January 2, 2020  |  Written By John Polakowski

Let’s return to the fall of 1962.

I am starting my senior year of high school at Terre Haute Garfield (Terre Haute, Indiana). In fact, this is my third different high school in 4 years. My dad was a metallurgical engineer and the “grass was always greener” elsewhere as they say.

I went from being wildly popular as a high school freshman in Blissfield, Michigan, to a small country school in Terre Haute called Otter Creek as a sophomore. A year later, the Terre Haute school district consolidated and thus I ended-up at Garfield for my junior and senior years. My early popularity was largely fueled by my senior sister who was “all everything” in high school and dated all the cool guys. Her best friends were also cheerleaders which certainly had my interest. 

I struggled to make friends upon moving to Terre Haute. Our home was a bit out in the “boonies” so there was a lack of kids in the immediate vicinity. But, as is the case for most high school teens, I eventually fell in with a group of young men who were not only smart, but excellent athletes. The small country school was quite the area powerhouse in basketball and baseball.

Although I was content enough, I needed something to kick start my senior year. Something that would open up new friendships, especially on the female side.

Turns out my senior English teacher, Miss Marie Jacobs, emphasis on the Miss (an elderly spinster) was in dire need of speakers to address the student body at a special all school assembly. I volunteered. The topics were chosen randomly and I frankly don’t remember mine. Perhaps it had something to do with an oyster and a pearl. 

Although my grades were rather good, like most high school boys, I struggled with English. Taking on this project afforded me an opportunity to work with students I did not know, plus the added benefit of extra credit with Miss Jacobs. Planning, outlining, and writing the speech were each an additional challenge. Not to mention the actual delivery of the speech without “reading” it and overcoming fears of public speaking.

I was very pleased with the ultimate outcome of my efforts. Not only did I meet new friends, but I also became somewhat of a celebrity. I believe my date to the senior prom that year was the prettiest girl in the whole school. The lesson I learned was that stepping outside of my comfort zone, while scary, was the best thing for me. 

Of course, maybe the best outcome came from Miss Jacobs. MY attendance in English class became optional and I did not have to write another essay or take another English exam.

John N. Polakowski

Terre Haute Garfield Class of 1963

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