Cabbages and Kings

L'Academic Commences

Four other Lowell House men and I hastened to the New England Mutual Hall Sunday last to offer aid and comfort and our good right arms to some 52 young ladies from the Academic Moderne, who were due to "commence" that evening. On arrival, we found 1,100 friends and relatives of the graduating class, some dewy-eyed, some not, who were awaiting the start of the five-times yearly ceremony. So we could dash backstage when we were "on," we took seats at the rear of the theatre. The lights dimmed, the curtains parted, and a portly lady, who introduced herself as Mildred Albert, dean of the school, made a few opening remarks. She described her institution, which offers a variety of courses ranging from modeling to make-up to ball room dancing, and, acknowledging that the name "Academic Moderne" means different things to different people, concluded by saying that the Academic might best be called a "finishing school."

With that, the stage took on the appearance of a teenage jive joint, and members of the Academic's high school group, which meets once a week, presented a combination fashion show, beauty pageant and musical comedy, with slight Old Howard over-tones. (At least there was a runway, making every seat a front row seat.) The girls were extremely nervous and the narrator found herself forced to ad lib when the "sub-deb in the fetching pink chiffon formal," failed to appear. During this portion of the program, a paid pianist ground away relentlessly, providing suitably nondescript background music.

Following this, there came a group of leopard-clad modern dancers, but we were not to see them perform. A feminine voice, whispering "Hsst, you're on," caused us to move out and follow the speaker down a long hall. While we walked, she explained nervously what we were to do. "You take the girl by the arm, escort her to the punch bowl, wait a moment, and then escort her to the runway. She'll walk out, and when she comes back, you take her arm and walk back into the wings." It sounded terribly easy--and it was.

Backstage, we saw many girls runing up and down the stairs from the stage to the dressing room. When we arrived, a blonde in a pair of Chinese mandarin pajamas was headed downstairs, and moments later, she came back, this time in a wispy cocktail frock. The fellow, next to me, muttered, "My God! She's forgotten her dress."

Soon, a line of girls began to form in the wings and an Academic faculty member told us each to pick a partner. We complied, and within moments, were on stage. The graduating girls proved even more tense than the high school group, for they clamped the pro-offered arms in vise-like grips. At the center of the stage was indeed an overflowing punch bowl, but it offered punch wholly without appeal. The narrator made a grave tactical error at this point when she told the audience gaily. "In this scene, each girl is with her very best beau."


This raised a problem, since there were thirty girls and only five men. We were thus obliged to escort a girl out of the wings, devote all of a minute to her, take her back, and then find a new partner. The audience began to titter when the basketball player in the group made his sixth appearance with still another "very best girl." Not even the anonymity of grey flannels could mask his six foot five inches, and the audience's titter changed to a howl when it realized the sort of fast shuffle that was going on.

After some speeches by prominent Boston retailers, the girls lined up for diplomas, which had "Academic Moderne" stamped in gold on the covers. When the school son had been sung, the exercises were over and the members of the class of December, 1951, were officially "finished."