The Ironic Reality of Being Distinguished

Pikeville (Ky.) High School

My voice mail notification showed a new message. The text version of the recording my phone produces automatically after wouldn’t have won any awards at the annual transcription convention. It read, in part:

“Good morning chasing. This is ran deed robbers. I called to share a mess mitten. The dikes spill are high in school bum has unanimously selected you and __________ others for the 2021 distanced lum night ward.”

What the message actually said was, “Good morning, Jason. This is Randy Roberts. I called to share a message with you that the Pikeville High School Alumni Board has unanimously selected you and two others for the 2021 Distinguished Alumni Award.”

What a bummer. I was hoping for distanced lum nights and spilling dikes.

My first reaction was to think I was being punked. Wasn’t I the guy who, as a freshman, drank my body weight in screwdrivers and danced around the Brown Hotel celebrating the state championship football win wrapped in nothing but a bed sheet?

Was it not I who, when scolded by my 7th grade math teacher for talking in class, once shot back a phrase that rhymes with “duck glue?”

Did I not lead a small group of vagrants to transplant the school parking lot’s Exit sign to the end of a teacher’s driveway? Three times?

But then a cooler head prevailed. If I was old enough to be considered for a high school’s distinguished alumni award, perhaps my memories have faded and all those recollections were of someone else.

Me in class with one of my favorite teachers, Anne Keene. Circa 1989.

Besides, it’s not a distinguished-when-you-were-a-student award. It should count for things you did after graduation. Like:

  • Take advantage of my high-falootin’ status as a bonafide newspaper columnist to publish a story titled, “Dancing Leads Preacher to Pound, Virginia,” just to see if I could get away with it.

And then there’s the incomparable act of admitting to all of that in print as I attempt to express my gratitude for such an honor.

It turns out the best way to win a distinguished alumni award is to be nominated when no one on the alumni board has a clue who you really are.

Perhaps it’s my own self-effacing nature, but when I think of distinguished alumni, I think of doctors who spend their lives saving patients or researching cures for diseases. I think of financiers who become barons of industry or at least donate a lot of money to the school’s scholarship fund.

But then again, we are talking about a small school in a small town. I graduated with 80 people. Give me a few minutes and I could probably name every single one of them. I’d guess 65 of them still live in the same town. Maybe being distinguished isn’t really that hard?

That’s unfair sarcasm, even for me. I have a lot of pride in where I’m from and went to school. I like to brag about the success stories my little town has produced. When someone from ole PHS does something impressive, I proudly tell everyone who will listen. At least until I stumble across some new revelation for striking up conversation.

Maybe that’s where I’m wrong about all this. I’ve written three books. I’ve given speeches to audiences in eight countries and on three continents. Hell, there are people I went to school with who haven’t read three books. And probably think three continents refers to breakfast for them and two friends at the Embassy Suites.

I suppose my little niche sliver of success in the world might be what someone turns to a friend and says, “You know, a guy I went to school with just published his third book …” If that makes me a distinguished alumni, I suppose I am one.

But there sure are a lot of people who graduated from there who probably deserve it far more than I do.

There’s always hope. Maybe the next version of the alumni board won’t have a clue who they really are.

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Jason Falls is genuinely honored to be chosen as a 2021 Distinguished Alumni from Pikeville (Ky.) High School. But there is a little voice in his head that will always say, “Fooled them!”

Writer & published author. Marketing strategist & podcaster. Father & mediocre boyfriend. I think I’m funny, too.