From the Editor: Kids come through again; more young achievers are recognized
It looks like the kids have done it again.
Following up on a recent column about the achievements of St. Mary young people, it’s worth noting that 22 seniors at Berwick High got their diplomas last Thursday after compiling perfect 4.0 grade point averages.
Four more students carried the cedar rope at Patterson High’s commencement after earning 4.0s. And Morgan City High’s graduation featured 11 summa cum laude grads, also with 4.0s.
Principal Mickey Fabre, by the way, always seems to inject a bit of showmanship into Morgan City’s commencement.
On Friday, Fabre presented the Principal’s Award to Austin Navarro. According to Diane Miller Fears of our staff, Fabre said Navarro and Fabre often compared their watches. But Navarro’s timepiece went missing. So, at graduation, Fabre gave Navarro the principal’s watch along with the Principal’s Award.
We’ll introduce you to Central Catholic High’s valedictorian and salutatorian in Friday’s edition.
More accomplished young people: Jordan Richardson, son of Marvin Dewey and Judy Richardson of Amelia, is the Department of History, Geography and Philosophy’s Outstanding Master’s Graduate at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
And Collin Conner of Morgan City is the Nicholls State University College of Business Administration’s Outstanding Graduate.
The young folks have got it going on.
We also learned this week that St. Mary Parish public schools posted a graduation rate of 88.2 percent in 2016-17, beating the state rate by more than 10 percentage points. It’s hard not to conclude that the quality of local schools helps explain the achievements of those accomplished young people.
But we also have to take a step back when we see those numbers, and remember that while St. Mary ranks near the top of Louisiana schools, Louisiana ranks very low in a nation that ranks low in the industrial world.
If our graduation rate is 88.2 percent, then statistically, a group of 100 public school students will include a dozen or so who will not graduate. And our economy no longer showers rewards on those who end their education with high school, let alone on those who don’t make it that far.
The other sad fact to ponder is that most of those high-achieving young people will have to leave St. Mary if they want to turn their talents into real success.
It’s not so much that some will leave. Kids chase dreams. That’s their job. That’s the way of the world.
The tragedy is that they must.
Jason Kander, Missouri’s secretary of state, put the issue in perspective recently on the “Slate Political Gabfest” podcast.
He’s a Democratic up-and-comer in a state rocked by a sex scandal involving a Republican governor, so he’s in the middle of a bitter partisan fight. But on the podcast, Kander said something that should be the campaign slogan for every official and every candidate for office, Republican or Democrat. It might be the only thing that matters.
Kander said he wants his state to be a place kids don’t have to leave to be successful.
Put another way, we know what young people have to offer St. Mary Parish. The question is what St. Mary Parish has to offer its young people.
If you hang around old reporters, you’ll hear about old stories. Here’s one related to the upcoming vote on whether Louisiana should continue to allow convictions on 10-2 jury votes. You’ll get to say yea or nay this fall.
In my nearly three decades in Louisiana, the most widely watched and followed trial, maybe more so than even Edwin Edwards’ 2000 conviction, was decided by a 10-2 verdict. It was the 1998 case of Dr. Richard Schmidt, who was convicted of trying to kill his longtime girlfriend with a shot containing AIDS-tainted blood.
Schmidt, a Lafayette gastroenterologist who was married, engaged in a 10-year affair with the woman. Their affair resulted in abortions, a lovechild and threats to hurt her after she got tired of trying to get him to leave his wife.
Schmidt was accused of drawing blood from two of his patients, a male AIDS sufferer and a woman with hepatitis C, and injecting it into his girlfriend as he told her it was a B-12 shot on Aug. 4, 1994.
The prosecutor was Keith Stutes, who went on to become the 15th Judicial District attorney. He had records showing blood was drawn at Schmidt’s College Road office without being sent to a lab, and he had the results of a new DNA technique that showed a relationship between the HIV in the woman’s blood and Schmidt’s AIDS patient. It was the first time that technique, called phylogenetic analysis, was used in a U.S. criminal trial.
But the defense called Dr. Michael Hagansee, who treated AIDS patients at what was then Big Charity in New Orleans. Hagansee testified that the nurse’s HIV didn’t progress in a way consistent with infection on the date when, according to the prosecution’s case, the shot had to have happened.
The public reaction to the trial was amazing. Everywhere I went, people who knew what I do for a living questioned me about the latest developments. I got a call from a reporter in Germany, who wanted to know about that “d” in Schmidt’s name. A British reporter told me his readers “like to know about the strange goings-on you Yanks get up to.”
The case became an episode on “Forensic Files” and on “Law & Order.” (For L&O junkies, it’s “Patient Zero,” Season 14, Episode 3. It has Lenny and Ed.)
Reasonable doubt? I covered the trial and, to be honest, the doubt seemed reasonable to me, despite what many thought was a rock-solid prosecution case.
The jury came back with a 10-2 guilty verdict. In Texas, Mississippi or Arkansas, that’s a hung jury. In Louisiana, it’s a conviction. Schmidt was sentenced to 50 years for attempted murder.
Because a civil right — the right to a fair trial — is involved, and because only Louisiana and Oregon allow such convictions with something less than unanimous verdicts, I can’t imagine why our state’s system has been allowed to stand in light of 14th Amendment guarantees of equal protection.
But voters will soon have their say on the question.
Here’s another old story, a belated tribute to former first Lady Barbara Bush, who died April 17.
Mrs. Bush came in for some criticism for intemperate remarks about Katrina refugees housed in Houston. Heaven knows few people in public life covered themselves in glory after Katrina.
But my experience with her was different.
I was working in Sikeston, Missouri, about 1988, when she was still Mrs. Vice President and came to visit a local Head Start class.
Mrs. Bush’s big thing was literacy. She seemed at home in a class full of little kids, all from low-income homes, most of them African American. She talked to them, read to them and did the hokey-pokey with them.
She made quite a sight, with that snow-white hair and her pearls. She put her left foot in, took her left foot out, and turned all about. The kids loved it.
Then the mood changed. Word filtered down to the room that someone had called in a bomb threat.
Mrs. Bush, who had a Secret Service agent with her, seemed a little startled. But she pulled herself together, obviously not wanting to scare the little guys, and walked briskly to the door.
Trouble was, the door was that closet in the back of the room where the teacher kept the Play-Doh and construction paper.
I was standing in the back of the room, so I gave her a “psst” and jerked my head toward the front of the room. I don’t know if she saw me, but she turned and saw the Secret Service guy waving her to the door into the hallway. Mrs. Bush made a dignified exit.
Later, I got a picture of the payphone used to call in the threat. It was outside a barbecue joint on the west end of town, where they served the best ribs I had before or since. They were always cooked just right with a sweet-and-tangy sauce.
I don’t know if the feds ever caught the guy. But the fullest penalty of the law is scarcely sufficient for the man who disrespected a fine first lady and those ribs.
Bill Decker is managing editor of The Daily Review.