After work on Friday, I got to do what an assistant principal calls "walk the gauntlet." After school, dozens, if not hundreds, of our finest students walk down a quiet residential street to the Red Line. Usually, there's noise. Sometimes, there are scuffles. Occasionally, as on Friday, there are full-on fights that result in swarming school security guards and police squad cars.
But I had to take the "L," I had no choice, so I pushed my way through the throngs. I rarely make this walk, so I quickly realized why many neighbors are a little concerned for their safety around 3 p.m. I hoped that if any fights erupted I would at least be recognized and spared. I shouldn't have worried.
Saw one of my students, a guy with possible gang affiliations. "How you doing?" I asked when he saw me.
"Oh, man, I'm not involved in any of this stuff," he said. "I'm good."
"I didn't say 'what' you were doing, I asked how you were doing."
"Oh! I'm fine! How about you?"
A few yards further, a student with definite gang affiliations spotted me. "Hey, how's it going?" he asked me.
"Great, how about you?"
He saw my backpack. "You going to the L? Don't you have a car?" Apparently, it must be shameful for a teacher to take public transportation.
"Yeah, I have a car," I said. "But I'm heading to the airport."
"Oh? Going out of town?"
"Yup. A friend's getting married."
"Feel free to stay a few extra days," he said. "We'll see you Wednesday or Thursday, OK?"
"Sorry, I'll be back at school Monday."
And so it was off to the Bay Area for a wedding, where I was expected to stand up and say a few words during the ceremony. Over the years, I've developed something of a reputation as a decent wedding speaker. I don't know why. But I do know why I'm getting better at it. I spend every day of my working life trying to entertain and educate groups of uninterested teenagers. Doesn't matter if I'm joking around or trying to be serious, rarely do they pay attention. Weddings, on the other hand, are easy. A large group of people that are in a good mood, ready to listen to stories about the groom.
Another reason I gave a decent speech was because I practiced. In front of one of my classes. We had extended homeroom on Friday, so I asked if my class would indulge me and listen to my planned speech.
"No!" several students yelled out in unison. "No wedding speeches!"
"Come on," I said. "It's good. I promise."
Eventually, I said my prepared remarks. And, this was almost scary, most of them listened. And liked it. "Damn," I thought. "If a bunch of teenagers like this stuff, then it's golden."
My secret was this: I read, from my high school yearbook, what the groom had written to me 20-some years ago. The thing is, it was funny. It was well-written. And it said a lot about him. So, of course, the people at the wedding loved it.
No real point here, I guess, except maybe: If you ever have to speak at a wedding, dig out those old yearbooks. There's great material in there. Of course, I'm sure whatever I wrote when I was in high school was mediocre at best, so please don't ever use this advice against me.