Laramie County School District 2 Superintendent Jon Abrams shows off his Chuck Taylors while giving a speech during the Pine Bluffs Junior/Senior High graduation Sunday, May 17, 2020, in Pine Bluffs. Twenty-eight seniors sat in the bleachers, while families gathered on the football field to watch the ceremony. Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

LARAMIE COUNTY – Jon Abrams wore a pair of Converse Chuck Taylors for the first time in 50 years last week. At least that’s what he told the combined 74 graduates of Laramie County School District 2, where he serves as superintendent over Pine Bluffs and Burns junior/senior high schools.

“I’ve never had so many compliments on my shoes,” Abrams said to the graduates of Pine Bluffs High on Sunday afternoon.

Now, Abrams wants the whole class of 2020 to own a pair, too – and he’s not making a fashion statement. The school district paid for and presented each LCSD2 graduate with a gift-wrapped pair at the two ceremonies Sunday.

This is the story behind the shoes:

In a speech he gave at both Pine Bluffs and Burns high schools’ graduation ceremonies Sunday, Abrams told the newly-conferred graduates that the shoes symbolize a timeless lesson he learned in grade school.

Abrams, who grew up in Idaho, recalled the story of how he bought a new pair of black-and-white Chuck Taylor sneakers to make the basketball team – and fit in – at a new school.

“When you’re short and you’re slow, you’re used to being picked last. That decried me,” said Abrams, who remembered noticing that all of the so-called cool kids, who refused to pick him for the team, wore Chuck Taylors.

Abrams spent his paper-route money on the hip new shoes.

“I could dunk faster. I could jump higher. I could do amazing things in my Chuck Taylors. When I went to school the next day I was just sure it would be a very different experience,” Abrams said.

It wasn’t a different experience.

“They didn’t pick me. They left me standing there in my Chuck Taylors,” Abrams said.

“Even though it’s been 50 years I still remember the hurt. I ran out of the gym, down the hall, into the bathroom, and into the last stall, where I cried.”

Decades later, wearing a spotless pair of Chuck Taylors, Abrams told the graduates in his school district that the experience taught him a hard lesson about work ethic.

“I could have gone home and worked really hard on the basketball court, but I didn’t. I never wore out those Chuck Taylors. I’m not even sure how much I wore them,” Abrams said. “You can’t buy talent. I can’t put a pair of shoes or a uniform on you. If you’re going to excel, it’s going to be because you worked for it.”

Gifting the shoes is meant to help graduates remember that message as they move on to higher education, the workforce and the military. About half of them walked away with a pair of Chuck Taylors after the ceremony ended. The other half of the shoes, Abrams said, are on back-order.

“We’ll blame it on COVID-19,” Abrams said. “But if you didn’t get your Chuck Taylors today I will personally deliver them to your house.”

Kathryn Palmer is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s education reporter. She can be reached at kpalmer@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3167. Follow her on Twitter at @kathrynbpalmer.

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