Nobel Prize Committee Confirms What I Knew in High School

Oct 13, 2016

Me and Dylan, at my college graduation. This time I'm smiling.
Credit David G. Zuckerman

This morning, I woke up to vindication. It came in the form of a news alert on my phone telling me that Bob Dylan is now a Nobel Prize winner in literature. Not that I needed vindication so many years after the incident at my high school graduation. OK, maybe I did because I immediately wondered if the early 1990s-era administration of Minisink Valley High School in New York State got the same alert.

Back on that late June day, I was waiting in line to march out onto the football field to get high school over with once and for all, when someone tapped me on the shoulder and said something like, "Come on, you know you can't do that."

"Do what?" I asked. I really didn’t know.

The administrator sort of smiled and pointed to my mortar board. I'd cut out an illustration of Bob Dylan from Rolling Stone Magazine and taped it to the top of my cap so his face filled the entire space. Like so many other people for a couple of generations already at that point, I'd spent hours of my disaffected youth listening to Bob Dylan's music and especially his lyrics. I was going on to become an English major, to study and write poetry, no less. What if Keats or Dickinson had been on my cap? 

I refused to take it off, and they refused to let me march forward with my class. They said there was a strict policy against any kind of decoration on our caps. So as my classmates continued on, filling out the rows, I stomped down the hill into the principal's office and kept arguing my case on the basis of the First Amendment. I said if Bob Dylan can't stay neither can I. They wouldn't relent, and I so badly wanted to walk out of there, just get my diploma in the mail and move on. The clock was ticking, the ceremony was about to start and my parents were waiting. At some point my dad showed up in the office and said he understood, that it was a good fight, but we were out of time, and could I please just march out there, so they could watch their oldest kid graduate from high school? I slammed my hand on top of the cap and pulled the picture off, leaving a palm print on Dylan's face.

I don’t remember a lot about the ceremony. Somewhere there are photos of me looking really pissed.

Later that summer, I got a postcard from the administrator who pulled the plug on Dylan-on-the-mortar-board. "Part of me respects what you were trying to do,” she wrote, “but the administrator part” couldn’t let it happen. Meanwhile, part of me was still mad that I had surrendered. I kept that flimsy piece of magazine paper with Dylan’s face, and four years later, when I graduated from SUNY Albany, I marched up to the podium with Bob Dylan on my head of purple hair. This time I didn’t need permission.

So, you know, don’t think twice, it’s alright. 

Alicia Zuckerman is WLRN's Editorial Director.