Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


Non-participation trophy

One of the fun things I get to do is serve on the board of a foundation that does things like fund local charities and civic groups, benefit the environment and the arts and animals, and give scholarships to college students. For more than 10 years, I was on the other side of that table, running a non-profit theatre and working to get funding from different groups; as you can imagine, it’s a personal thrill to sit on the funding side and play a role in supporting worthy causes.

A few years ago, we made a sizable donation to the DNA lab that serves several city police departments in our area; that funding helped ensure that rape kits got processed and criminals apprehended. We supported lockers in the local homeless shelter so that people without homes could safely stow their possessions while out looking for work. And, as I said, we give about 75 college scholarships each year, and hold a nice annual event where the recipients and their parents can come pick up an award, get their photo taken, and get some pretty good advice from community mentors. A few years ago I wound up on stage at that event with a bunch of those awardees, all of them nicely suited and gowned — except for one young man, next to me, who stood out a little awkwardly in plain clothes. It didn’t take me long to get the sense that he didn’t have a suit — that what he was wearing might be about the extent of his wardrobe. That’s a moment I think of often.

Usually, my friend and colleague David emcees this event. David’s career has mostly been devoted to fundraising and scholarships, and he’s provided invaluable expertise on those subjects. A week or two ago, David, who lives in a neighboring state, broke his arm badly and was advised by his doctor not to fly, so the foundation’s CEO asked me if I would consider emceeing this event. (For four years in a row, I emceed our annual appreciation dinner, where the appreciation was all mine whenever someone would laugh at one of my jokes.) Most years, I can’t make it to this scholarship banquet, much as I’d like to go, because it directly conflicts with my playwriting workshop — but the workshop was on hiatus, I love seeing college kids get scholarships, another colleague I greatly respect was going to be the keynote speaker, and, well, don’t we all believe that if you can help out, you should? So I said yes. They sent me a draft of the script, I looked it over, and I started thinking about how I might salt some really great crowd-pleasing puns in there, the kind that have been delighting my kids for decades.

Then, the Saturday before the event, my office had a flood.

The fill valve in the upstairs toilet had broken the previous night, leaving the tank endlessly filling and overflowing, soaking the entire upstairs including the landing and my office, and then pouring through the vents into the downstairs, and flooding the kitchen, the hallway, the main floor, the sales office, the server room, all three storage closets, and both bathrooms, and burning out the electrical in those bathrooms. I opened the back door to see a rush of water flow from the floor outside to the parking lot, and waterfalls cascading through the vents in the ceiling.

It’s been a big cleanup, and lots of consultation with insurers and remediators, and also realtors as we look for a temporary place to move to while this is all addressed. Getting a good look at what this was going to entail, I sadly called the foundation and begged off on emceeing the event. And when I say “sadly,” I mean it — I was looking forward just to attending, let alone getting to say a few words and present some awards to deserving young people.

Today was our bimonthly board meeting for the foundation, and I got to hear how the scholarship banquet went a few days ago. From all reports, it went great, with a nice full house of awardees and their parents and other special guests. At one point during the discussion about the event, which I apologized again for having had to miss, the foundation’s CEO got up and I got the vague sense that she was standing behind me to my left. I didn’t know why — until she handed me a box containing this.


Yes, it’s a beautiful little award — with a spinning globe! — acknowledging me by name for serving as master of ceremonies for our scholarship banquet in 2019… the very event I’d had to miss.

I swear to you, I tried to hand this back — but they pointed out that it’s engraved. I offered to have it remade with the name of the actual emcee (the CEO herself, who from all reports was a total winner) but got shot down. I did throw out some jokes — “Hey, I need to not show up more often!” — but they insisted I keep this award.

Later, I started mentally compiling a list of other undeserved recognitions given by august institutions. Here are just a few:

  • “Citizen Kane” losing Best Picture to “How Green Was My Valley”
  • Jethro Tull winning the Grammy for best metal band (???) over AC/DC and Metallica
  • Henry Kissinger getting the Nobel Peace Prize over actual peaceful people

Some years ago I was awarded a presidential service pin recognizing my community service. I’ve never displayed it or worn it, because the president in question was George W. Bush. When Obama was in office, I did consider taking it out and displaying it, figuring that people would draw their own (faulty) conclusion. Now, needless to say, I won’t be showing that pin anywhere for the foreseeable future.

But the beautiful little globe above with my name on the base? I’ll put that out for sure. I don’t deserve the award, but I’m proud to be associated with it.


2 Responses to “Non-participation trophy”

  1. Dan Says:

    Being in a class with Jethro Tull & HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY ain’t all that bad.

  2. Jim Markley Says:


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