High School Drop-In

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I've wanted to speak at a graduation since I left my snotty high school, with its inane rule about needing good grades to address the class. I wanted this not only to rail against the mind-numbing factory model of education and the bureaucracy that made statewide testing more important than learning, but also because it might finally score me points with Kerri Holt.

Luckily, I got an offer from Palo Alto High School in California. But when I got there on a recent Sunday morning, I learned that it wasn't so much a graduation as a baccalaureate, which is some sort of religious ceremony. This did not work with the remarks I had prepared. I also found out that I was sharing the stage with an ESPN News anchor. Not ESPN, ESPN2, or even ESPN Classic Sports, but ESPN News. I was feeling a little stupid for flying across the country for this.

After a bunch of choir stuff, principal Fred Dreier gave a speech. I heard phrases like "lived through Hiroshima," "suffered a stroke" and "Jesus Christ, Buddha and Thomas Jefferson," the last of which, sadly, was not the setup to a joke. I am not sure what his speech was about since I was busy crossing out paragraphs from my speech. Then the ESPN guy talked about a "mentally challenged" kid in his high school who had taught him something about something. Again I was busy crossing out.

I opened my remarks with, "I know who you are. You are rich, don't study too hard and have probably done cocaine — in short, you're well on your way to being President." This was not a winner. Then I dispensed advice, including a tip that you should try not to wind up as the moron who dies of alcohol poisoning. This wasn't a good call because it turned out a Palo Alto graduate from the year before had died of alcohol poisoning. My speech then touched on such topics as me kissing a lesbian and the fact that after age 22, people have sex on the third date.

After Principal Dreier whisked me out of the auditorium and toward my car as if I was Nixon in Venezuela, I was racked by images of being a dirty old man and hearing a woman I was sleeping with say, "I think you spoke at my high school graduation." I saw this happening in about two hours, after a light lunch.

The next day, I read a critique of my speech by parents Raymond and Kristine Hebert in the Palo Alto Weekly's letters section: "Any mature adult, chosen at random and speaking extemporaneously ...would have likely had a more positive effect on the audience than Mr. Stein." Mr. Stein. That sounded cool.

Later that day I got a qualified thank-you e-mail from student Adam Riff, who invited me to hang out with a dozen friends in his parents' living room, where they tried to make me feel better. "We all enjoyed watching the principal squirm and turn red in the face," Adam offered. I was also told I was in good company because Star Trek Voyager's LeVar Burton spoke last year.

By 1:30 a.m., when my new friends, continuing their efforts to rebuild my ego, lined up to take pictures with me as if I were a cutout of the Rock, I felt much better. But as we headed to our cars, I heard senior Vanessa Reid say to her friend, "I would have liked to see LeVar Burton, I must say."