My Grey Commencement – How my Education Came Full Circle

On Nov 2, 2023, I went to my commencement at Humber College to receive a Playwright Graduate Certificate. Humber graduated about 2,600 students and celebrated with five ceremonies, so it was me and about 500 other students. I walked into the hall, and the ticket collector directed me toward the audience area. I pointed out that I was one of the graduating students. Her eyes widened and she said, “Oh, OK.” She instructed me to go to the end of the long entry hallway and pick up my gown. Each step was met with a look of surprise by the youthful grads. As we queued in the hall by discipline, I looked around and realized I was the only grey-haired student in the room. While my fellow graduating students were in their 20’s and 30’s, I was 72. They were all fresh faced and excited. I kept looking for a chair so I could sit down, as my hips hurt.

We were seated in the order graduates walk across the stage. I was surprised to get a chair across the aisle from my three guests: my wife (a Humber grad), my daughter (a Humber grad) and my 10-year-old granddaughter. As my name was called, they shouted, “Go Grandpa, go Grandpa.” The audience joined in. I never went to my first university graduation, so going to this one was a big deal. I also never got a university ring, as I had no money in those days. This time, I wanted a class ring. The ring salesman had samples of the modern rings, but I ordered a traditional classic design. I wear it every day.

When I decided to take the Humber School Creative Writing Graduate Certificate in play writing, applying was a challenge. As this is a graduate course, I had to submit my undergraduate transcript. Assuming you graduated in the past 40 years, you go online, pay $10 and a few minutes later, it arrives. I graduated from a small America university in August 1971. There are no computer records for that far back. The service had to contact the school, request that the microfiche be pulled and printed, then mailed to Humber.

Once I was accepted, I was charged for student health insurance, $140 per semester. To opt out, I had to go to a website and enter my details. I called the company a few minutes later with a problem. “Don’t you know how to fill in a website form?” “Yes,” I replied. “I’m retired from a career in computer R&D. The problem is on the birthdate page. The year drop down goes only to 1953. I was born in 1950.” I mentally counted to five, then heard, “Get out of town.” “No, I’m serious.” Five more seconds, then she apologized. “I’m not upset. I think it’s funny.”

A lot happened from the time I graduated from university in 1971 and the second time in 2023. When I was young, I was part of the JFK’s Whiz Kid program. We were accelerated in school and fast-tracked math. When I started university, I skipped the first math course and took the second, because I told them the first was a repeat of what I studied in grade 10. I wanted to take the third and fourth math classes together. “But 4 builds on 3.” I aced both. My only challenge was that I used techniques from the fourth in the third final. The next year, I loaded up on undergraduate third- and fourth-year courses. That summer, I started graduate courses.

In 1970, male graduate students wore a suit and tie to class. Most were married and attended evening courses, as they were coming from work. My favourite professor’s usual outfit was a black two-piece suit with patches of chalk dust, a white shirt and a dark, thin black tie. He always addressed the students as Mr. or Miss. Everyone was formal except me. I wore denim cut-offs, a white T-shirt and sandals, and my minibike was chained to the lamp post outside. I had long blond hair, a face that saw a razor maybe once a week, and I looked 16. Everything about me seemed carefree, except my fingernails, which were bitten to the quick. I had nothing in common with my classmates. Students my age were struggling with the courses I graded as part of my school job.

Flash forward to 2023. The irony was not lost on me. I was considered too young for my first grad courses; too old for my last. I guess I will never get it right.

Stage Play Script Template

In 2023, I took a graduate program on play writing. For the course my mentor wanted the script done in MS Word. I have Final Draft 12 and like it, but MS Word had several advantages for me. First, both my mentor and my wife are fluent Word users. I also have Word of my iPad and iPhone.

I needed a template. I am comfortable creating templates, so after looking around, I built my own. I tried to put many of the auto formatting features of Final Draft.

The template conforms to strict play script standards: 8.5×11, Courier 12 font, 1″ margins, pages numbered up top and a separate title page that is not part of the page numbering. I live in Canada, so mine is set up for English (Canada) but trivial to change to US, UK or Australia.

There are two forms of stage play scripts: book and stage performance. A book script puts the character name at the beginning of the line followed by a tab, then the dialogue. Its advantage is that it’s very compact. A stage performance script is spread out with the character name centred, then dialogue following on the next line. The first template included is a stage performance template.

The title page is not considered part of the script. All author info is included on the title page only. If you are entering a submission where they want a “blind” copy, that is a script without the author identified. Convert the script to PDF, but skip the title page and you have a blind script.

To use this template, download the docx file. Make a copy, naming the file to your play. Load into MS Word and modify to your script. If you make changes to the styles, then when you need your next script, duplicate that file and start again.

I work this way rather than importing it as a template as I regularly tune the styles.

The Plan Was Perfect – Monologue

For an acting class I had to write and perform a monologue. I took the CARES bank story and rewrote it from the robber’s perspective. I took some liberties but did validate the details with the police artist. This is what I imagined he said.

The Plan Was Perfect

How the hell did this happen? I never thought I’d end up in jail. I mean, it was a perfect plan! I cleaned banks, so I knew their routines. But I needed money, and a lot of it.

Even though it’s the 1980s, most banks have video security systems that suck. I just knew I could beat the system, and I figured out a great disguise. Sure, clothes were easy, but how to hide my face? I thought about a Halloween mask, but figured the cops would ask at the local stores. So, I decided to make one.

I took a white sweatshirt, cut off a sleeve and cut eyes and mouth holes into it. When I looked at myself in the mirror, everything was covered. The eyes and mouth were just dark spots. Genius, right? And the robbery went off real well.

The next day, when I watched the garbage truck carry away my sweatshirt parts, I was on top of the world. I didn’t want to do anything to attract attention. I even WENT TO WORK!

The cops picked me up a few days later to question me, but they didn’t have a damned thing. They showed me the video of the robbery, but it was just a guy wearing a sweatshirt sleeve – not me! I thought I was home free.

Then they showed a photo of ME robbing the bank without the sleeve on, and I was friggin’ shocked. I asked, “How the hell did you get that photo? Are you guys using an x-ray camera? That’s illegal.” Man, I was pissed.

In court, the police artist explained that she studied how pantyhose over a face changes the nose and ears so she could add them in. She put in a standard men’s haircut, eyes, mouth – and there I was.

I mean, fuck, who the hell studies how pantyhose squashes a face?

After Teaser

Since Jan 2023 I have been a student at Humber College’s School for Writers – Creative Writing Graduate Certificate in play writing. This is the reading I did for the final meeting.

Aug 13, 2023 5:53 pm

Theme Music:
Magistar by Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
Music promoted by

Audition – AFTER – Audio Drama Serial

Since Jan 2023 I have been a student at Humber College’s School for Writers – Creative Writing Graduate Certificate in play writing. Under the guidance of my mentor, I have written the audio drama script – After. The play is six 15-minute episodes. The goal is to post as a podcast.

The next step is to test record the first two episodes. The play has seven main characters and several one-episode parts. I will be sharing the script interested people soon.

Monologue – Summer of 69

The problem with being a camp counsellor is assuming you know how to do it.

It’s the summer of 69, and I just finished my first year of university. Last summer, I was a local camp counsellor, so hey, I know the ropes. This summer’s job is camp counsellor for boys from the slums of New York City. The camp is 14 miles from the August Woodstock concert.

While all the kids are boys, the counsellors are both men and women. The women have the young campers. We’ve been warned that these kids are hard.

Cares Monologues

For the George Brown College Playwriting course, we were asked to write several short monologues. These three monologues are short dialogues of myself discussing the CARES system for aging missing children by computer.

CARES (Computer Assisted Recovery Enhancement System), a computer system for aging missing children announced on July 4, 1986, was a joint project between the Metropolitan Toronto Police and IBM Canada Lab. CARES was the first computer-based child-aging system in the world. View CARES details and press coverage

1. Monologue – CARES

Picture it, 1986. Jim Clark was head of the Youth Bureau of the Metro Toronto Police, the organization that finds missing kids. The challenge was finding kids that had gone missing for years. His artist wife Betté was working with a doctor at Sick Kids Hospital learning how kids age.

Learning an Italian Accent

I have been through a fascinating exercise in the past few days. I am thinking of auditioning for a part. (Paravicini and The Mousetrap) The character is Italian so requires an Italian accent.

Basically an accent is when a speaker uses their native language phonetic rules to pronounce the English words. This gave me an idea. I went into the Amazon Web Services Polly. Polly is a text-to-speech engine. I put in the character’s dialog and asked Polly to treat it as Italian and read it.

Amazing. I had found another site on Italian accents for the stage. When I listened to Polly’s reading of the dialog, I hear many of the guidelines followed.

The Mouse on the Moon – Stageplay

On July 20, 1969 two spacecraft landed in the Sea of Tranquility

one from the most powerful nation on earth, the United States, the other from the smallest, the Duchy of Grand Fenwick.

Who got there first?

Adapted by Rich Helms from the book The Mouse on the Moon by Leonard Wibberley

© 2021 by Rich Helms
CIPO ref# 1188353
ISBN: 978-0-9938829-4-4

Music: “The Complex” and “Marty Gots a Plan” by Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License

Clarion Turf Racing Photo Wins Honourable Mention

Today my photo “Clarion Turf Racing” won the honourable mention at the SPARK Photo Festival Themed Juried Show. The theme this year was “Motion.” I originally shot this as a Kodachrome slide in 1970 at a race in Clarion, PA with a Russian Zenit-E 35mm camera.

The Zenit-E was just about the most manual camera ever. You even had to manually close the iris before pressing the shutter. I found the slide a few years ago while scanning with a slide scanner. It could scan with high enough resolution to print at 11×17 at 300 dpi in 48 bit colour. With photoshop I could pull out the detail and colours as well as clean up dust and such. When I heard the theme was “motion,” I immediately thought of this race.

I am so honoured to receive an Honourable Mention. I am privileged to be included in such a remarkable group of photographers.

Announcement Video

My announcement starts at 1:20