“Joyce, please report to Mother Superior” (my name was still legally capitalized then). It was April 1971 and I was in the eighth grade getting ready to graduate.
My first thought was, Who told? and my second thought was, How much did they tell? (laughing)
I was always getting others to do daring or sometimes, slightly dangerous things with me, just to see if we could do them. The thing is, since I looked so completely innocent, I pretty much never got busted for them, and my classmates never told on me for some reason. Just lucky I guess! Anyway, between homeroom and the Principal’s office, I had to get my face and expression right. Surprised innocence worked with just about everybody except Mommy… she was never swayed and always knew when the antics were the result of my influence (sigh).
“Yes Sister,” I replied and rose from my seat, headed for the door. She smiled at me. Oh boy, this is not good I thought. Sister and I had a mutual dislike fan club of two… This is going to be so bad… trickled through my mind as I left the classroom and started down the hallway.
I reached Mother Superior’s office and stood in front of the clerk. “Hi Joyce,” she said with a smile. “Go right in.” “Thank you,” I replied and knocked on the office door, waited for the response and stepped into the room.
You know those moments where everything seems to shrink into a long tunnel and you only see a part of the room or area? When it feels like the room and the people in it come zooming toward you, only you know in some part of your brain that they aren’t? …I was having one of those moments. I watched, mouth getting dry; hands getting clammy, as Mother Superior and our Parish Pastor seemed to zoom in for a close up. Oh gosh! Wait, Mommy isn’t here, it can’t be expulsion yet, I thought. Breathe, Joyce. Just breathe.
“You wanted to see me, Mother Superior?” I said breathlessly.
“Yes, Joyce. We did. Please sit down,” she replied.
I looked up at her beautiful brown face and thought, as I always did, that she should have been a mother for real instead of a nun. I loved this woman… at least I did before today! Doing the only thing I could do, I sat. Gone was the surprised innocence. The only defense I had for this inquisition was confession. Mother Superior, I could pull off. Father Regan, not so much. He could see through ten feet of reinforced steel, let alone one 13-year old girl!
Father leaned forward in his chair. “Joyce, as you well know, graduation is in a few weeks.”
“Yes, Father,” I replied. Then waited.
He glanced at Mother Superior, then back at me. They both were looking way too serious for my comfort level. Whatever it was is it going to keep me from graduating? I thought frantically. I was ready to confess to everything I’d done throughout elementary school… the broken window at the Rectory, the food fight in the auditorium, using the holy water to wash blood off of Vinette’s scraped knee, trading communion wafers for candy, all of it! I just couldn’t not graduate. Mommy would kill me!
Clearing his throat, Father said, “We have never had a speaker at the graduation ceremony; however, in your case we are making an exception and would like you to deliver the class response before I confer the diplomas.” He stopped and looked expectantly at me.
Give a speech? At graduation? Me? Why?!
“Joyce?” Mother Superior asked. “Did you understand Father?”
“I think so,” I managed to whisper. “You want me to make a graduation speech.”
“Exactly,” she smiled. “You will be the perfect person to address the class and parents and express all of the thoughts, experiences and emotions of the day.”
So it was, that on graduation day May 30, 1971, I gave my very first speech… and received my first standing ovation. More important, I discovered that I could make a difference in the lives of others. I discovered my mission!