"Wear nude underwear. Not white. White will show through your pants and dresses, and no one needs to see that," said Mrs. Tyler as she stood behind the podium at the front of the cavernous auditorium.
At other schools it may have been strange for a science teacher to lecture a room full of students on the color of their underwear, but not at my school. At my high school, this was the assembly everyone waited for. The one where a much-loved teacher lectured seniors on the dress code for graduation. There were no caps and gowns at my southern private school. Instead, there were white dresses and gloves for the girls and white pants for the boys. And nude underwear for everyone, apparently.
I slouched in my seat somewhere in the middle of the room trying to be as invisible as I felt. This assembly didn't apply to me.
I didn't need to know what color underwear to wear to graduation because I wouldn't be going to graduation, not by choice, but by circumstance.
My high school graduation took place on a Saturday morning, and as an orthodox Jewish Shabbat observer - the only one in my high school class of 186 - I wouldn't be able to attend. There was nothing wrong with sitting at the ceremony on Shabbat of course, but since I couldn't drive to the school, be in any pictures, or even carry my diploma from the stage back to my seat, that plan was rife with complications.
Early in my senior year my parents and I approached the school's board of trustees to ask them to consider changing the day of graduation. But this was the south, where tradition was everything and progress moved at a snail's pace, so the board barely even considered our request before telling us no.
They said "this is the way it has always been." And they meant "this is the way it always will be."
And that was that.
When Mrs. Tyler finally said all she could about underwear and called the assembly to a close, the room still buzzed with excitement as everyone discussed graduation, dresses, and the rapidly approaching end of finals. The festivities were a mere two weeks away, and I couldn't help but feel like every day until then would be one more reminder that I was - and always had been - on the outside looking in at this school.
With nowhere to be for the rest of the day, I got up and quietly walked out of the auditorium, straight to my car, every step taking me closer to the day I could leave high school behind and move on to a place where people understood me. Accepted me. Were more like me.
And on graduation day, while the rest of my class sat outside clad in white, I sat in my synagogue with my family, wearing blue underwear.
Just because I could.