Groundhog Day 1976
Forty-six years ago this month, Groundhog Day specifically, was a defining moment in my life.
What was it? My high school newspaper was censored.
Don’t laugh, at seventeen being named one of the editors-in-chief was a big deal. A scholarship-making deal.
I was taken unawares when called into the vice principal’s office. The principal said she’d be approving all of the stories henceforth. I said, “Isn’t that our job as editors-in-chief?”
As FDR said of the attack on Pearl Harbor, “that day would live in infamy.” Was this my day of infamy?
It was though a defining moment in my life. A time of finding my voice and learning to use it. Building leadership and teambuilding skills. Deciding what was important. Acting with integrity was important. So was advocating for others and their voice when they had none. It was the deciding factor in my choice of college majors. And, I’d like to think I used my career for good.
My dad was a high school teacher in another school district and when I came home from school upset, he asked me what I wanted to do. I said fight it. He said the correct word was appeal. And that I’d need to appeal it before the school board.
He suggested that I invite the entire editorial team to our house that evening to discuss and plan our next steps. Dad didn’t influence as much as he advised how the real world operates.
We talked late into the night. Planning, strategizing, trouble-shooting, writing. And while we worked, a major snow and ice storm descended over St. Louis making the roads unsafe to drive home. Mom handed out pillows and blankets telling us to just grab a spot on the floor to rest. Dad drove to the local bakery to pick up donuts for when we awoke.
It was my first slumber party. We talked late into the night. Sharing dreams. We started the evening as fellow students and teammates. We woke up as friends. And friends we would remain forty-six years later.
At the end of a frustrating parents-principal meeting, my father likened the outcome to a “pregnant nun who drove an Edsel and voted for McGovern.”
We successfully appealed our case to the school board and the principal’s decision was over-ruled.
But, I paid a price. The principal blocked me from scholarships I was eligible for. As he handed me my diploma at graduation he said, “Debora, I’m deeply disappointed in you.”
I went to college on a scholarship and graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Missouri – Columbia in 1980.
Debora Ragland Buerk
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