by Con Chapman
WESTLAND, Mass. This Boston suburb is home to Thoreau College, a liberal arts school whose freshmen post some of the top SAT scores in the country. “Hyper-achievement is instilled into our students from Day One,” says senior advisor Phil Muniz. “Some of these kids need a wheelbarrow to haul away their awards at the end of the year.”
It is here that the United States Central Intelligence Agency has come to experiment with a new form of torture–prolonged exposure to an American graduation ceremony–in an effort to wring vital information from terrorist suspects now that waterboarding has been banned.
Once parents have settled into their seats heavily-armed guards escort Abu Al Tunisi, an Al-Qaeda leader recently captured in a cave, to a seat down front. “I was saving that for Jason’s grandmother,” says Phil Epstein, whose son is expected to sweep the school spirit and leadership awards tonight.
“The seat is mine, Zionist aggressor!” Tunisi shouts. “Go sit next to the stinking men’s locker room!” Epstein retreats, and the assembly begins with an off-key rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by the junior women’s chorus.
“Welcome to Graduation!” intones Dean Melvin Hagerty. “I’ll keep things moving so that those who have jobs get home in time for work tomorrow.” There is scattered laughter, but faculty sit grim-faced, knowing the ordeal they are in for.
After a ten-minute speech of self-congratulation by valedictorian Chloe Farner, who extolls her classmates for being the best and like totally awesome, the roll of honors begins with the academic awards.
“Give me your best shot, lap dog of the Great Satan!” Tunisi growls as Phi Beta Kappa awards are announced. “He’s a tough nut,” says CIA officer Marlon McGrath. “He says he’ll die a martyr rather than crack before we get to the athletic awards.”
The Language Department is next, and awards of merit and outstanding mediocrity are handed out as individual honorees receive parchment certificates. “Looka me, Mr. CIA Dweeb!” Tunisi says smugly. “I am not weak-willed like dorky fathers who must constantly check their iPhones!”
The Drama Department follows, and for the first time Tunisi begins to show signs of fatigue as professors turn the event into a mini-Oscar night. “Where is a UN observer when I need one?” he moans weakly, his head swaying. “Can I get a Perrier?” he begs, and the CIA officers give him a swig of water.
He is revived in time to hear Dean Hagerty announce the James Milgrim Award, given annually to the student who has not yet received anything two hours into the ceremony. “I can’t say enough about this year’s recipient,” Hagerty begins. “So inspirational to the rest of us as he walks to class each day . . . or not.”
“Enough!” Tunisi screams, his eyes rolling back into his head. “I will give you Bin Laden!”
“You’ll have to do better than that,” McGrath says with a smug little smile. “We already got him.”