I remember learning the difference in spelling the homonyms principle and principal: the principal is your pal. One principal in particular – Mr. Lawrence Bongiovanni – made an indelible impression on me, and I’d like to thank him, belatedly, for his contributions to my education.
I was an excellent student (f I do say so myself), but not a perfect pupil, a fact on which I will elaborate. Nevertheless, I think I had a reasonable relationship with Mr. Bongiovanni, as much as one of several hundred kids could have with a person with absolute authority over their lives. Principals were definitely not pals in those days.
Mr. Bongiovanni was my high school principal and a true son on Plymouth, having been educated in the town’s public schools. He had served in the FBI prior to and during WWII, and it was very evident in the way he carried himself: ram-rod straight, impeccably dressed in a tailored suit, greying hair neatly trimmed. As another PHs alumnus wrote of him: “He was a man of personal culture, dignified in his bearing without being aloof, respectful of his students as individuals in a way that was cordial without being familiar.”
I do believe I tried Mr. Bongiovanni’s patience, not the least because I became regular visitor to his office because of French class. I was an insufferable chatterer in French class. Madame Jaques, my French teacher, suffered talkers poorly and more than once sent me to Mr. Bongiovanni for discipline. The first time he found me sitting outside his office, he called me in and asked me why I was there. I didn’t lie and told him I liked to talk in French class.
Apparently that was self-explanatory. He instructed me to go back outside and wait until the bell. I do believe I saw a faint smile on his face. When I showed up thereafter, he would just sigh and ask, “Not again, Miss Parsons?”
One day I was bet by a classmate I couldn’t slide down the bannisters from the third floor to the basement of the high school. Never met a bet I wouldn’t take! In those days I frequently wore what is today called a pencil skirt – tight and straight – so in order to ride the bannister, I had to hike my skirt up to my hips. Then I straddled the wood, started to slide, and six sections of bannister later, I arrived in the basement. Mr. Bongiovanni’s antennae must have been operating at full strength, because he was waiting for me at the end of my ride. I stood before him, pulling down my skirt and probably blushing.
I swear he was having a hard time keeping a straight face when he asked, “Miss Parsons, do you think you could find a more dignified way to come downstairs?”
“Yes, Mr. Bongiovanni.”
It was one of his outstanding characteristics that he treated the students as adults, although I clearly didn’t get the message at the time.
Sometime after I graduated, Mr. Bongiovanni resigned as principal and joined the Massachusetts Department of Education. There he held a number of executive positions, notable among which were director of the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education and assistant to the Commissioner of Education.
He died in 2010, so my thoughts and thanks come a little late, but are nevertheless heartfelt. Merci beaucoup, Monsieur Bongiovanni.