Blogger’s note: This is the 27th installment from my manuscript of Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life. I post weekly excerpts every Wednesday morning. Check out the “About Summer in the Waiting Room” link at the top of this page to learn more about the story. To read previous installments, go to the “Tags” link and click on “Summer in the Waiting Room.”
June 10, 2009, was graduation day for my high school alma mater, and it would mark the beginning of a feverish 360 days that sent my political prospects on a promising path. It started out like any other day. I got out of bed at 6:30 in the morning, reviewed my daily calendar of appointments, and washed up to take Erica to swim practice.
After dropping off Erica, I went to the YMCA for a morning workout, then took Marisa to swim practice, picked up Erica, took a shower, dressed for work, stopped to buy a cup of coffee at the neighborhood Starbucks, and headed to my first appointment for the day.
Later that evening, while driving home after a typical full day, my thoughts wandered to the idyllic time growing up on Viewmont Avenue, my struggles as a young man, the years of redemption, the crushing school board campaign of 2008, and the rise out of the devastation of that defeat to serve on the school board again. It dawned on me that I was experiencing a life I never could have imagined as a kid.
June 10th was a Wednesday. I had a standing appointment on my calendar for every Wednesday morning to meet with the chief of staff to the congresswoman who represented San Jose in the United States House of Representatives. The major topic of discussion for the meeting would be a delicate conversation about building a park on federal property in the congresswoman’s district.
I wanted to know if the she would support the concept and help guide George through the process of the acquiring the property for the County. Once the chief was satisfied that I had addressed all of her questions, she said that the congresswoman could support the concept and made some suggestions on how we could work together to make it a reality. The day was off to a great start as I headed to the office.
Once at the office, I had just enough time to return several phone calls and e-mails, brainstorm with the staff about brewing issues, and check in with George. As usual, the check-in covered a variety of issues in short amount time. After the briefing, I returned a few more phone calls and e-mails before George and I were off to a trendy Oaxacan-style restaurant in the heart of downtown San Jose.
We went to the restaurant, located in the shadow of the city’s historic 18th-century St. Joseph Cathedral, for a lunch meeting with the Consul General of Mexico. We discussed a proposed County partnership with the consulate. After lunch, I was back in the office huddling with the staff to prepare for afternoon meetings. I loved working in a fast-paced and dynamic environment where every day brought new challenges and required complex decision-making. And this work did just that.
With my day job coming to an end, I rushed to the elevator to go the ten floors down to the lobby of the County Administration Building. Once on the ground floor, I hustled across a breezeway to my car. As a member of the board of education, I was scheduled to preside over the graduation ceremonies at James Lick High School.
The ceremony had all of the excitement and anticipation fitting a high school graduation. The graduates were anxious and impatient as they waited to enter the small football stadium. They wore dark green gowns and mortarboards to honor the school colors. The principal gave me the chance to speak to the students before the ceremony, and I told them something about being proud to have grown up in the neighborhood.
I doubt that any of them heard what I had said. As soon as I finished my comments, the sound of a recorded version of “Pomp and Circumstance,” the traditional graduation processional march, started blaring over the stadium speakers. Wearing a black suit with a white shirt and dark green tie, I walked proudly onto the field next to the principal and found my seat on the stage as the faculty followed behind to their seats on the field.
The graduates then filed into the stadium with their green gowns and tassels flowing in the wind to the cheers of family and friends. Standing on the stage watching the spectacle, I couldn’t help but think about the rocky road I taken to this point in my life. Feelings of pride and humility washed over me when I realized I was playing such an important role in the very ceremony that my brothers, sisters, and I participated in so many years before.
After the speeches and conferring of diplomas, I formally accepted the Class of 2009 on behalf of the school board. That’s when the real celebration began as the graduates threw their caps in the air, families and friends cheered, the recessional march played over the loudspeakers, and those in the bleachers stormed the field to congratulate their favorite graduate. I walked out of the stadium unnoticed to the jubilant celebrants.
When I got into my car, I decided to drive by my old neighborhood just to see how it was doing. For nearly a half century, my family lived just a few short blocks from the high school. I always felt safe and at peace when driving through Viewmont Avenue. On June 10th, I also felt a sense of accomplishment.