The scholarship Jacket
The Scholarship Jacket Marta Salinas The small Texas school that I attended carried out a tradition every year during the eighth grade graduation; a beautiful gold and green jacket was awarded to the class valedictorian, the student who had maintained the highest grades for eight years.
I was fourteen and in the eighth grade. I had been a straight A student since the first grade, and the last year I had looked forward to owning the jacket. My father was a farm laborer who couldn’t earn enough money to feed eight children, so when I was six I was given to my grandparents to raise. We couldn’t participate in sports at school because there were registration fees, uniform costs, and trips out of town; so there would never be a sports school jacket for us. This one, the scholarship jacket, was our only chance.
One day in May, on the way from my history class to the gym, I remembered my P.E. shorts were still in the classroom. I had to walk back and get them. I was almost back at the door when I heard angry voices and arguing in my classroom. I recognized the voices: Mr. Schmidt, my history teacher, and Mr. Boone, my math teacher. They seemed to be arguing about me. I couldn’t believe it. I still remember the shock that rooted me flat against the wall. “I refuse to do it! I don’t care who her father is, her grades don’t even begin to compare to Marthas. I won’t lie or falsify records. Martha has a straight A plus average and you know it.” That was Mr. Schmidt and he sounded very angry. Mr. Boones voice sounded calm and quiet.
“Look, Joanns father is not only on the Board, he owns the only store in town; we could say it was a close tie and…”
The pounding in my ears drowned out the rest of the words, only a word here and there filtered through. “ … Martha is Mexican … resign … won’t do it …”
To this day I don’t remember how I made it through the rest of the afternoon. I went home very sad and cried into my pillow that night so Grandmother wouldn’t hear me.
The next day when the principal called me into his office, I knew what it would be about. He looked uncomfortable and unhappy.
“Martha,” he said, “there’s been a change in policy this year regarding the scholarship jacket. As you know, it has always been free.” He cleared his throat and continued. “This year the Board decided to charge fifteen dollars which still won’t cover the complete cost of the jacket.”
I stared at him in shock and a small sound of dismay escaped my throat. I hadn’t expected this.
“So if you are unable to pay the fifteen dollars for the jacket, it will be given to the next one in line.”
Standing with all the dignity I could muster, I said, “Ill speak to my grandfather about it, sir, and let you know tomorrow.” I cried on the walk home from the bus stop.
“Where’s Grandpa?” I asked Grandma.
“I think he’s out back working in the bean field.”
I went outside and looked out at the fields. There he was. I walked slowly out to him, trying to think how I could best ask him for the money. I wanted that jacket so much. It represented eight years of hard work and expectation. He saw me and looked up.
He waited for me to speak. I cleared my throat nervously and clasped my hands behind my back so he wouldn’t see them shaking. “Grandpa, I have a big favor to ask you,” I said in Spanish, the only language he knew. He still waited silently. I tried again. “Grandpa, this year the principal
said the scholarship jacket is not going to be free. It’s going to cost fifteen dollars and I have to take the money in tomorrow, otherwise it’ll be given to someone else.” The last words came out in an eager rush. I waited, desperately hoping he’d say I could have the money.
He turned to me and asked quietly, “What does a scholarship jacket mean?”
I answered quickly; maybe there was a chance. “It means you’ve earned it by having the highest grades for eight years and that’s why they’re giving it to you.”
Too late I realized the significance of my words. Grandpa knew that I understood it was not a matter of money. It wasn’t that. He went back to hoeing the weeds that sprang up between the delicate little bean plants. Finally he spoke again.
“Then if you pay for it, Marta, it’s not a scholarship jacket, is it? Tell your principal I will not pay the fifteen dollars.”
I walked back to the house and locked myself in the bathroom for a long time. I was angry with Grandfather even though I knew he was right, and I was angry with the Board, whoever they were. Why did they have to change the rules just when it was my turn to win the jacket?
It was a very sad and withdrawn girl who dragged into the principal’s office the next day. “What did your grandfather say?” I sat very straight in my chair.
“He said to tell you he won’t pay the fifteen dollars.”
“Why?” he asked. “Your grandfather has the money. Doesn’t he own a small bean farm?” I looked at him, forcing my eyes to stay dry. “He said if I had to pay for it, then it wouldn’t be a scholarship jacket,” I said and stood up to leave. I was almost to the door when he stopped me.
I turned and looked at him, waiting. He looked at me, biting his lip, as if thinking.
“Okay, damn it. Well make an exception in your case. I’ll tell the Board. You’ll get your jacket.”
I could hardly believe it. I spoke in a trembling rush. “Oh, thank you, sir!” Suddenly I felt great. I wanted to yell, jump, run the mile, do something. I ran out so I could cry in the hall where there was no one to see me. At the end of the day, Mr. Schmidt winked at me and said, “I hear you’re getting a scholarship jacket this year.”
His face looked as happy and innocent as a baby, but I knew better. Without answering I gave him a quick hug and ran to the bus. I cried on the walk home again, but this time because I was so happy. I couldn’t wait to tell Grandpa and ran straight to the field.
“The principal said he’s making an exception for me, Grandpa, and I’m getting the jacket after all. That’s after I told him what you said.”
Grandpa didn’t say anything; he just gave me a pat on the shoulder and a smile.