June 1964...Graduation Day...I am now a high schooler. Graduation Day is the day any boy who had spent some years at Boys Town awaited. I had already been here over three years. I would move from a dorm of 25 boys to a cottage which had 5 bedrooms with only 4 boys per bedroom. Privileges not allowed grade schoolers were now mine; I could obtain passes to downtown Omaha; I could get a one week vacation away from the home if I had somewhere to go and it was approved; I could start to smoke. Yes, Boys Town allowed high schoolers to smoke back then. Now smoking is not permitted by anyone on campus.
Graduation was another one of those sad days for me. Many of the boys in my class of 1964 had family come to cheer their graduation. I had no one present.
Freshman were allowed one pass a month to Omaha lasting for two hours. I remember my first pass. I had not been outside off of the Boys Town grounds on my own since my arrival over three years earlier. We were taken by school bus to the downtown Greyhound terminal; this is also where we were picked up. I had nowhere to go and just walked for the two hours around downtown in amazement of all the buildings. I did stop at a place called "KINGS" and had a coke and cheese frenchie and then it was back to Boys Town for another month. As one went through high school the time allowed and frequency of passes increased. Seniors could go every Saturday for eight hours. On future passes I found much more to do than the first trip.
During my first summer as a high schooler I requested a vacation to be able to return to Detroit to visit the Monshors. The Monshors had already said yes! The request came back DENIED. I spent that first summer of high school on campus as other boys were allowed to go on vacations to families. I felt yet another arrow piercing my heart.
I felt a little athletic my freshman year and went out for wrestling and track. My wrestling career didn't last long, as after my first two defeats, the coach decided it was not my sport and suggested I concentrate on track. I ran hurdles and one mile. I was not spectacular at either, but survived the season.
I have to be honest and say I did not set the world of schooling on fire during my freshman and sophomore years of high school. In matter of fact,, I had no real interest in school and did only what was required to skate through. By the end of my sophomore year I ranked near the bottom of my class. It was not due to lack of intelligence rather; "I just didn't care."
At the end of my sophomore year I again, requested a week vacation with the Monshors back in Detroit. Once again the request came back DENIED! I was furious and determined I was going whether it was approved or not.
A local family had befriended me during the past year. They had a son (Andy) the same age as I. They lived only a few miles from Boys Town. On a Saturday afternoon during the middle of the summer I ran into the farms fields surrounding Boys Town and then made my way to their house. I admit I lied to Andy's parents and said the visit was approved. I spent the afternoon playing with Andy. Towards evening his parents thought I should get back to Boys Town and offered to drive me there. I again lied and said I needed to go downtown to catch the bus back. They believed me and thus drove me to the Greyhound terminal downtown.
They did not know that in my pocket I had $30.00 which I had saved from my job at Boys Town; each high school boy has a job to earn income while he is there. The $30.00 was enough for a one way bus ticket to Detroit; one simple meal during the thirty one hour ride. Fortunately I knew I could make a collect call to the Monshors. I called them and told them I was on my way.
Though I was angry with them at first, I did realize that they would have to contact the court. I also knew Boys Town would call the court and report me as a runaway. Even if the Monshors hadn't called them I knew from the past that their home would be the first place they would come and look for me. It didn't deter me. I was determined to have vacation time with "my family."
The Monshors,, rather than a court officer picked me up at the bus station. The Monshors had worked out an agreement with the court to let me stay with them for a few days and they would convince me to return to Boys Town on my own. Boys Town had also already agreed to take me back. I spent three glorious days "at home." During this time Mom convinced me that Boys Town was for now, the best place for me. I could finish my high school education and in two years I would turn eighteen and be an adult. At eighteen I would no longer be a ward of the court and I would be free to make my own decisions. With tears I reluctantly agreed. A bus ticket was purchased and I was given money to have more than one meal on the return trip. Upon arriving in Omaha the same priest who greeted me over five years earlier once again greeted me and drove me back to Boys Town. I didn't even loose any privileges for my escapade!
My junior year brought a sudden transformation of my life that I am grateful for to this very day. I, even as a small child, loved to argue. If it were night I would argue it was day, anything for an argument. My English teacher that year was a Ms. Genevieve Condon. Yes, I even argued in her class! She saw something positive in my argumentative nature. Ms. Condon kept me after school one day early in the school year. She talked to me about my arguing and how she saw it as an ability, if it were directed in the proper way. I had no idea what she was talking about.
Ms. Condon took me to meet Mr. Clarence Weinerth; another English teacher but also the coach for the newly begun Speech & Debate Team. Ms. Condon simply told him, "I think we have a debater for you." Yeah, I could now argue, and get away with it! Mr. Weinerth of course let me know that with the ability to argue I also now had to prove my case. This meant lots of hard work researching the question being debated. It also meant that to be part of the debate team and go to tournaments, my grades had to improve. I was determined to do whatever it took.
I made the novice debate team that year. I was a good debater, even though rough around the edges. My senior year, I made the varsity debate team. My partner (Jim Acklin) and I were, if I say so myself, great. Jim and I were rarely defeated. We traveled throughout the Midwest on weekends during the season, accumulating numerous trophies as winners of the tournaments. Our record at the end of the season was 289 wins as opposed to only 29 defeats. Mr. Weinerth this year also encouraged me to enter Original Oratory competition. His advise was to write a speech on a subject I knew best. I wrote a speech on my childhood and how the system needed to change. It was an emotional, wrenching experience to write and each time I presented it in competition. I won numerous competitions. Jim and I were featured almost every month during our senior year in the Boys Town Times monthly newspaper because of our accomplishments. At one tournament a feature writer for the Omaha World Herald wanted to do a piece on debate and chose to sit in on a debate Jim and I were participating in. The following Saturday, there we were on the front page, picture and all! I have a copy of that article in a scrapbook today. Of course the high school principal had to blowup the article and plaster it on the trophy case. Because of the caption under my picture, I soon became known as the " Show Me Statistics" man.
Jim & me at a dinner given in debate team honor
Article from Omaha World Herald...February 3, 1968
Larry,"Show me Statistics":Leo,reads from quote card:Mark,"Change is needed"
Jim & Larry, listen to opposition and prepare speech
No Crowds For Debates
Competition Is Keen Between Teams
There are no cheering spectators crowded in the gallery. Usually there are only six people in the room.But the determination of the competition could not
This is debate, the "sport" that requires rigorous exercise of the mind,
quick flexibility of attack and careful use of words.
As teams from Boys Town and St. John in Elkhorn paired off at a debate
tournament at Creighton Prep last weekend, only a judge and a timekeeper
were in the room.
The boys, Larry Adams and Jim Acklin from Boys Town and Mark Theisen
and Leo Victora from St. John arranged their weapons. Each team had brief
cases filled with books and pamphlets and a legal notepad. Each also had a large
box filled with cards on which were carefully typed quotes, statistics and facts
to support arguments.
The St. John team drew the affirmative argument; "Resolved: That Congress
should establish uniform regulations to control criminal investigation procedures."
The Boys Town team would try to show that the status quo was best.
As one team spoke, the other took notes, discussed the best combating arguments and scrambled through quote cards to find the right one.
As they finished there was a quick handshake.
They would have to wait several hours before the results were posted on a
bulletin board which showed that Boys Town had won.
Jim and Larry ended up going undefeated during the tournament and
taking the tournament championship. Larry was chosen outstanding speaker.
Through my interest in debate I was introduced to Mr. Bill Wehbey who was attempting to start a Model United Nations program at Boys Town, as were other high schools around the country. I agreed to participate only if I could choose the country I represented. He agreed. At this time, the 1967 war between Israel and Egypt had just concluded. I wanted to be the representative for Egypt. There were many a debate that year in our Model United Nations. I even won a vote in support of Egypt. Of course some years later, the two countries would make peace with each other, so I am proud of what I did back then.
In January of 1968, I decided to enter the political arena and run for Mayor of Boys Town. Boys Town is a separate village. When Fr. Flanagan began the home, he determined it should be self-governed by the boys themselves, of course with his guidance. A new mayor and city council would be elected every six months. I felt I had something to offer Boys Town and tossed my hat in the ring.
Campaign for Mayor is not a long drawn out campaign as we know them today. On election night the student body gathers in the Music Hall Auditorium and hears why each candidate wants to be mayor, students then go to the polls and before bedtime you knew who was the new mayor. Unfortunately, over the years after Fr. Flanagan's death, these positions became popularity contests and did not have much influence in running the home. Football players were the most popular on campus, and needless to say my first venture into politics turned into a solid defeat, coming in next to last. It was not to be my last political venture.
In February of 1968, I turned eighteen. It was also my senior year in high school. Though I could have walked out of Boys Town; I didn't! I wanted to earn my diploma! It was also proving to be the first time in my life that I was accomplishing something and I wanted to see it to the end. I think in many ways it was the year I grew up!
A lot of things are packed into the last few months of a senior year. Boys Town was no different. In February ,I was shocked to learn that my girlfriend (Marilyn) and I were chosen as King and Queen of the Sweetheart Ball for Valentine's Day. Marilyn was a debater at another local high school. We had met at a tournament and started dating late in my junior year. I spent most of my passes into town my senior year, when I wasn't away at a debate tournament with Marilyn. We continued to date during my first years of college then things changed...more on that in the next chapter.
Marilyn & me at Senior Prom May 1968
In April was an Awards Banquet for varsity athletes to receive their BT letters and jackets; debate was considered a sport at Boys Town and I wore my jacket proudly. In May it was the Junior/Senior Prom at Peony Park Pavillian in Omaha. I wore a tuxedo for the very first time and of course took Marilyn as my date. Graduation being but a few weeks away, we were allowed to stay off campus well into the night. Preparations also had to be made as to what I would do after graduation.
There is an Award Ceremony the Friday prior to graduation at Boys Town. It is when individual seniors are recognized for their accomplishments while at the home. I received two awards that day. The awards were $50.00 savings bonds which matured not too many years ago. I was recognized as Debater of the Year and to my and everyone's amazement, I was named "Most Scholastically Improved Senior"!
Two years before I was near the bottom of my class of one hundred-thirty eight. Now I was in the top 5%. Ms Condon and Mr. Weinerth had accomplished their mission. They took a poor student who loved to argue and made a winning debater/orator out of him while also for the first time giving him a genuine interest in school. I will forever be grateful to them both. Ms. Condon is long deceased. I had visited Mr. Weinerth in my few return visits to Boys Town. He passed away at 95 in June 1999. Though in his later years he was physically incapacitated, his mind remained as sharp as a knife. On my last visit he had me take a scrapbook from his night stand to look at; one of the few mementos he took to the home with him. Inside were all the pictures taken and articles written of Jim and I. His words; "I have always been proud of my boys." My debate partner Jim and me remained remained close friends after leaving Boys Town.
June 4, 1968, Graduation Day arrives. The day I had been awaiting for seven years, one month and nineteen days.
Class Picture 1968
The following appears after this picture:
Adams, Lawrence, Philip: Detroit, Michigan. Arrived at Boys Town April 16, 1961.
Academic Course. Major letter: debate 4; Minor letters: debate 3, track 1, wrestling 1; Choir 1-2-3-4; Concert Band 1; String Groups 1-2-3-4; B Club 4; Knights of the Altar 1-2-3-4; Student paper 4.
Graduation at Boys Town is different from any other high school graduation in the country. You are not only graduating high school; you are also loosing "your home." Boys Town had for over seven years provided me "a home." It had provided me nurturing, a spiritual compass, an education. Graduation meant you are now an adult and it is time for you to go out in the world and make whatever mark on it you are capable of. It meant that for the first time in over seven years I would once again be "homeless." The graduation ceremony begins mid afternoon on a Sunday and the rule is that ALL graduates must be off campus by 5 p.m. It was time to make room for new boys.
A day like graduation should be a joyous occas,ion as you have accomplished the first major step in your life. However, it was not such for me. I had made many friends in the Omaha and surrounding communities over the years due to debate, and many of them accepted my invitation to graduation. They cheered and stomped when my name was called. I still felt an emptiness. Yes, I had friends present, but no family who would hug, congratulate and say how proud of me they were.
The fullness of graduation hit me after the ceremony when I walked to the high school building for the final time as a boy of Boys Town. After turning in my cap and gown I went to the table where I would collect a one way bus ticket to wherever I wanted to go, $50.00 from Boys Town and whatever money I had saved during my years there....which came to about $700. Fortunately I had been a saver at Boys Town; a trait I still possess today. With a final good-bye and a wish of good luck it was time to go; time to "leave home." The only good thing was that this time I was not leaving home with only "a bag." I was leaving with suitcases of clothes, boxes of books and mementos collected over seven years.
I remember standing outside the high school building and wondering "Am I ready" "What am I going to do" "Where is home" and though I made sure no one could see..a mist blurred my vision.
I should note that on the Friday before graduation I learned I had two scholarship offers to continue my education. I accepted the offer from Midland Lutheran College in Fremont, NE over Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn, MI. The Monshors for the rest of their lives never fully understood why I made the decision I did. They didn't understand that I accepted the fact that one day they would be gone and I would once again have to deal with no family. It was better to accept and deal with it at eighteen rather than later in life. I needed to make it on my own. This is what Boys Town had taught me to do. I could write them, I could now visit them but I had to make my own way.
Ready or not it was time to leave from the safe, stable confines of Boys Town which I had known as "home" into the world of the unknown.
Fr. Flanagan's resting place in the Catholic Chapel; visiting here often over seven years provided me many times of quiet, solace, warmth, rest and peace during my years at Boys Town and still does today when I am able to visit the home; it is the first place I go to when there.