Most of the seniors reacted to the student-chosen quote under Arnold Jameson Prisner’s picture in the yearbook with the same thought. It was 100 percent Arnold all the way— something from Shakespeare, of course. Most of them had just googled “inspirational” or “yearbook quotes” and used something listed there that reflected them somehow. Others chose lines from favorite songs. A few singled out a quote from literature or poetry. But only one was geeky enough to pick a three-sentence quote from Shakespeare—Arnold Prisner. It would be read aloud during the night’s graduation ceremony, now underway, along with his plans after high school like every other graduate. That had been Highland High School’s tradition ever since anyone could remember.
Why some had designated Arnold for their torturous treatment of him during his high-school career was clear enough. He was weird—easy as that. What was up with those ties and white shirts he wore every day to school? He always looked like he was about to “Jehovah Witness” the whole classroom when he walked in. Arnold wasn’t a Jehovah’s Witness either. Nope, he attended Our Glory Lutheran like plenty of other graduating seniors—was confirmed with them and everything. Why did he insist on being called “Arnold”? Any one of his classmates would have established another name by then. His middle name was “Jameson.” Anybody with half a brain would have insisted on “AJ,” but not Arnold. Even “Arnie” would have been better, but not for this dweeb. He stuck to Arnold. And it wasn’t like he was too stupid to think of something else either. He was graduating near the top of his class. He would have been valedictorian if the school hadn’t just changed its policy this year and counted P.E. in the grade point average. Not that he was all that bad in P.E.—he just wasn’t A-range, that’s for sure.
Arnold’s name and choice of dress weren’t the only reasons this guy was the class joke. He always had the longest answer to any question on any subject a teacher asked. His hand was the first in the air. Teachers often used his work as exemplars. Not to mention, he had been selected as “Student of the Month” by some teacher or another more than anyone else in their high-school career. Talk about teachers, he was polite to every one, even the substitutes. He didn’t use his phone to play games or text during class, always asked if there was extra credit—even though he was assuredly getting an “A” anyway, said “Sir” and “Ma’am” when he talked to someone “in authority,” gave them a smile. It wasn’t that the other kids weren’t nice, too. Most of them had learned their manners, but Arnold was always overboard, didn’t seem to realize he took everything to the next level, a Twilight Zone the rest knew not to enter.
Arnold Jameson Prisner never seemed to notice. He just steered along on his own course like he knew some secret nobody else did. How many “swirlies” did a guy have to endure before he figured out he should change his ways if he wanted to be left alone? This guy took his cousin from Iowa to the senior prom and wore “his late father’s” (that’s how Arnold referred to his dead dad) wedding tuxedo. Had one of his senior photos taken in it too. As a matter of fact, that’s the one Arnold chose for the yearbook. There he was on the page, in between Josh Prior (who was surrounded by various athlete equipment and trophies) and Jessica Privlan (standing in a meadow of white daises), smiling like he was the happiest, coolest kid in town in some dead guy’s old-fashioned get up. Sure it was fine to miss your dad. Other kids had had fathers who had died, too, but they weren’t wearing his old clothes. (Some of the seniors had to admit that their moms had tears in their eyes when they saw the picture. That in itself was a clue.) Actually, the senior picture didn’t look enough like Arnold Jameson Prisner. They’d photoshopped out his three cowlicks and the acne breakout usually dotting the left side of his face like the South Sea Islands.
Well, not too much longer and they wouldn’t have to think about Arnold Jameson Prisner or Highland High any more. The superintendent was already rattling off the students whose last names began with “P,” and once she got to Scott Zellman, they were out of here.
She clears her throat a little and says, “Joshua Charles Prior. ‘Set your goals high, and don’t stop till you get there,’ (Bo Jackson). Joshua will be attending South State University on a football scholarship. Congratulations, Joshua.”
There’s a good bit of applause for Joshua as he shakes the superintendent’s hand, then holds his diploma in the air, gives a “Whoop!” and leaves the stage in a swagger.
“Arnold Jameson Prisner. “If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?” (William Shakespeare). Arnold will be attending Harvard University on an academic scholarship. Congratulations, Arnold.”
The graduates can hear the superintendent say that last part a little more proudly than she has about any other graduate so far. Arnold smiles and shakes the sup’s hand. They can see him slightly bow his head in gratitude and read his lips, “Thank you, Ma’am.” He turns and smiles at his classmates. A few of them applaud along with the invited guests, but most of them sit in the silence of the dead. What Arnold? Harvard? What the . . .? When did he do that!? Some of them cough a bit, trying to catch a breath.
Arnold smiles at his classmates, tips his hat. (As he does the crowd can see the bottoms of his father’s tuxedo pants.) Then he walks off the stage likes he’s just won an Academy Award—which all of his classmates know he kind of has—and proceeds into his future.