpoint B:
They could see up my skirt, and Subpoint C:
They knew I was senior honoree.
Well, why shouldn’t they know? I mean, I’d freaked when I found out about it, because I hadn’t been trying to beat out Charley Morton or anything. It just happened. Like the whole eighties revival thing.
One day I was invisible, totally under the class rank radar and off everyone’s secret hit lists of who they were going to blame next year if they didn’t get into Princeton early decision. Then my mom got the letter in the mail. She almost didn’t find it. We get a whole tub of mail a day, which the postman absolutely loves, because Mom is a literary agent and we’re always getting manuscripts sent to the house. Tucked underneath a batch of query letters was an envelope with the Hilliard school crest.
Basically I was screwed. Everyone who put two and two together and got 4.0 today would realize that I had beat them out. Me. The girl who’d supposedly calculated the exact obtuse angle to which she spread her legs (more about that scandal later). Suddenly I would be their biggest threat. It was laughable, and what hurt me most was that I couldn’t deny the absurdity of the whole affair.
Finally Headmaster Bell ended his long-winded obey-the-rules-and-welcome-to-summer-session spiel and invited the quiet junior girl to sing the national anthem.
Polite clapping. She minced up to the lectern and planted her scuffed black flats with the toes against the wood, ruining them even more. Everyone stood up and placed their hand over their heart.
The same boys who had hooted earlier made whooping yells after she sand the words “land of the free” and I rolled my eyes. God. I was so ready for college.
After she finished with all those show-offy voice curls that the girls who never win on American Idol do, the girl sat down and an a cappella quartet led us in singing the school song, which I mouthed absently, a knot of nervousness in my stomach.
Bell took the lectern again. He had something in his hands. A certificate, big surprise. I tried to pay attention, but the heat was making my eyeliner smear, and my ass cheeks had formed covalent bonds with the chair. I wondered if my lack of focus meant I was going crazy, or if it was just too hot to concentrate. Mental Parliamentary Debate number one:
Skylar Banks is going crazy–Discuss.Prime Minister
: She cannot concentrate. Therefore, she is crazy.Leader of the Opposition
: She is stressed out and being stared at, so the lack of concentration is due to nerves.
“This student served as the copy editor of the Hilliard Howler
. She is one of the senior class’s sixty-five National Merit Scholars and last year’s Policy Debate state semifinalist. This year’s senior honoree, from Tarrytown, New York, Skylar Banks.”
I stood up, gave my skirt a good yank into place, then tottered over to the lectern on my mint green Miu Miu espadrilles and shook Bell’s hand.
People clapped, but that still didn’t drown out the sounds of half the student body whispering furiously–about me. I caught a glimpse of my parents in the front near Alison Forsyth, my sworn enemy. I privately thought she was the highlight of the ceremony, because I’d heard her complain earlier, “Omigod, I’m so bored I could shoot myself in the head with a knife.”From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Better Than Yesterday by Robyn Schneider. Copyright © 2007 by Robyn Schneider. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.