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Doug Clark: Here’s a project that I can dig

Thu., May 26, 2011

I doubt anyone at Spokane Public Schools really expected me to horn in on the ceremonious groundbreaking Wednesday morning at my alma mater, Ferris High School.

Or that I would actually show up toting my own shovel.

In my defense, I have thoroughly examined the invitation the district mailed to me.

Nowhere does it say “Don’t bring a shovel.”

OK. Call me a dirt crasher. But my actions should tell everyone how enthusiastic I am about the prospect of a brand new Ferris.

Besides, why should school board members and educational dignitaries get to do all the ceremonial groundbreaking?

Having me turning dirt alongside the Spokane elite should give hope to underachievers everywhere.

I would, however, like to apologize about my implement.

How was I to know that the official shovels would be so shiny and chrome-plated?

I’m betting the school district had to order those things special from some luxury tool catalog.

Hammercher Shoveler, say.

My digger, alas, had a garish yellow handle and came out of my garage.

At least it wasn’t dirty. Like all my tools it hasn’t seen much use.

As far as ceremonies go, this groundbreaking was worthwhile.

The Ferris Jazz Orchestra, a terrific ensemble, opened the show with some catchy numbers.

The speeches were short and upbeat.

I learned, for example, that “Tradition of Excellence” is the Ferris motto.

“Don’t Set the Bar Too High” is the credo I live by.

Some people get all nostalgic and weepy when they learn that their high school is about to give way to progress.

They form Save Our School committees. They write angry letters to the editor.

Not this class of ’69 member.

I’ll be candid. I didn’t have such a great time during my five-year tour of Saxony.

What was touted as a cutting-edge educational system was more like being in a Joseph Heller novel.

The absurdity began when I entered Ferris as a naïve and impressionable eighth-grader, hence the five years. Ferris was so new that it took awhile for it to become a full high school. Contrary to what current Ferris Principal Kevin Foster claims, however, I did NOT have to repeat the eighth grade.

I’ve often wondered what those Ferris planners of yore were smoking.

There were no bells or buzzers when I was there.

Each school day was cut up into 26, 15-minute modules. Each day’s schedule, by the way, was different.

Classes weren’t called classes, either.

They were called “small groups” (two modules) or “large groups” (three modules) or labs (four modules).

The sprawling “open” South Hill campus had more holes than a sieve. This was a flaw that I exploited often to my own disadvantage.

Self-motivated, responsible individuals did quite well with such freedoms.

I, however, floated through Ferris like a gum wrapper down a storm drain.

The only thing going for me was a knack for playing the trumpet.

Thank God for band, orchestra and jazz band. Without them, the marginal grade point average that barely got me into college would have been a much lower and highly draft-worthy number.

It should be noted that the weirdness has long been purged from my alma mater.

Ferris has been a great school for quite a while. Now it’s time for Ferris to have the architecture it deserves.

So count me in. The plans I saw Wednesday look stunning. Hopefully, the project will be finished by fall 2013.

Maybe they’ll let me take a tour if I promise not to bring my shovel.

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by email at

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