Student dressed as vagrant for class assignment gets suspended


It began with an assignment last month, senior Michael Bodomov, 17, said: Create a character and be that person for an entire day at Mount Lebanon High School, just outside Pittsburgh.

Bodomov hopes to attend the University of Pittsburgh next year and is still exploring whether theater and drama are his calling. Judging by his performance, he could be short-listed.

Bodomov said he created a homeless man named John who had a falling-out with his family after he ran over his younger sister. John was also swayed by a guru to give up all his material possessions.

"I wore like a couple layers of coats and some sweatpants," Bodomov said. He added a pair of fingerless gloves, mismatched shoes and plastic bags for socks. He also smeared ink on his face to make it look dirty.

Bodomov usually walks to school, but his mother, Marina, thought he looked so much like a homeless person that she drove him and dropped him off early, before the main entrance was open. Bodomov went to an alternate entrance, shook the door and attracted the attention of a teacher or hall monitor, who asked what the stranger wanted.

"I had to kind of think on my feet," Bodomov said, since he didn't want to break character before the school day even began.

"I kind of mumbled" and "said I need to talk to some people," Bodomov recalled, adding that in retrospect that might have made officials think he was mentally unbalanced.

Bodomov said he was stuck between the desire to play his role and the temptation to just tell officials who he was. He decided that dropping hints about his identity was OK, because even if adults picked up on them, he could still say he didn't break character.

"At one point, I think I said, 'I might be a student here,'" and a school official responded, "No, you can't be. You look like you're 30 and you haven't showered in 10 days."

He also tried showing them the garbage bag he was carrying, since it contained his school backpack. But his attention to character detail thwarted that, too. The bag was also filled with empty plastic bottles, and that's apparently all the officials saw.

"It's not like this entire time I wasn't trying to let them know I was a student," Bodomov said. "It was pretty funny to me."

Then the police showed up.

After staying in character for a little longer, Bodomov explained the whole situation. The police left, and an administrator said he was suspended for insubordination and for breaking a rule that students must identify themselves to an administrator when asked.

Officials at Mount Lebanon said the district can't comment on individual discipline.

Bodomov understands that the school was in an unusual position, but the two-day suspension still stings. "I definitely think they overreacted," he said.

But Bodomov's mother said the school was right to be careful, given safety concerns in the wake of recent violent shootings. She isn't upset that they suspended her son, adding, "It's a good school."

When a mumbling stranger carrying a garbage bag shows up at a school, she said, "Who knows how it's going to turn out?"

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