An Interview with William May: Who is “Billy Boy” and Why are they saying those things about him?

Aug 30, 2011 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico

1) You have just completed a book exploring parochial education. What led to this book?

I just published “Billy Boy,” a humorous 345-page book that chronicles growing up Catholic and attending parochial high school during the late 1950s. I wrote the book because I had an interesting and unbelievable story to tell.

2) In general, how would you rate the quality of your education in your elementary, middle school and high school years?

Very good. Would have been excellent but I wasn’t a good student.

3) How much religion, or spirituality was infused into your curriculum?


4) How did it impact you?

In time my religious teaching left me with more questions about my spirituality than answers.

5) Tell us about some of your teachers?

My public school grammar teachers seemed warmer and more caring about me. My high school teachers were all males in an all male school. They were strict, physical, and I got pushed around.

6) Was there corporal punishment, and did you survive?

There were two male high school teachers who seemed to take pleasure in being abusive. One made me hold both hands palm up, arms folded up at my elbows. He slowly started hitting my hands with a wooden yard stick asking me in front of my class if I could feel the pain. We were studying the human nervous system and I got caught fooling around in class. At first I didn’t feel much but as he kept hitting me harder and harder I got to really feel the sting of the stick. I was crying in front of my tenth grade class when the stick finally broke into two pieces. The other teacher had a habit of grabbing me by the neck and pushing me into the lockers or the wall. He was just an angry guy who also threw pieces of blackboard chalk at me with great speed and accuracy. Why someone never lost an eye in his classes is beyond me.

7) Tell us about the local public schools in comparison.

Public school was less strict and absent of a dress code (I wore a necktie to high school). I had a ringside seat of both approaches to education. I wasn’t a good student and needed to be kept in line. Of interest, students who I grew up with both in public and parochial schools, were equal when it came to success and failure in their lives. I must admit public school students seemed to enjoy life much more than I did in parochial school.

8) The good – the bad and the ugly about your education-Tell us about them all

Physical abuse at the hands of adult males who I didn’t dare fight back. I felt out of place in high school. Felt I shouldn’t have been in the school I was in but had very limited means to change the drastic situation I was in. My high school was twelve miles from my home. I got a ride to school and had to walk the last mile in the mornings, while I hitch hiked home twelve miles in the afternoon regardless of the New England weather conditions at the time. Wore a necktie daily in an extremely regimented and disciplined learning environment.

9) What were some of the positives?

The most positive aspect of my high school education was that I made it – I graduated.

10) Did you ever feel indoctrinated or on the positive side, encouraged and mentored?

I was mentored by many and felt very much on the positive side during public grammar school year. The only mentor in high school was Brother Gregory, who once told me, “Billy you’re not the smartest guy in the world but you have a quality that not many people have, and that is your smile. Don’t ever loose that smile, it will open many doors for you.” I often leave people by saying, “keep smiling.” For some reason that stuck in my head.

11) What have I neglected to ask ?

Do you still practice your religious teachings? — No.

If you could change how you were educated would you? — Yes.

What did you do to put the demons of your youth out of your mind? — I wrote a funny story about it.

Are you happy? — Absolutely!

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