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."