Now I know why select faculty at my alma mater felt compelled to come to class drunk back when I was a student.

I was on campus this past weekend (fortified only with caffeine), delivering a "keynote address," about "leadership," and lemme tell ya: those kids are ONE TOUGH ROOM.

Looking back, I can't imagine that we were that hard, but in reality, I suspect we were worse.

I don't know what they were expecting from someone with my job - but my guess is (from the yawns of indifference which greeted me) that I was a crushing disappointment.

It's my own fault for not taking the recommendations of my coworkers more seriously.

When the student life office emailed ahead to see if I "needed anything," the staff were immediately beset by all kinds of delusions of grandeur (vastly exceeding the circumstances: 20 kids in an auditorium) - including great ideas for a "rider" that would make Elvis blush with girlish envy - starting with a leg o' mutton and ending with being carried in on a litter, hefted aloft by several well-oiled young nekkid men.

Hop Sing actually went so far as to go online and try to price a "litter," before conceding defeat and admitting that the best we'd be able to do would be to make friends with some paramedics who might loan us a backboard. (The fact that their rig would then be ill-equipped to handle an actual emergency seemed to be of utterly no consequence to him.)

I also had a hard time coming up with any real "leadership" traits (that I was willing to admit to anyway) - and there again, the staff here had plenty of recommendations.

Hop Sing, for example, thought I should tell them that I put black plastic over all our windows here and turn the lights on and off in half-hour increments (because I read somewhere that this makes chickens lay more eggs - and if it works on chickens....?)

Ouisie suggested that I should do at least five minutes on "how to bust a union," before Molloy interrupted with, "how can you stage any kind of respectable strike when you work for a monarchy?"

I think the art department was just relieved that they didn't get stuck designing the litter, because they didn't seem too keen on the idea of swathing a stretcher in gossamer and tulle. In fact, they've gotten to the point where they now point-blank refuse to carry me anywhere altogether. They were good sports for awhile, but (even though I tried not to take advantage), I guess it finally grew tiresome.

A couple days before the gig, I got a nice email saying, "I will have some bottled water available for you. Let me know if you need anything else. If you have a title for your talk, you could email me that."

After declining the water (and pondering whether I should at least ask for red M&Ms), I admitted I didn't have a title, but I'd just seen this scientist/inventor interviewed on the morning news, saying ""I may go down in flames, but I'll never suffer the slow death of mediocrity" - and so I told them they could print that as a "theme."

Unfortunately, one of the first questions I got from one of the students was, "what do you mean by that?"


Guess maybe I could've seen THAT ONE coming? And yet, he really caught me off guard there.

Clearly flummoxed, I think my answer was something along the lines of, "what does anybody really ....MEAN anything?"

In truth, the fact that these kids showed up at all (on a Sunday, the afternoon after St. Patrick's Day), impressed me to no end.

I began by trying to inspire them with the knowledge that their very presence indicated that they'd already demonstrated far more leadership potential than I would've exhibited at their age - which would've consisted of asking:

"do I get class credit for this?"


"then I'm going back to bed."

The email invitation I received suggested that the expectations of me would be quite low. The student life office had asked the alumni house for a list of "younger graduates who had been fairly involved in campus life, and who had been fairly successful in their work lives."

As long as the emphasis stayed on "fairly," I was willing to give it a go.

True to my word, I began my "talk," by instantly admitting that I'd been the furthest thing from a "campus leader."

I was co-editor of the yearbook - which sounds modestly ambitious unless you know that my job description consisted mostly of writing sarcastic captions for the photos of people I didn't like.

I was in a few plays.

I was the de facto leader of my little social circle - in that, I always had an apartment or house and I could cook. Though one of my fondest memories is the far-from-haute cuisine scenario of an entire fraternity assembled in my living room slurping Cap'n Crunch out of a giant salad bowl. (As I recall, apparently they'd "consumed" some "herbs" my fraternity roommates had been drying by the pool.)

I don't know..... is that.... leadership? Depends on how you define it I guess.

I wasn't exactly an outcast, but I was certainly no role model either (at least not until midway through junior year when I discovered some theretofore hidden talents that did result in a certain degree of popularity).

I think the fact that I graduated (at all) and got a job (of any kind) probably came as a great surprise to classmates and faculty alike.

And the fact that I made it OUT of my hometown without getting married or pregnant was and remains my biggest accomplishment to date. Anything after that was just gravy. I've been coasting on it ever since.